How to Cook a Whole Chicken in 5 Simple Steps
The aroma and crackle of a chicken roasting in the oven promise a delicious meal to come. Sure, it will take a bit of wait time until that meal is on the table, but when you follow our easy instructions for roasting chicken, it's an easy way to get dinner on the table with little hands-on time. Once you choose from the wonderful options for seasoning chicken, including herbs and spices, plus sweet and savory marinades, you just have to get that chicken in the oven and let it roast to perfection.
How to Cook a Whole Chicken
This is our Test Kitchen's tried-and-true method on how to bake a whole chicken. Then you can make a roast chicken dinner in five easy steps, with five (or fewer!) ingredients.
Step 1: Prepare the Chicken
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Make sure to note how much your bird weighs, as this determines how long to roast a chicken in the oven. Set the chicken in a shallow roasting pan ($13, Target), breast side up. Tie the drumsticks together with cooking twine ($5, Williams Sonoma) so the chicken keeps its shape and to ensure even cooking without overdrying the limbs. Since the wings are small and will cook the fastest if they're sticking out, tuck the wing tips under the bird so they don't burn.
Test Kitchen Tip: Sometimes gizzards or other internal organs are stuffed in the cavity of the chicken; remove this packet before cooking and discard or save for another use.
Why You Should Never Rinse Your Chicken
In the past, recipes recommended rinsing pieces of chicken or turkey (or the entire bird's cavity) with water and patting it dry with paper towels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture changed its stance on this practice. Research shows rinsing poultry can spread bacteria by splashing contaminated water onto the surrounding areas. If any moisture is present on your bird when you remove it from the packaging, simply pat it dry with paper towels, and throw away the paper towels immediately.
Step 2: Season the Chicken
While the oven is preheating, brush the chicken with olive oil or butter and season with salt, pepper, and (if desired) crushed dried herbs, such as thyme or oregano. Try the lemon-herb or spice rub variations in our roast chicken recipe.
Test Kitchen Tip: Always wash your hands, countertops, and utensils in hot, soapy water between each step of food preparation. Bacteria on raw poultry, meat, or fish can contaminate other food that is exposed to the same surfaces.
Step 3: Cook Chicken in the Oven
Place the chicken in the roasting pan in the preheated oven. Cooking times vary by weight. Cut the string and cover with foil to prevent overbrowning after 1 hour.
How long to roast a chicken at 375°F:
- 2½- to 3-pound chicken: Roast 1 to 1¼ hours
- 3½- to 4-pound chicken: Roast 1¼ to 1½ hours
- 4½- to 5-pound chicken: Roast 1¾ to 2 hours
Make it a Meal: Cut 1 lb. red potatoes, 3 carrots, 1 medium peeled turnip, and 1 medium onion into 1-inch chunks. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Arrange vegetables around chicken in the pan for the last 45 to 50 minutes or roasting your chicken, stirring occasionally.
Step 4: Make Sure the Chicken Is Done
The chicken is done cooking when the juices run clear, the chicken is no longer pink, and the drumsticks move easily in their sockets. However, don’t rely on these tests alone. Always check the doneness of roast chicken by inserting a meat thermometer ($15, Target) into the thickest part of the thigh. It should read 170°F. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), all poultry is safe to eat at 165°F, but our Test Kitchen found thigh meat was a better texture when cooked to 170°F. For an accurate read, insert the oven-going thermometer in the thigh before you start roasting (it stays in the whole time).
Step 5: Let It Stand
Before serving, allow the whole roasted chicken to stand, covered with foil, for 15 minutes. This will help the juices redistribute throughout the bird for moist, tender meat. Carve and serve. If you have leftover baked chicken, store cooked chicken in an airtight container ($9, Bed Bath & Beyond) in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Freeze it if you'll be using it later than that.
Test Kitchen Tip: Rather than cooking the whole chicken, if you want to make roasted chicken breast or roast other bone-in chicken pieces, we also have a great guide on how to bake chicken. Then you'll know how to bake chicken breast in the oven and how long to roast chicken legs.