The good news is that a roast chicken, with crispy skin and lean, high-protein meat, is one of life's great pleasures and one of the healthiest things you can eat. The even better news is that with a large bird, you'll have plenty of leftovers for chicken enchiladas, chicken sandwiches and chicken soup.
A roasted chicken makes a great impression at the dinner table, too. Choose a classic chicken sprinkled with rosemary and served with a traditional stuffing featuring celery and onions, or go for an innovative recipe like a soy-ginger chicken served with Asian veggies.
Prepare the Stuffing
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you never buy a chicken already stuffed, because the risk of harmful bacteria having a chance to grow is too great. It is safe though to cook the aromatics for the stuffing ahead of time and refrigerate them, adding them back to the breading just before cooking. Always cook raw meat or shellfish, such as sausage or oysters, before adding those ingredients to the stuffing.
Prepare the Chicken
If your chicken came with the neck, gizzards or a package of gravy tucked into the cavity, remove those items before starting to prepare the bird – the last thing you want is a plastic bag inside your perfect roast chicken. Use paper towels to completely dry the outside skin on all sides and the inside cavity, so that the skin crisps in the oven and the meat roasts rather than steams. Finally, salt the inside and outside of the bird with about 1 tablespoon of salt, and rub a bit of butter or oil on the skin to help it crisp.
Stuff the Bird Loosely
Using a large spoon or your hands, drop the stuffing into the chicken's cavity without compressing it to try and fit in every bread cube or mushroom. An overstuffed chicken increases the likelihood that the stuffing may not cook completely and may instead be a hotbed for dangerous bacteria. No matter what kind of stuffing you use, always put it inside the chicken just before cooking – stuffing ahead of time encourages bacteria.
Roast in a Hot Oven
In a roasting experiment, Sara Schneider, food writer for "Sunset" magazine, reported that setting your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit produced the crispiest skin and most juicy meat. Since your oven's temperature may vary, experiment with decreasing or increasing the oven temp by 25 degrees until you find the best temperature. Don't worry about basting the bird as it cooks, because, as fun as it is to use the squirting baster, basting makes a chicken's skin softer, not more crispy.
Cook Until Done
Generally speaking, a chicken without stuffing needs 15 minutes per pound, or 1 1/2 hours for a 6-pound bird. But you'll need to add about 30 more minutes for a stuffed chicken, bringing your total to 2 hours. You'll know for sure that the bird is done when its temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit when you insert an instant-read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and into the inner thigh. You can also measure the temperature of the stuffing after the chicken is finished. The stuffing should also register 165 degrees – give it a few minutes in the microwave if it's under that temp.
Using a meat thermometer is the best way to reduce your chances of getting sick from undercooked chicken, or to avoid overcooking. If you don't own an instant-read meat thermometer, ask for one for your next birthday, and use the sharp knife test in the meantime. With this method, cut into the meat between the breast and the thigh. If the juices that run out are clear, the chicken is done. But if they appear somewhat red, give the bird another 10 to 15 minutes before checking again on the other side of the chicken.
Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.