Many of my customers tell me that they have cooked chicken parts before (breasts, thighs, wings), but have never cooked a whole bird. This post is for you — fear not! While it takes a little bit longer to cook a bird whole, the rewards are worth it:
- Whole birds give you the most flavorful meat with the best nutrition, since nutrients from the bones are partially imparted to the meat during cooking.
- You can cook less often! When you cook a whole bird, you can end up with 4+ meals worth of meat, saving you time and dishwashing throughout the week.
For information on how to cook with the specific types of poultry that we raise, please visit our post on Cooking with Different Breeds of Poultry.
There’s two general philosophies on cooking whole chicken: high-temp cooking, which focuses on crisping the skin and the expediency for your meal, and low-temp cooking, which focuses on creating tender, juicy meat, but takes a little longer. As long as you know the type of bird you’re working with, you can use either to achieve the desired results.
(If you want to cook a whole bird but need it to go a little more quickly, spatchcocking the bird is a great option to help it cook more quickly and evenly.)
High Temp Cooking
I consider anything from 350f-450f to be high temp when it comes to poultry. Roasting a broiler chicken in the traditional fashion involves pre-heating your over to 350-450f, trussing the chicken with twine (optional), and roasting in a pan for ~45mins to 1.5 hrs depending on the size of the chicken and temperature you choose. A meat thermometer will tell you when the internal temp reaches 165f, and juices from the thigh joint should run clear, signaling that it is done.
Grilling, BBQing, and pan-frying chicken pieces are also considered high-temp methods, and benefit from paying close attention to cooking time and temperature in order to make sure the meat stays tender.
Using a dry-brine or a wet-brine on the chicken before cooking at a high temp will help keep the meat juicy, where it might otherwise have a tendency to dry out. This is especially important when cooking Red Ranger chicken at high temps.
Low Temp Cooking
Even though I love a good crispy-skinned chicken now and then, low-temp cooking is my preferred method for our chicken because the meat is guaranteed to come out juicy and fall-off-the-bone tender every time. Given all the love and effort that goes into raising great-tasting birds, a little extra time in the kitchen seems worth it.
Also, I’m often multi-tasking like mad, even in the evening — I prefer a cooking method that always gets great results with minimal effort, and low-temp cooking is perfect for that. I have two main methods: Oven and Crock Pot.
Oven: Pre-heat your oven to 250f. Prepare a cast-iron dutch oven or metal roasting pot (whichever pot you use, it must have a lid) by pouring a small splash of apple cider vinegar and 1 tbsp of your favorite oil in the bottom.
Place your whole, thawed chicken into the pot breast-side down, sprinkle with salt, put the lid on, and stick it in the oven. The size of the chicken will be the primary factor in determining how long it stays in the oven – 2-3 hrs for ~3lb chickens, 3-4 hrs for chickens 4+ lbs. It needs very little attention while in the oven — you can flip if over so that it’s breast-side up halfway through cooking if you desire.
Crock Pot: A crock pot is a great option because it’s set-it-and-forget-it. Place the chicken in breast-down, sprinkle with salt, and set the pot to Low. No extra liquid is necessary, though a little acid helps tenderize the meat even further — if you want to put your favorite sauce (such as marinara or lemon pepper) under the chicken, that can be tasty too!
Different crock pots operate at different temperatures, and differently sized birds will be done in shorter or longer amounts of time. When the chicken is done, internal temps will read 165f and the juices from the thigh joint will run clear. I usually estimate 6-8 hrs, but the danger of over-cooking the chicken in a crock pot is almost non-existent (unless you let it cook so long that all the moisture evaporates! The moisture is very important.).
I love coming home from a hard day’s work to a warm pot of chicken that’s ready to eat.