How to Roast a Whole Chicken or Turkey
Roasted Chicken is one of those things that seems like it’s a big deal, but really there’s not much to it. All you really do is unwrap a chicken. Place it in a pan in the oven and bake it for 1 to 2 hours. If you feel fancy you can sprinkle it with a few seasonings before baking. Roasted chicken sounds really fancy and it looks beautiful on the dining table, but it’s less work than baking a batch of muffins. The hardest part is washing the chicken because you have to touch slimy, wet, naked chicken. But you get to wash your hands afterwards, so even that isn’t so bad. Once it’s in the oven you can ignore it for a while and do more entertaining things like watching funny cat videos or helping the kids with homework.
Most whole packaged chickens and turkeys have instructions on the package. I follow these instructions for the most part. I always use a meat thermometer and I recommend others do too. It’s too easy to underestimate the time a chicken or turkey needs to cook all the way through. With the cost of meat being what it is, I can’t afford to waste any by under cooking, and I can’t afford to play fast and loose with my family’s good health either. Meat thermometers cost less than $5 at most discount super stores and they are well worth the price. After roasting a single turkey or 2 chickens, it will pay for itself. Knowing the internal temperature of my bird precisely means there’s never any waste because I didn’t cook it long enough. Even more important is my peace of mind. I know I’m not feeding my family salmonella or any other beasties because I rushed my chicken.
Using a meat thermometer is easy enough. Just poke it into the chicken, making sure it’s not touching bone, a big slab of fat, or the bottom of the pan. I like to use the thigh because the thermometer can go in deep and there are relatively few bones to navigate.
I almost never stuff my birds with stuffing. The fat that cooks out of the chicken or turkey is absorbed by the stuffing. Since we’re trying to reduce fat and cholesterol, it would be counter productive to feed the family a lot of chicken fat when it can be avoided.
Another problem with stuffing is that it’s hard to know when it’s cooked all the way through. When the thermometer in your bird reads 180º you know that it’s done. Then the thermometer must be removed from the turkey (or chicken) and poked down deep into the stuffing, to make sure the stuffing is done too. If the stuffing doesn’t register 165º then the whole bird has to keep cooking until the stuffing reaches that temperature. I personally find that tedious when it’s so simple to bake stuffing in it’s own dish.
The process of roasting is relatively simple. Thaw your chicken or turkey if necessary. Remove it from the wrapper. Remove the giblets and neck from the inner cavity. If they are still frosty then they can be wrapped and placed back in the freezer. When you’ve collected several of them use them to make homemade broth. If possible, wash or rinse the bird in a clean sink. This improves the flavor of the cooked meat. It’s cold and slimy. Do it anyway. You won’t regret it. Plop the chicken or turkey onto a roasting pan or in a large rectangular baking pan.
Wash the sink with bleach to get rid of all the poultry juices. Wash your hands too.
Place the bird in the oven and bake it at 325º to 350º until the internal temperature is 180º or a little more. When poultry is cooked the juices run clear. If you poke your bird and the juices have even the faintest tinge of pink then it’s not done yet.
Birds that are completely thawed cook faster than those which are still partially frozen. A small chicken, about 3-pounds, that has not even a hint of frost, will roast in about 1 to 1-1/4 hours. A 5-pound bird will need about 2-hours. Turkeys are usually cooked about 20 minutes to the pound, although this varies according to the starting temperature of the turkey. Since chickens are smaller they are more often cooked at 350º, while turkeys, which are larger, are normally roasted at 325º.
When roasting there is no need to cover the bird with a lid or tin foil unless it’s browning too quickly. In that case the breast may be shielded with foil to to slow down the browning process. You could also place the bird on a lower rack in the oven and/or turn the temperature down a smidgen.
Seasonings may be applied before roasting. Garlic, salt and rosemary or poultry seasonings are traditional. Rub them inside and outside the chicken with your hands and then roast the chicken as directed.
Garlic & Herb Roasted Chicken
- 3 to 5 pound chicken, not frozen
- 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning blend
- 1 teaspoon Poultry Seasoning blend
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
Open the chicken and place it in a clean sink. Reach inside and remove the pouch of icky innards. Put the innards in a freezer bag and put them in the freezer. Forget about them until the next time you boil a chicken. Run cool water over and inside the chicken, rinsing it until the water runs clear.
Let the chicken sit in the sink to drain for a little while. If you’re in a hurry then pat it down with paper towels. Throw the used paper towels away. Plunk the clean bird down on a baking pan. If your pan has a roasting rack in it, all the better, if not, don’t sweat it.
Wash your hands.
In a small bowl combine the seasonings listed above. You may also add a 1/4-teaspoon black pepper if you like, but it’s not necessary. If you don’t’ have the seasonings listed then feel free to make a mixture of your own. Mix the seasonings with a fork. Rub half the seasonings on the outside of your chicken. Rub the other half inside your chicken. No need to be exact. Some of the seasonings will stick to your hands, there’s no help for it, but try to get more of the seasonings on or in the chicken than on your hands. When you’re done rubbing in seasonings, poke a meat thermometer into the chicken.
Wash your hands again.
Place the seasoned chicken into the oven and set the oven to 350º. Allow the chicken to cook for 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours for a smaller chicken or 2 to 2-1/4 hours for a larger chicken, or until the meat thermometer registers 180º. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes to set up the juices so they don’t squirt out when you cut it and burn your eyeballs. Now serve the chicken to fussy in-laws who always doubted that you’d amount to much. Watch their opinions change and smirk quietly to yourself. Well done young padawan. There is much force in you.
Mediterranean Roasted Chicken
Instead of the seasonings above use the following: 1-teaspoon oregano, 1-teaspoon garlic powder, 2-teaspoons lemon pepper (Mrs. Dash). Rub into the raw chicken as instructed above and roast as directed. This has become my family’s favorite seasonings for roasted chicken.
Assuming 2-ounces of roasted, skin-free meat, mixed light and dark, per serving:
Per Serving: 108 Calories; 4g Fat (36.6% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 0g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 50mg Cholesterol; 49mg Sodium.
Exchanges: 2 Lean Meat.
I love your writing style, Miss Maggie! I have read every recipe here and most of yours from HBHW, whether I intend to cook them or not, just for the pleasure of reading your style of writing! Funny, down to earth and even sometimes a bit imperative, I just love it! Thank you so much for your wit, your wisdom, and your wonderfully delicious recipes! I hope there are many more to come!
Thank you Kristene. I admit to purposefully cultivating my imperative voice. Lots of the recipes I read online, especially from “health” bloggers seem to recommend food choices and cooking techniques that appear needlessly expensive, strict and complicated to me. When I write, part of my motivation is to combat the idea that good healthy home cooking is prohibitively exclusive. If readers can laugh at the absurdity of my imperative voice, then I almost feel they have been inoculated against it when they encounter it on other blogs. So in my own backwards way, I have done my good deed for the day. I admit to having twisted motives sometimes. I am very pleased you enjoy my efforts. That really is my ultimate goal.