Baked chicken makes for a simple dinner that is rich in flavor, has juicy meat, is economical to buy, and is low in fat; it is compatible with many different types of diets. Chicken can be dressed up with an endless variety of seasonings and ingredients. A whole chicken feeds about four to five people, and leftovers can be used in other dishes, like tacos, sandwiches, and chicken soups or stews.
Different Types of Chicken
The USDA (the United States Department of Agriculture, the agency that governs everything food-related) has established guidelines for types of chickens by age and by weight. The younger the bird, the less fatty and more tender the meat, and the older chicken, the tougher the meat will be but with more flavor and fat. The breastbone becomes harder and less flexible as the bird ages, making it harder to cut. Be sure to always use a sharp knife.
As with any cut of meat, the type of chicken used will affect the outcome of the dish. There are several types of poultry available, and they can be confusing.
A broiler is a young chicken between the ages of 4-7 months and weighs around 2 ½ lb. Fryer chickens are between 2½to 4½ lb and 6-8 months old. Fryer and Broiler are used interchangeably because they are both raised for meat. Packages will sometimes read “broiler/fryer.” They are both suitable for any type of cooking. They are lean and have flexible breastbones. Roasters are chickens less than 8 months old and are bigger, weighing 3 1/2 to 5 pounds. They have developed more fat and flavor. Stewing Chickens are “retired” laying hens 10 months to 1 1/2 years old, and they weigh between 5 and 8 pounds. They have less fat and are most suited for slow cooking, where tougher meat has time to break down during the long, moist cooking. Cornish Hens are small birds weighing approximately 1 to 2 pounds and are good for grilling and roasting. A rooster is a mature male chicken low in fat with tough, dark meat requiring long, moist cooking. Roosters are used in the classic French dish Coq Au Vin. Capon is a very large male bird that has been neutered and weighs approximately 6 to 10 pounds. Some prefer them because they contain more white meat than dark meat and roast very well.
Roasting time depends on your individual oven and the temperature setting, so these times are approximate. Measuring the proper internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer tells when the chicken is done.
2– 3 lbs 1 – 1 ½ hrs
3– 4 lbs 1¾ – 2 hrs
4 – 5 lbs 1½ – 2 ½ hrs
5 – 6 lbs 2 – 2¾ hrs
NOTE: Free-range chickens will take a little longer to cook. The extra exercise they get makes their meat slightly denser, requiring a longer cooking time.
Remove the Gizzards
Whole chickens sometimes come packed with gizzards and organs in a plastic packet. Remove those from the inside of the chicken and bake on the side or freeze them to add to your future holiday stuffing or gravy making.
Washing Not Required
Raw chicken should not be washed prior to baking. Raw chicken juices splashed around the kitchen sink or kitchen counter, and the cutting board can easily spread salmonella. Cooking to the proper temperature will kill all possible bacteria. Always cook chicken to at least 180 F.
Trussing Your Chicken
There are a few ways to truss the chicken. Some ways are simple, while others take practice. Trussing makes the chicken more compact, helping it to cook more evenly. Trussing a chicken also helps prevent the tips of the wings and drumsticks from burning and makes the cooked chicken look more attractive. Also, roasting chicken with the breast cavity open allows hot air to circulate inside of it, cooking the white meat too fast and drying it out before the thighs and legs are properly cooked.
Basting and Rotating
Basting chicken does not need to be as complicated as basting a large turkey. Taking the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan and ladling them over the roasting chicken a couple of times should be sufficient. Chicken does not need to be rotated during roasting and should be baked with the breast side up.
There are many approaches to roasting a chicken. Each method should produce crispy skin and juicy meat. Before roasting, add seasoning and fats that will produce flavors and crispy skin. It can be a mixture of olive oil, and fresh herbs massaged into the bird or a pat of butter and salt and pepper. You can also make a spice rub with paprika or with dried and granulated onion and garlic with butter, as I used in my recipe.
Start the chicken in a 450F oven. If the chicken is browning too fast, but the proper inside temperature has not been reached yet, cover the chicken with aluminum foil. If your chicken does not have the crispy skin you desire, turn the oven on “broil” for 10-15 minutes.
Toward the end of baking, check the temperature. All chicken needs to be cooked to at least 180 F. in order to be safe to eat. It does not matter if you check the dark or white meat. The temperature should be taken at the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone.
Do Not Rush With Cutting
After your chicken reaches an internal temperature of 180F, let it rest for at least twenty minutes, covered in aluminum foil. Do not leave the chicken in the hot oven after it has finished roasting. It will dry the meat out. This step will allow the cooking juices to be re-absorbed by the meat instead of the juice running out as soon as the chicken is sliced. This will ensure you have a tender and juicy chicken.
Chicken is an easy go-to dinner idea when we run out of time or menu ideas. I buy my chickens on sale and keep them handy in the freezer. Remember to defrost chicken 24 hours prior to roasting. Do not bake them frozen; the center of the chicken will not reach a high enough temperature to be cooked, and the legs will end up being burned.
Pat your chicken dry before seasoning. Use a paper towel and carefully discard it since it could contain contaminated chicken juices.
Trussing the chicken: just tuck the wings under so they stay close to the body of the chicken. Or tie the legs together while catching the wings underneath and tying them closer to the body.
Make a spice rub with dried and granulated onion and garlic with butter.
The chicken needs to be cooked to at least 180 F in order to be safe to eat. It does not matter if you check the dark or white meat.
The temperature should be taken at the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone.
Allow the meat to stand for 15 minutes before carving to keep juices from running out of the meat. While the chicken is “resting” for 15 minutes, its internal temperature will continue to rise for a few minutes.
If the chicken is browning too fast, but the proper inside temperature has not been reached yet, cover the chicken with aluminum foil.
Enjoy your dinner!
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