Back to…Cooking School: Roast Chicken 101 (Recipe: Lemon & Oregano Roast Chicken)

Autumn is my favorite time to get busy in the kitchen. I gain tremendous satisfaction from roasting juicy whole poultry, cracking open enormous pumpkins to turn into pies, whipping together smooth root vegetable purees and peeling apples by the bushel.

Not only is the weather cooler, allowing for more hearty dinner fare, but the return of familiar fall rhythms lend themselves well to meals that require a bit of love – and lengthier cooking times.

For the longest time, roast chicken was the only meat my pre-schooler ate – and that was conditional to it having no skin. As you can imagine, I had time to perfect the art of roasting a whole chicken. I avoid purchasing BBQ chickens from supermarkets and fast food chains if at all possible, for health reasons (especially after seeing Food.Inc.), and instead roast an organic, free-range bird that will nourish the whole family.

Roasting a whole chicken is simple: there are no fancy knife cuts to attempt or finicky prep required to get it in the oven. Still, there are a few tricks to getting the most out of your investment. And if you’ve ever purchased a free-range hen, I think you will agree that it’s an investment.

Perfecting Roast Chicken

The last thing you want to do after spending twenty dollars or more on a local, organic chicken is overcook it. Once the flesh dries out, there is little that can be done for it, so here are some tips to roasting the perfect chicken.

1. Rub some love into it

Before cooking, flavor and moisture can be added to a roast chicken in the form of seasonings and fats. In the recipe below, a mixture of olive oil and fresh herbs are massaged into the bird and the result speaks for itself. If you want an even simpler task, merely rub the entire chicken over with a stick of butter and season with salt and pepper before roasting.

2. Bring it up to room temperature before cooking

Don’t be freaked out but, yes, I am actually suggesting that you leave your bird sitting on the counter before you send it to the oven. Bringing the meat up to room temperature (about 70°F) will both cut down on the cooking time and ensure the fowl cooks evenly. Depending on the size of the bird, it will need to sit out between 1/2 hour to 1-1/2  hours.

3. Don’t rush it

A free-range bird is going to take a little longer to cook than a standard supermarket bird. Why? Because it was actually allowed to move during its lifetime! Its muscles have actually been exercised and are slightly denser, hence a longer cooking time is required. So don’t worry if it’s taking a while, just enjoy the good smells emanating from your stove and watch for the signs that let you know your roast is (almost) ready to be enjoyed.

So how can you tell when your chicken is cooked? Pay attention to the legs and they will tell you everything you need to know:

  • Juices run yellow, not pink, when drumstick is pierced.
  • The drumstick wiggles freely at the joint when manipulated.
  • A meat thermometer registers 170°F  when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (but not touching the bone).

Approximate free-range chicken roasting times (unstuffed)
2½ – 3 lbs – 1 – 1¾ hrs
3½ – 4 lbs – 1½ – 1¾ hrs
4½ – 5 lbs -1½ – 2 hrs
5 – 6 lbs – 1¾ – 2½ hrs

4. Let it rest

Upon it’s exit from the oven, do not transfer the roast chicken directly to its place of honor at the center of the table. Instead, let it rest for at least twenty minutes on a tray that will collect any juices that may accumulate. This will allow the cooking juices to be re-absorbed by the meat, instead of leaking out all over as soon as the chicken is sliced into.

A well-rested roast chicken is a moist roast chicken.

My Favorite Lemon & Oregano Rubbed Roast Chicken

Serves six.

  • 1 whole organic chicken, patted dry (about 5 lbs)
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh oregano leaves
  • Two organic lemons, zested
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  1. In a small food processor, combine oregano, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic. Pulse a few times until it looks like pesto. Add olive oil, salt and pepper and pulse to combine.
  2. Using your hands, rub lemon-oregano marinade all over chicken. Using your fingers, gently lift the skin on either side of the neck and rub plenty of marinade directly onto the breast meat, under the skin. Don’t forget to get some inside the cavity (where the organs were).
  3. (optional) Truss your bird if desired. Elise has a helpful step-by-step photo tutorial on how to truss a chicken. Why truss? It’s basically for looks, and brings the legs together nicely. I do not bother to truss my birds, but do admire how the end product of a trussed roast chicken looks. It’s up to you.
  4. Refrigerate for 2-8 hours to allow the marinade to infuse the meat. Remove from fridge about an hour before cooking.
  5. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  6. Place chicken in roasting pan breast side up (I like to use a clay baker for roasting fowl, but unfortunately mine broke during our move last winter!) and place in oven. Roast for ten minutes.
  7. Reduce heat to 400°F and roast about 1 hour and 45 minutes, checking for doneness after 1 1/4 hours.
  8. Remove from oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand 20 minutes before slicing.

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Do you have a preferred way to roast chicken?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the tips and recipe! I cook with chicken all the time but have always been a bit intimidated by the whole chook. I’m definitely going to give this a try now, since chicken is about the only meat my son will eat!
    Cook Clean Craft’s last post: Apple Sultana Chews

  2. We adore roast chicken and eat it often. When I make it, I usually roast three birds at a time. We eat one and then I pull all of the meat off the others and use it later in the week in different meals – pasta, sandwiches, pizza etc. I tend to do this on Sundays and then we have it available for the rest of the week. Your photos look totally delicious!

    • That is really smart, Jan. I can see how I’m going to need to do that pretty soon, as my boys are growing so fast! Right now we get pretty far with just one bird.

  3. Nice post- I love roasting my own chicken. I make the most of it and roast it one day, use leftover chicken for another recipe, and make homemade chicken stock with the bones.
    Lori @ RecipeGirl’s last post: Cross Country Road Trip- Boston to San Diego with food highlights

  4. Yum, that looks fantastic. I just blogged about roasted lemon-oregano chicken *parts* the other day. (http://wordstoeatby.blogspot.com/2010/09/lemon-oregano-chicken.html) Nearly identical ingredients, different treatment. Gotta love that–there’s always a new way to do the same thing.
    debbie’s last post: Lemon-Oregano Chicken

  5. This looks great and I love all the information your provided along with a wonderful recipe!
    alison’s last post: Labor Day Recipe- Easy Beef-Vegetable Kabobs

  6. I love a good roast chicken, and yours looks divine! I’m lazy, so I usually buy them already made at the grocery…its great for leftovers too :)
    Ellen @FirednFabulous’s last post: Meet Me at the Sports Bar- Take 5 Titles

  7. Just plucked fresh sage from the garden for my roast chicken. I love making roast chicken-it is so good and so simple to make!
    Melissa’s last post: The Key To A Light &amp Fluffy Pancake

    • Sage is lovely with chicken, Melissa, thanks for the reminder. One of my favorite appetizers is a small slice of chicken breast, topped with a sage leaf, wrapped in pancetta and baked! Serve with toothpicks and a squeeze of lemon. Delish!

  8. Dee-lish! I will be making this soon!
    Abby @ abby & her boys’s last post: A Preview of Bittersweet

  9. Yum, my mouth is watering!

    I notice that your roasting pan has high walls, and your recipe does not call for flipping the bird (um, I think you know what I mean…). Does this affect the browning?
    Nate @ House of Annie’s last post: Homemade Steamed Egg Tofu

    • Good question, Nate. There is plenty of room around the chicken, so it manages to brown all over. A final basting of butter also helps, if I see it isn’t browning nicely.

      I do have to be careful when I add a pile of root vegetables to the pan, however; if it gets overcrowded, then, yes, I have browning issues!

  10. Seriously – is there anything more delicious than an herb roasted chicken with juicy skin? I’m going to have to buy a chicken at the farmer’s market this weekend. It has been too long over these hot months to be without a roasted chicken.

    And my oregano is out of control!
    Shannon’s last post: Menu Planning During Preserving Season

  11. I was so intimidated by roasting a whole chicken, but I figured it out last fall, and now I have NO IDEA what I was so worried about. Easy, easy, easy! I guess it’s time to accept that fall is coming and crank up the oven again.
    Alissa’s last post: Skip ahead to 10

  12. Hi Aimee, I baked a chicken last night with this recipe and we ALL absolutely loved it. My little two year old (a fairly good eater) had three servings. I wanted to know where you got that oval roasting pan with the rack inside. I would like to get one of those…I am currently using the pan that came with my oven. I do not like how big and shallow it is.

    • That’s awesome, Momstarr! I’m thrilled your family enjoyed the chicken.

      Hmm, I’ve had the small roasting pan for ages…and I’m going to say that I got it at a garage sale. At least I’m pretty sure. The rack came separately, it was given to me.

      I recommended you check out your options for used cookware first before you purchase anything.

      Sorry I can’t be more specific, but I do find a lot of my kitchen items second hand.

      • Your roasting pan looks exactly like the one my mom gave me this fall (2011). It’s by a company called Granite Ware.

        P.S. What happened to the date/time stamps on all of the comments?

  13. I usually brine my chicken and turkey before roasting too. I love the sound of oregano and lemon chicken. My aunt used to make a greek roasted chicken with kalamata olives and baby potatoes and this kind of reminds me of that. YUM!
    Katie @ goodLife {eats}’s last post: Cumin-Lime Pork and Pineapple Quesasdillas

  14. I just made this for dinner tonight and everyone was VERY happy with the results! It was my first successful roast chicken. I had given up until I saw your tips and recipe; I thought I’d give it one last try and am very thankful I did! It was so moist and tender and I was really surprised when the carving only took about 5 minutes. I am definitely making this again! Thank you!
    Kayla’s last post: The winner!!

    • Kayla, I’m thrilled to hear this! It would be such a bummer to give up on something as delicious as roast chicken so early in life! :) Kudos to you for attempting it again and I’m glad to have been of assistance.

  15. I loved this! Just in time to make me REALLY hungry! I have switched and now will ONLY buy free range chicken. I think once you have tasted the difference you won’t go back. I was fascinated to read that they take longer to cook because they have more muscles from being able to roam freely. Just bookmarked your site.

  16. If I could only taste that chicken virtually; oh wait, I’m doing it right now. :) Looks amazing. Can’t wait to try it.

  17. This recipe sounds devine! I have always roasted my chickens in the crockpot. I will have to combine your seasonings with my crockpot :)

  18. I love roasting chickens; it’s such a great way to get leftovers too. I’ll have to try your combination of herbs and spices!

  19. Great recipe and tips, Aimee. The pictures are lovely as usual!

  20. Great post! I know a lot of people don’t bother to roast a chicken themselves, but I really think they should give it a try! It’s much more cost-effective, and with delicious recipes like this, much tastier, too!

  21. I absolutely love roasted chicken. I usually just put a little olive oil on the outside, and then salt it well, and sprinkle on Italian seasoning. :) We also have a rosemary seasoning mix that works quite well. Comes out delicious every time ~ I just have to remember to give it long enough to cook in time for dinner. This sounds wonderful. I’m going to have to try it soon ~ I have a chicken in the fridge for this week.
    Jackie Lee’s last post: Does It All Match Up

  22. i think it was Julia Child maybe who said something along the lines of, ‘a great cook should know how to make a great chicken’ (total ad-libbing here!) – DEEEE-lishhhh!
    SMITH BITES’s last post: SAUSAGE &amp FENNEL PIZZA W-CARAMELIZED ONIONS &amp PEPPADEWS

  23. We love roast chicken around here. Great instructions!
    Kristen’s last post: The Happiness Report – Week 1

  24. fitness girl says:

    Roasted chicken is my most favorite recipe,,love the after cooking smell very delicious and yummy! I’m getting hungry.

  25. Love your recipe and your advice # 4 to “let the chicken rest” before serving it. Have heard this over the years from other cooks and it definitely works just as you describe. Great insights and pictures

  26. Trying this recipe tonight. In fact it is in the oven now. Question..do u cover it in the oven? Also, is there a trick to getting the marinade “under the skin?”

  27. This recipe was YUM!

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