Things You're Doing Wrong When Roasting a Chicken
You're Doing It Wrong: Because being wrong doesn’t actually feel right. To find out other things you’re screwing up, click here.
Back in my day, my Irish grandma would just toss a chicken in a boiling pot of water, throw in some taters, and let that shit roll. But that was back in the '90s, when the president was banging secretaries in the Oval Office and O.J. Simpson was just an ex-football player who always seemed mildly off, for reasons that were explained later.
These days, if you want to roast a respectable chicken like a grown-ass man and/or woman, you need to know what you are doing. And the first step to knowing what you are doing, is knowing what NOT to do.
You're not using a cast-iron pan
OK, so you don't have to use a cast-iron skillet -- admittedly, it's a little more unruly than your traditional pan. But for those who really want subtle, lyrical flavors to shine through, a cast-iron pan is well worth the extra work, especially if you've spent time seasoning and perfecting it. It's an art form in itself.
You aren't preheating your pan
This is especially true if you go the cast-iron skillet route. If you preheat your pan (in the oven or on the stovetop -- doesn't matter) and then place your bird atop the heated skillet, the dark meat -- most of which will be in contact with the hot surface of the pan -- will get a leg-up on the easier-to-cook white meat. This will ensure an evenly cooked chicken. Which is what you want.
You're not letting it rest in the seasoning
Sometimes even dead chickens need to relax a little bit. Your bird should have ample time to rest in the flavor. Let your seasoned chicken hang in the fridge, after seasoning (more on that in a minute) for as long as you can -- even up to a full day. This will deliver nice, crispy skin, and make sure all that seasoning is adequately soaked up.
You aren't patting that sucker dry before you season it
If you want to season the chicken's skin, make sure you pat it dry beforehand -- it may seem obvious, but you'll be shocked at how many people mess this up.
You don't know about the dry brine
You can brine your chicken without submerging it in salty water. Try a dry brine, instead. Again, you want the chicken skin very dry, and to give the seasoning time to rest before you start cooking it. Use about 2 tablespoons of salt for a bird that weighs 2.5 to 3.5lb, and feel free to liberally apply orange or lemon zest -- it pairs nicely with the salty flavor.
Also, MAKE SURE YOU RUB THE CAVITIES (unless you splay it, of course). This will make sure you get a nice, balanced taste reminiscent of a wet brine. We promise, if you do it right, it will be the same thing -- and maybe even better. For more on optimizing your chicken's cavities... scroll down!
You don't use aromatics in the cavity
It sounds like a statement your dentist would shame you with, but in reality, if you are keeping your chicken in tact while cooking, it's definitely worth your while to stuff the cavity with fresh herbs, peeled garlic, diced onions, and even lemons.
The flavor will soak through the whole bird while it cooks, delivering evenly flavored meat, with an extra kick. The choice of seasoning is yours, of course, but you might want to keep in mind that some critics claim this kind of "inner seasoning" may make the skin less crispy... but in our experience the difference is negligible and the benefits well outweigh the risk.
You aren't burnishing the bird with fat
So you don't necessarily need to add extra fat to your chicken -- just like you don't need to eat a tube of cookie dough and watch three episodes of The Wire before you go to sleep every night. It's just better when you do. Drizzle some olive oil, or a melted stick of butter, all over your chicken before you roast it to give it golden-brown skin and, um... fatty taste. Trust me. It's delicious. Or, you can coat your fingers with butter and (carefully!) peel back the skin and coat the inside of the bird with some butter between the flesh and loosened skin.
You don't glaze your bird
You can burnish your bird and glaze it -- you don't have to choose. The key here is getting a glaze that mixes a sugar with a potent condiment. Think maple syrup and black pepper. Or honey, lemon, and soy sauce. Sounds good, right? Wait until the last 20 minutes of your chicken roasting, and then lay it on there. Here's the catch: you have to watch carefully to make sure the glaze doesn't burn before the chicken's done (if it does, just cover it with foil). This will definitely make your chicken's skin less crisp, so if that's a big deal to you, either go light on the glaze or avoid it all together.
You aren't spatchcocking (if you don't mind opening up the bird)
If you want a bird that's cooked quickly, with succulent white meat and evenly cooked dark stuff -- spatchcocking (hehe) may be the way to go. Unfortunately, this will kill any dreams of a perfectly presented whole cooked chicken, but it will deliver crispy skin and an overall effort that should cook within 45 minutes.
Basically, you take kitchen shears and cut along one side of the chicken's backbone. Cut it the whole way down, then open it up so it lays flat. Cut along the other side of the backbone then remove it completely -- and make sure you cook your chicken breast-side up!
... and if you do spatchcock, you're throwing out the backbone (don't!)
I definitely get why you would toss the backbone... I mean, it's gross. But hold on to it! Roast it alongside the chicken for an excellent stock starter later, or for one of your less refined guests to chew on after dinner (seriously, it's delicious). You can also leave the backbone inside while spatchcocking... just cut along one side only and don't remove it. It doesn't really add anything, it just takes away a step. Be warned: your splayed chicken may not look as good, though.
If you are keeping your chicken intact, you are trussing the long way
There's a better way to truss, people. Don't complicate things. All you need to do is tie the legs together (at the ankles) with one piece of twine, and use another piece of twine to tie the wings to the breast. Even if you are planning on stuffing your chicken, the leg ties (if you do it right!) should hold.
You aren't using an instant-read thermometer
Yes, this requires you to make an additional purchase -- but check your grandma/mom/next-door-neighbor-who-is-not-home-a-lot-and-is-over-trusting's junk drawer... they are bound to have an extra thermometer laying around. Using one is the safest way to make sure your chicken is done (stick it in the thickest part of its thigh!) It should hit 165 degrees (Fahrenheit, obviously).
And if you don't have a thermometer, you aren't using this nifty trick
If you really don't have access to a thermometer, cut into the thigh, the whole way to the bone. If you see any red at all, you need to put the bird back. Or, you can stab the thigh with a knife, to see if the emitted juices are clear (this is good) or tinged with red (not good).
You aren't adjusting the temperature to your own personal preferences
Your bird can taste radically different depending on the time and temperature parameters you use while cooking. Here is a simple game plan: if you want things soft and tender, go at a low temp for a slow cook. If you want it a little tougher, with crispy skin, go hard and fast. For the former, go for about 325 degrees for 1.5 to two hours, and for the latter go at about 415 degrees for a little over an hour. That should do the trick, respectively.
You are serving it as soon as it is done
Let your chicken rest! After it's done cooking (and before you cut it!) the bird needs to rest a little bit. Cover it in a little tin-foil tent, and let it chill for 10-15 minutes before cutting into it.
You are carving it the long way
Here's a play-by-play of what you need to do to carve your chicken efficiently (when dealing with a full bird, of course):
- Pull the thighs away, and cut at the joints
- After they are off, cut away the joint that connects the drumsticks to the thighs, to separate them
- Cut the wings off, just like the thighs
- Slice as deep as you can alongside the breast of the bird on one side, then cut around the breast meat and through the skin that connects it to the back. Then, just do the same thing on the other side.
- Then, flip the sucker over, and remove the oysters, using the tip of your knife to pry them away from your bird
You're serving it on a cold platter
Heat up your serving platter for five minutes before dropping your bird on it. It's super easy! And a nice, Martha Stewart-esque touch that will leave everyone thinking you really have your shit together. Which is what adult life is about, really.
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