How to Make Life-Changing Rotisserie Chicken at Home

Leave the store-bought stuff behind with some tips from the chefs at Kismet Rotisserie and 'What’s Eating America' host, Andrew Zimmern.

People are not roasting enough chickens at home. Are we afraid of the commitment? Or the process itself? Maybe it’s simply because we are living in a Grubhub world. Par cooked, microwavable meals are being sent to your door via the postal service. I suppose the concept of coming home to roast a whole chicken might be less desirable, considering it’s significantly more time consuming than neuking a Lean Cuisine.

Two facts to contextualize the following poultry insight:
1. I have previously worked in restaurant kitchens for five years… And yet...
2. The first roasted chicken I ever prepared in my own home was in fact, this past Saturday.

Maybe that’s a “me problem.” I realize that is a pretty bizarre personal shortcoming, considering I was literally a cook, by profession. I do suspect however, that I’m not alone in this late blooming. But, after having explored a couple simple and truly fulfilling recipes this weekend, I want you to believe in the bird, too. 

Roasting your first chicken is extremely wholesome content. Trust me, the memory is fresh. There is a unique and special intimacy associated with cooking an animal in its whole, intact form. You are working with a chicken not just, chicken. The goal is to buy your meat products from a real farm, raised by real persons and, locally sourcing chickens from smaller butcher shops will get you better quality, sustainable poultry. If approaching your first bird includes its head and feet, I salute and respect you. Save the neck and gizzards, baby! Those are special bits, and your gravy and chicken stock options increase significantly with these spare parts. They will add a richer, more unctuous quality. This is what the professionals like to call, “Flavortown.” 

That said, it’s more likely that you will come across a chicken that has been somewhat butchered for the sake of convenience. Is it easier to buy one of those precooked rotisserie birds in a hot plastic purse from the grocery store? Absolutely. But here’s the thing: DIY is sexy, and vastly more rewarding. Wholesome and sexy — a dichotomous energy, I’m aware. Oven mitts and rustic aromatics are cute, but a plump and golden brown bird with savory juices and pan drippings is... hot. The end.

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Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson of Kismet Rotisserie in Los Angeles are known for their perfectly crispy, golden-skinned chicken, so I reached out for their pro tips on what it takes to roast the perfect bird.

According to the duo, spatchocking (also known as cutting out the backbone and laying the bird flat for roasting), is the way to go,“and and save the backbone for stock!).” Youtube will teach you how this is done if a visual is needed, but you are quite literally just taking a pair of shears and cutting along each side of the spine, removing it, and flattening the bird out by pressing on its body with your hands. 
 
When it comes to seasoning, they advise doing so the day before you plan on roasting.“We like a dry cure, as opposed to a brine. Leave it uncovered to dry out the skin a bit, which helps with crisping.” I used a touch of olive oil, a generous amount of salt, coarse ground black pepper and a sprinkling of dried parsley, rosemary and thyme.
 
When it comes to roasting, the duo recommends “a hot, hot oven. It's the best way to get the (very highly prized) crispy skin and to get the light and dark meat to cook to the right temperatures at the same rate. Plus, it's quick, which you can't argue with!” I roasted a four pound bird at 450 degrees for about 45 minutes. Check with a meat thermometer to make sure it’s reached 165, internally at the deepest part of the leg meat.

This chicken was sublime. The skin was very crispy and the meat was quite juicy. This is the recipe to use if you want great success, with less of a time commitment. But, I was curious what a brine might do for the moisture levels. Andrew Zimmern, host of his own show What’s Eating America, and four-time James Beard Award winner, gave his hot take with a recipe that changed my life.

I repeat, the following roasted chicken recipe changed me. With a few more ingredients and a day and half of preparation, you can also alter your life for the better. It requires a 24-hour brining process, and another six hours (at least) to dry out. This sounds intensive. It’s not. Just mentally prepare to start your dinner two days in advance and you will be rewarded with a chicken so saturated with flavor, so incredibly succulent, it’s mind bending. Upon probing it with a fork, its juices poured out of it, even after resting it for 15 minutes. What the heck. I fed this to three people in my household who all said, in slight variation but with the same sentiment, “this is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

Zimmern’s other very noteworthy poultry musings:

  • “Room temperature meats cook more evenly. 
  • Don’t baste! It dries out and overcooks the part of the bird you are doing your darndest to keep moist.
  • Brining can work for all chicken recipes except whole stuffed birds… It makes the stuffing too wet.
  • Roast the necks, gizzards, livers, hearts in the pan with the onions. It makes the gravy taste better.
  • Buy real chicken that was raised by real human beings.”

Andrew Zimmern’s Oven-Roasted Chicken in White Vermouth, Orange, and Fennel Seed Brine

Ingredients:

  • 1 naturally raised chicken, about 3 pounds
  • bouquet garnish of 2 sprigs rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme and one sprig sage
  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 peeled and quartered medium sized yellow onion
  • Brine:
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • ½ cup white vermouth
  • 3 tablespoons toasted fennel seed, ground
  • ¼ cup sea salt

Gravy:

  • 2 tablespoon flour mixed with 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups rich chicken broth 

Instructions:
 

  • Brine the bird for 24 hours in the fridge in a snug, food-safe plastic tub with the orange juice, sea salt, white vermouth, ground fennel seed and water to cover. (I double bagged two large Ziplocks, and still felt confident.)
  • Take the bird out of brine and dry on a rack in the fridge for 6-12 hours. 
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Place the herbs, lemon and garlic inside the cavity of the bird.
  • Rub the bird with the soft butter and sprinkle with the paprika.
  • Place the bird in a roasting cradle or in a roasting rack and place into a well-insulated pan to prevent scorching the drippings.
  • Place the onion quarters on the rack under/around the bird.
  • Once the bird has spent a total of 90 minutes outside of the fridge it will be at room temperature and ready to place into the oven on the center rack.
  • Start cooking!
  • Turn the temperature down to 325 Fahrenheit and roast for 90-100 minutes. DO NOT BASTE. Once the internal temperature of the deepest part of the thigh muscle reads 165 Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer, remove the bird from the oven.
  • Remove chicken and rack together from the pan, and place on a platter to rest. Lightly tent with foil.

 For the Gravy:

  • Drain away all the liquid from the roasting pan, reserve the fat for another use and separate out the reserved juices.
  • Add the butter/flour mixture to the roasting pan and place the pan over medium heat on a stove top burner.
  • Cook butter and flour for a minute or two. Add the stock to the pan, scraping to deglaze.
  • Bring the stock to a slow boil and place the liquid and solids into a saucepan over medium heat and simmer, season, and reduce to sauce consistency, adding the reserved juices that you separated from the fat.
  • Once the gravy is up to snuff, serve it with the carved chicken.

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Greer Glassman is a Thrillist contributor.