How to Prep a Whole Chicken, Plus a DIY Chicken Stock Recipe

Your ultimate guide to mastering the roast chicken.


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A whole chicken is a better deal pound-for-pound than buying in pieces. It requires a little more planning than purchasing the breast, drumstick, and thigh meat separately, but roasting a whole bird gives you a bounty of ready-to-go, juicy meat that can serve as the backbone for several meals to come. Learning how to cook a whole chicken is a kitchen skill that you can lean on for weekly meals as well as special-occasion dinners.

Consider this your chance to no longer be cooped up with ho-hum breast meat. Beyond a payload of protein, chicken is a notable source of niacin, a B vitamin used in hundreds of enzyme reactions in the body, including those involved in metabolism. And there’s no reason to be “chicken” about eating the dark meat. Compared to white breast meat, the difference in fat numbers is hardly worth fretting about, and dark cuts like thigh can contain higher amounts of nutrients like iron and zinc. But if you want a leaner meal, be sure to nibble on the skin with restraint.

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If you are feeding fewer mouths, opt for a broiler or fryer bird, which ranges from 2½ to 5 pounds compared to the 6 or more pounds of a roaster. The benefit of a smaller chicken is that it tends to roast more evenly and maintain better juiciness than older, larger birds. The package should be well-wrapped and leak-free, with no “off” smells radiating out. You can gently press on the breastbone—it should be flexible and bounce back instead of feeling hard and sinking when pressed.

Prep

Pat chicken dry and brush oil over the skin. Season with salt and pepper or your favorite rub mixture. Stuff a halved garlic bulb, one quartered lemon, and some fresh thyme sprigs into the cavity. Transfer chicken, breast side down, to a rimmed baking sheet, roasting pan, or cast-iron skillet. Cross legs and tie with twine. Roast at 425°F until an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh (avoid touching the bone) and juices run clear, about 15 minutes per pound of chicken. Let rest 10 minutes before carving. Use the cooked meat in sandwiches, soups, power bowls, and pasta dishes. And you can—and should—use the leftover carcass for DIY stock (our go-to slow cooker recipe is below).

Make It Last

Keep raw chicken in the fridge in its original packaging on a lipped tray or plate (to catch any juices) for up to two days before roasting. A whole chicken can be stashed in the freezer for up to eight months, but cover it in an additional layer of plastic wrap or slide into a large ziplock bag as another barrier to freezer burn. If stored in an airtight container, cooked chicken meat can last in the fridge for up to five days before it should be tightly wrapped and frozen for later use.

Cook a whole chicken and then use the carcass in homemade stock.
Photo: Getty

Slow-Cooker DIY Chicken Stock

Anytime you cook, collect your veggie scraps—the tops of leeks or green onions, herb stems, leftover greens, ends of carrots, tops of garlic bulbs—seriously, collect them all. Bag them and freeze until you’ve got enough to fill a slow cooker. Add a chicken carcass or two from cooking a whole chicken, some water, and several hours later you’ll have rich and delicious homemade stock. If you want extra collagen and a meaty flavor boost, we recommend roasting a pound of wings and adding those to the mix.

  • Total time: 12 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken carcass
  • 2 garlic bulbs, halved
  • 2 onions, halved
  • 1-2 carrots
  • 1-2 bunches parsley
  • 2 cups of various vegetable scraps (leek tops, herb stems, root vegetable ends)
  • 6 cups water

Directions

  1. Step 1

    In a 6-quart (or larger) slow cooker, place the chicken carcass on the bottom. Top with garlic, onions, carrots, and parsley. Fill the slow cooker up almost to the top with the vegetable scraps.

  2. Step 2

    Add 6 cups water, and press on solid ingredients to help immerse them (they won’t all be under water, and that’s OK). Cook on LOW for 10-12 hours, stirring occasionally (if you have the time, you can continue to cook the stock for up to 24 hours).

  3. Step 3

    Remove large solids from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon or tongs, and discard. Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth and place over a 3-cup Mason jar. Carefully pour the stock through the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Repeat with another Mason jar (you should have about 6 cups yield).

  4. Step 4

    While liquid is still hot, screw on Mason jar lids to seal. Allow to cool before storing in the refrigerator or freezer.


—Recipe by Jessica Campbell-Salley