Whenever I am asked by someone to teach them to cook, I start with getting them to make a basic whole roast chicken.  There are two reasons, first it gets them over that whole touching raw meat thing that many new cooks have and second it’s only a hop skip and jump from chicken dinner to Thanksgiving Day turkey.  The roast chicken dinner is the perfect meal to make for a ton of situations: meeting the in-laws, Sunday family dinner, or cook once and eat leftovers all week. I think it’s an empowering meal for a new cook to tackle taking a big ugly raw chicken and make it into something crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. Plus the leftover meat makes sandwiches or pasta and the carcass is the base for great homemade soup stock.  The versatility of roast chicken gives a new cook so many different ways to enjoy the results of his or her work. In this recipe I use lemon, onion, and rosemary to flavor my chicken but this is just what I like go crazy with your preferred flavor combination.

If you really want to see the best cooking segment on a whole roast chicken I have to send you to the PBS archives to watch Julia Child’s the French Chef’s episode on chicken.  It is a great episode, I can remember as a child watching Julia handling those raw birds and rattling off facts in her wonderful sing-song voice. Its worth a trip to the PBS archive for a watch.

Basic Roast Chicken


  • One roasting chicken
  • A few ribs of celery
  • 2 lemons
  • 6-8 sprigs of rosemary
  • 6 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 3-6 small onions
  • 1 stick of butter softened
  • 2 cups white wine
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you have a convection setting on your oven use it for roasting the chicken to help crisp the skin.
  2. Start by cleaning your chicken. I like to work with my chicken in the sink, so first I scrub my sink being sure to rinse all the soap out and plop him right in there. Rinse the chicken well inside and out, remove the giblets and save them for the bottom of your roasting pan. The giblets may either be in a package or just lose in the cavity. Check the outside of the chicken for any feathers that may have been left on and pull them out. At the opening of chicken’s cavity there may be a large flap of fat, pull that off and discard it.
  3. Also reach inside the chicken and remove and thing that looks lose and yucky. There are bits of lung and other parts that should all come out, my mom grew up on a farm and she is big on pulling everything out of the cavity, thus so am I. Give the chicken a good rinse inside and out with cold water when you are done.
  4. Once it’s clean give it one last rinse and pat it dry inside and out using paper towel. This is so that the butter will stick to the skin.
  5. Now twist the wings underneath themselves to keep them tucked next to the bird so they will not burn. Just twist them under and you will see that they flip right into place. At this point I will leave the bird in the sink, wash my hands and get my roasting pan ready.
  6. Spray the inside of heavy roasting pan with cooking spray and arrange 4-6 pieces of celery to make a roasting rack for the chicken in the bottom of the pan. Toss the rinsed giblets down into the bottom of the pan.
  7. Back to our chicken. While he is in the sink I will stuff the cavity. Start by liberally salting the inside, at least 1-2 tablespoons. Next put in a few wedges of lemon, some onion, 2 sprigs of rosemary, 4 cloves of garlic, and the leafy ends from the celery ribs.
  8. Don’t over stuff the inside, air needs to circulate inside so he will cook evenly.
  9. I like to move the chicken to the pot at this point so I can use the edges of the pot to keep the bird from moving around. Before I get back to the bird, I sanitize my sink: hot water, lots of soap, and some anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner.
  10. Now loosen the skin from the meat at the mouth of the cavity to make a pocket over top of the each breast. Be gentle. Then slide in about ¼ of the stick of butter and spring of rosemary, massage it all around and down over the breast using your fingers from either inside or outside the skin. Click here to see a larger version of this image .
  11. Then use the leftover butter to rub all over the chicken, top and bottom, don’t forget to get under the legs and wings. Next flip the chicken breast up in the pan.
  12. Tuck sprigs of rosemary under the wings and legs; be sure to tuck the herbs in well so they will not burn.
  13. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the top of the chicken. Salt and pepper the outside so it sticks to the butter and lemon.
  14. Arrange all the leftover onion, garlic, and celery around the outside of the bird and pour in the white wine. I have not trussed this bird, frankly for a small chicken it’s more effort than it’s worth, I think. If you do want to truss the bird I would do it just after filling the cavity. If you don’t want to do that much but you feel like the legs are splaying out too far you can always just tie the legs together right before you pop it in the oven.
  15. Bake for about one hour or more or until the inside temperature of the chicken is 165 degrees and the juices run clear. When done let the chicken rest of about 10 minutes before you remove from the roasting pan and carve him. The onions that baked around the outside of the bird are delicious so arrange them on the serving platter as well. Serve and enjoy, don't discard the crispy skin that is best part.

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