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This basic recipe for roast whole chicken is amazingly juicy and tender! Follow these step-by-step directions and win over the hearts of the people you love with this foolproof recipe for roasted chicken recipe with lemon, garlic and herbs.
If you’ve never attempted to roast a whole chicken, this is the basic recipe you want. It makes a tender, perfectly seasoned juicy chicken with a minimum amount of work.
I’ve been cooking professionally and as a home cook for years and years, and have roasted so many chickens I’m afraid to count them! But long before I was comfortable in the kitchen, this simple recipe is the one I started with.
Learn how to:
- Know the best size chicken for roasting
- How to tie or truss a chicken
- The best roasting pan for chicken
- How to roast a chicken with a lemon inside
- What to serve with roast chicken
Fun fact: Versions of this chicken are known as “Marry Me Roast Chicken” or “Engagement Chicken“ because dozens upon dozens of proposals came about after it was served.
Move over, Ina Garten
When I heard that people were going crazy over this chicken, I noticed immediately that the recipe was almost the exact replica of the best roast chicken recipe from acclaimed Italian cooking teacher and author, Marcella Hazan.
Her roast lemon chicken is as easy as it gets — it calls for a chicken, a lemon and salt.
I first came across it in Marcella’s cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking — which by the way is a book I’d ABSOLUTELY grab on the way out of my house if it was burning down.
I’ve tweaked the recipe over time to suit to my family’s taste, but remains true to the original.
I started adding whole head of garlic and handfuls of fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme to the chicken to had more flavor. I also adjusted the oven temperature to achieve a deeper color and crisper texture on the skin.
Best roasting pans for chicken
You don’t need a fancy piece of cookware to roast a chicken. In fact, the simpler the better.
- The best choice are pans that are about 12-inches, just the size to hold the chicken without too much space around it.
- I don’t recommend using a pan more than 3-inches deep, such as a basic casserole-style dish. Because the chicken will be resting deeper inside the pan, the oven heat won’t be able to circulate all around. That means the chicken skin won’t brown evenly, and will steam instead of crisp.
Use one of these pans to roast a chicken:
- An inexpensive rimmed baking sheet, also known as a “quarter-size” pan, measuring 12″x9″.
- A 2-3 quart capacity roasting pan, made of enameled cast iron or stainless steel. Definitely more of an investment, but it can be used for so many things, like reheating leftovers in the oven, roasting vegetables, baked pasta or seafood.
- A 10-12-inch cast iron skillet. Basic and works perfectly!
Why you need to put a lemon inside a chicken
The magic of this recipe is that the lemon bastes the chicken from the inside out. As the chicken gets hotter and hotter in the oven, the juices come out of the lemon and ooze out into the chicken parts — thigh, wing, breast and skin.
All you need to do is poke some holes in a small lemon and stick it inside the chicken cavity. When you carve into the chicken, you’ll see all those juices spill out to make a natural tangy sauce.
Tying or trussing a chicken
There are many ways to truss a chicken, but honestly I often go with the easiest, quickest method — tying the legs together.
The goal here is to keep the lemon and other seasonings in the cavity so they can work their magic, seasoning and moistening the chicken while it cooks. It’s easy!
- Cut a 12-inch length of kitchen twine or plain cotton string.
- Loop the string around each leg, then tie it securely in the middle.
How to roast a whole chicken
- Properly season your bird with plenty of salt and pepper. Seriously, this is the key to a tasty, super-juicy chicken, whether it’s a roasted whole bird or portioned into baked chicken quarters.
Note on seasoning: I use more than a tablespoon of coarse kosher salt plus a full teaspoon of fresh black pepper both inside the cavity and rubbed all over the skin. If you’re using regular table salt, decrease the total amount to 2 teaspoons.
2. Next, insert the lemon, garlic cloves and herbs inside the chicken and tie it up with a piece of string. You can also use toothpicks pushed through the skin on either side of the cavity.
3. Drizzle some olive oil over the bottom of pan so the breast skin doesn’t stick to the pan and minimize tearing when you turn the chicken over.
4. Preheat the oven while the chicken rests at room temperature. Marcella starts her chicken in a preheated 350 oven, but I like to get my bird nice and hot right away to ensure crisp, golden skin.
That means a 425-degrees oven for 25 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to 375 degrees to finish roasting, another 25-30 minutes depending on the size of your chicken. To help determine doneness, insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. It should read between 160-165 degrees.
Choose the right size chicken
- The ideal weight for a roasting chicken is 3-4 pounds, typically called a “fryer”.
- Confusingly, chickens larger than 4 pounds are often called “roasters” in many grocery stores. In my opinion, they’re not as tender and juicy as younger, smaller birds.
The smell that comes out of the oven while this little bird is cooking is amazing! Don’t be surprised if brings people into the kitchen before it’s done.
What to serve with it:
A simple whole roast chicken makes a comforting dinner that everyone seems to love. Make it a whole meal by serving with all the pan juices and some delicious sides:
- Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes
- Crispy Smashed Parmesan Potatoes
- Brown Butter Green Beans
- Sautéed Broccoli with Garlic
- Easy roasted carrots
Be sure to save the bones and carcass to make homemade chicken broth!
Roast Whole Chicken with Garlic and Herbs
- 1 (1.3 kg) 3-4 pound whole chicken
- 4 teaspoons (55 g) kosher salt, I use Diamond brand or coarse sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small head garlic, sliced in half
- 1 small lemon or half of a large one, punctured about a dozen times with a skewer
- 1 handful mixed fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, tarragon, rosemary or lavender
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Pat the chicken as dry as possible with paper towels and place in a shallow casserole dish or roasting pan. A quarter-sheet pan is the perfect size for one whole chicken.
- Put 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon of the pepper, the garlic, lemon and herbs into the cavity. Rub the remaining 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper all over the skin — front, sides and back. Tie the legs together firmly with a piece of kitchen string.
- Drizzle the oil into the pan, and turn the chicken breast side down. Let it sit at room temperature while you preheat the oven to 425 (220 C) degrees, for at least 20 minutes. Make sure the oven rack is set in the center of the oven.
- Roast the chicken for 25 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and carefully turn it so the breast is facing up. Put it back into the oven, turn the temperature down to 375 (190 C) and roast for 25-30 more minutes. When it's done, the chicken will be sizzling and spitting, the legs joints will wiggle and the skin should be golden and crisp. You can take its temperature with a digital thermometer if you're unsure: 160-165 degrees before resting is my preference.
- Take the chicken out of the oven and let it rest, loosely covered with a piece of aluminum foil for 15 minutes. Carve and serve with reserved juices from the pan and the inside of the chicken.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- No kitchen string? Close the cavity with a few toothpicks pushed through the skin on either side of the cavity instead.
- If you’re using regular table salt instead of kosher salt, decrease the total amount to 2 teaspoons.
- Leftover chicken is great to use in baked pasta dishes or sliced up to use in chicken salad sandwiches.