There are all kinds of crazy ways to roast a chicken. But sometimes you just want the best, simplest old fashioned roast chicken recipe out there. Here it is.
Why we love this recipe
There are a zillion ways to roast a chicken. To be honest, we love quite a few of them. (Especially Chez Panisse Herb Roasted Chicken and Roast Chicken and Potatoes with All the Best Things.) But we love this old fashioned roast chicken recipe because sometimes you're just not in the market for bells and whistles, and you shouldn't have to be.
Sometimes you just want classic food, perfectly prepared. You want:
- Great-quality roast chicken
- With tender meat
- And crispy skin
To be totally transparent: For decades my mom has been roasting an even simpler chicken than this. No olive oil. No salt. Not convinced she tucks the wings. And it turns out great. So I've always known that while sometimes you WANT a more elaborate roast chicken, you absolutely don't need one to be delighted.
What you'll need
Here's a glance at the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe.
- One good-quality whole chicken, 4 to 5 pounds
- A tablespoon of olive oil
- A half teaspoon of fine sea salt
- Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
Our favorite sources for meat
For years, we’ve been sourcing our meat from Butcher Box. We love this curated meat delivery service, which provides grass-finished beef, heritage breed pork, organic chicken, and more from small farms direct to the customer. You can learn more in our extensive Butcher Box review and unboxing.
More recently, we've also become big fans of Cooks Venture for chicken.
How to make it
Here's a top-level overview of what you'll do to make our simple, and simply perfect, old fashioned roast chicken recipe. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the additional sections and recipe card below.
- Remove any giblets and pat chicken dry. Place in a roasting pan and rub with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Tuck the wing tips under the bird, and decide whether you're going to tie the tips of the drumsticks together. (See the section on trussing below.) Roast at 425°F for about an hour, until the juices run clear when you prick a knife between a leg and thigh, and the breast meat reads 145° to 150°F on an instant read thermometer. Let the chicken rest for 20 minutes.
- To carve, follow the instructions in the section below. First you'll remove the thighs and drumsticks, separating them in you like. Then remove the wings.
- Remove the breasts, following the bone as a guide. Slice them, arrange on a platter, and serve.
How to prep a chicken for roasting
Here's all you need to do to get a whole chicken ready to roast simply in the oven. You can watch it all go down in the video that accompanies this post.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the center.
- Find a roasting pan that will accommodate your chicken. For a 4 to 5 pound chicken, I use a good old 9x13x2-inch metal pan.
- Remove any giblets that may have come with your chicken. If there are any, you'll find them tucked into the inside cavity of the chicken, probably in a little bag. You can use them to make gravy or discard them. For a simple roast chicken like this, I don't use them.
- Rub a tablespoon of olive oil all over the outside of the bird.
- Sprinkle it generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Tuck wing tips under chicken. See below for more about this.
To truss or not to truss
First things first: Trussing a bird before roasting means using kitchen twine to tuck the wings against the bird and tie the drumsticks together and snug against the body. For a large bird that needs a long time to roast, trussing can result in more even cooking. I always truss turkeys for this reason.
But I find that for a bird this size — a 4 to 5 pound chicken — a full trussing isn't necessary and ends up seeming kinda finicky.
And in fact, in our experience, the bird cooks up faster, crispier, and MORE evenly without trussing because more air is circulating around the legs and into the body cavity.
Here's what I do instead of trussing:
Simply tuck the tips of the wings beneath the bird so they don't burn. You can see that step in action in the video and in the step-by-step photos above. I usually leave the legs as-is.
That said, if you plan to present the whole chicken on a platter before carving and would like it to look more elegant (rather than a little excited and spastic, like an untrussed bird does), you can tie the tips of the legs together with a bit of twine. And if your chicken comes pre-trussed, definitely just leave it as-is.
It may take a little longer to roast.
How to roast a whole chicken
I also find that for a 4 to 5 pound chicken, it's not necessary to fuss with cooking temperature. You can leave the oven at 425°F the whole time and expect a quickly, evenly cooked bird.
You will simply:
- Place the prepped bird into a 425°F oven. Place the pan on a rack in the center.
- Roast for about an hour, until the juices run clear when you prick a knife between a leg and thigh, and the breast meat reads 145° to 150°F on an instant read thermometer. Start checking the temperature around the 45 minute mark. Don't stress if the temperature goes a little bit over.
- Let the chicken sit for 20 minutes.
- Carve and serve!
How to carve a chicken
Here's what you'll do to carve a whole chicken. You can see these steps in action in the video. You'll see that I'm a little clumsy at carving (always have been, maybe always will be), but also that it's reasonably easy to carve a small, properly cooked chicken. It's almost like it WANTS to be carved.
Wait until the chicken has cooled enough to handle, and then:
- Remove the legs and thighs from the body by pulling the leg away from the body and cutting through the skin and the hip joint (which connects the thigh to the body). For a small chicken, I usually don't bother to separate the drumsticks from the thighs, but you can do so if you like by cutting through the joint that connects them.
- Remove the wings next in a similar fashion.
- Remove the breasts by running your knife down and then out to the side of the bird, following the line of the breastbone.
- Slice the breasts.
- Place everything on a plate, and serve.
What to serve with old fashioned roast chicken
If you're going for a classic roast chicken dinner, there's nothing better than a salad and some potatoes, plus maybe a cooked green veggie. We love:
- Small-batch Yukon Gold, Boursin, or wasabi mashed potatoes
- Creamy mashed cauliflower (a ridiculously delicious low-carb alternative)
- Lemony orzo
- A perfect baked potato
And as a much-beloved bonus, consider homemade applesauce.
Expert tips and FAQs
One of the things we love most about this roast chicken is how versatile it is. The meat is juicy and tender and simply flavored, and no one says you have to sit down to eat it like a proper meal from 1950. (Though NO shade if you want to — we love that too.)
You can also use roast chicken in:
Chicken and white bean chili
You can use the carcass, and ALL the bones and connective tissue if you like, to make a really great stock (a.k.a.) bone broth.
For a traditional meal, there's nothing like a chicken that's just come out of the oven. Since it's hands-off and doesn't take long to make, I usually don't make it in advance for this type of meal.
That said, pre-roasted and leftover chicken is great for all sorts of things served hot, room temperature, or chilled. See above for some ideas to get you started. Leftovers keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.
Prefer to bake chicken parts?
You'll love our baked BBQ chicken thighs and drumsticks.
- 1 good-quality whole chicken (4 to 5 pounds)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C) with a rack in the center.
- Remove any giblets from the cavity of the chicken and pat it dry all over.
- Place the chicken into a roasting pan. For a 4 to 5 pound chicken, I like to use the good old 9x13x2-inch metal roasting pan we've had for years. Nothing fancy.
- Rub the chicken all over with the olive oil, and sprinkle all over with the salt.
- Tuck the tips of the wings under the chicken.
- Roast for about 60 minutes, until the juices run clear when you stick the tip of a knife between one of the legs and thighs, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the breast reads 145°F (63°C) to 150°F (65°C). Start checking around the 45 minute mark, and don't worry if it goes a little bit over.
- Let the chicken rest on a cutting board for 20 minutes. Then carve and serve.
- For a quick and super-easy upgrade, try using a fancy salt, like truffle or herb salt.
- For a traditional meal, there's nothing like a chicken that's just come out of the oven. Since it's hands-off and doesn't take long to make, I usually don't make it in advance for this type of meal.
- That said, pre-roasted and leftover chicken is great for all sorts of things served hot, room temperature, or chilled. See above for some ideas to get you started.
- Leftovers keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 389Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 132mgSodium: 387mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 41g