How to Cook a Whole Chicken

Cooking a whole chicken is easy with the right tips and tricks. This step-by-step guide will help guarantee success every time.

Parts of the Chicken

Breast: The breast is the most ample part of the bird -- a whole chicken has two breasts, one on each side of its rib cage. Many people prefer its juiciness and mild flavor to other parts. But white meat is also more susceptible to drying out and getting stringy.

If you're cooking it by itself: Bone-in, skin-on breasts are best roasted or baked. Skinless, boneless breasts are best cooked quickly at high heat -- grilled, stir-fried, or pan-fried.

Thigh: The two chicken thighs, at the tail end of the bird, contain large hunks of dark meat -- known for its moist, tender qualities.

If you're cooking it by itself: Skinless, boneless thighs can be cooked in much the same way as skinless, boneless breasts -- grilled or pan-fried. Because dark meat doesn't dry out as easily as white meat, chicken thighs are also good candidates for longer cooking methods, such as baking or stewing.

Roast Chicken with Fiery Lemon Glaze

Drumstick: Drumsticks make up the lower part of the chicken legs and are encased in a ball of dark meat.

If you're cooking it by itself: Drumsticks are delicious baked, deep-fried Southern-style, oven-fried, or grilled. The skin and dark meat can withstand the high heat of the grill without drying out.

Wing: The two chicken wings along the top part of the rib cage (near the breasts) don't have much meat, but what's there is dark meat and tender.

If you're cooking it by itself: Wings are best cooked quickly at high heat -- grilled or broiled, roasted, or deep-fried -- to make the skin crispy.


How to Cook a Whole Chicken

Step 1: Prepare the chicken

You don't need to wash the chicken before you cook it. However, sometimes the chicken is packed with gizzards or other internal organs, which are stuffed in the cavity of the chicken; remove this packet before cooking. Set the chicken in a roasting pan, breast side up.

Step 2: Preheat the oven and season the chicken

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. While the oven is heating, brush the chicken with olive oil or butter and season with salt, pepper, and desired herbs and/or spices.

Step 3: Roast the chicken

Place the chicken (in the roasting pan) in the preheated oven. Cooking times vary by weight:

2-1/2- to 3-pound chicken: Roast 1 to 1-1/4 hours

3- to 3-1/2-pound chicken: Roast 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours

3-1/2- to 4-pound chicken: Roast 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 hours

4-1/2- to 5-pound chicken: Roast 1-1/2 to 2 hours

Step 4: Remove chicken from oven

The chicken is done cooking when the juices run clear, the chicken is no longer pink, and the drumsticks move easily in their sockets. The internal temperature -- measured by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (thermometer should not touch bone) -- should be 180 degrees F.


How to Carve a Whole Chicken

Follow these tips for cutting and serving a whole chicken:

Step 1: Remove the legs

Holding the chicken firmly with a fork, use a sharp knife to cut through the leg joint and completely remove the leg from the body. Repeat with the other leg.

Step 2: Cut the breast

Turn the knife blade sideways and cut horizontally into the breast half until you hit the breast bone. Repeat on the other breast half.

Step 3: Divide the breast

Carve down through each breast to divide it into serving-size slices. You can also make a cut right next to the breast bone to remove a breast half and keep it in one piece.

Step 4: Clip the wings

Cut off the wing tips with a sharp knife, then cut the wing pieces away from the body of the bird.

Step 5: Cut the legs in two

Cut through the joint between the drumstick and the thigh to separate the two. Repeat with the other leg.


How to Cut & Debone a Whole Chicken

Some recipes call for cutting up a whole chicken into its parts and/or removing the bones (a process called deboning) before cooking. These two articles will guide you through the steps for each technique.