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.
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.
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.