Recipe: How to Roast a Whole Chicken (and safely defrost meat)

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Cooking a whole chicken is economical, easy, and delicious. Once you decide to give up conventional, factory-farmed meat (that’s oftentimes laced with antibiotics and synthetic hormones) and switch to the humanely-raised, organic variety instead, it’s no secret that the price goes up. To offset this increase in cost you can do two things – select cuts of meat that are less expensive per pound (like a whole chicken) and/or eat less meat all together. For all those who have never cooked a whole chicken before…have no fear because it’s easy to do! And this even applies to people like me who don’t like to actually handle or touch whole, raw chickens. :) I normally cook whole chickens in my slow cooker, but have recently become fond of roasting chicken as well (details below).

Rosemary Whole Chicken

How to Safely Defrost Meat

Now before you get started, it’s important to make sure you aren’t trying to cook a chicken that’s currently sitting in your freezer. Easier said than done? When I used to buy standard grocery store chicken this was never an issue, but now that I shop at the farmers’ market I’ve found that almost all of the local meat is sold frozen. And just the other day I was supposed to be roasting a chicken that was – yes – still frozen, which prompted me to do some research.

This is what I learned about defrosting meat:

  • The ideal way to defrost meat is in the fridge overnight. If you are defrosting a whole chicken or large turkey it could take 2 (or sometimes 3) nights to fully defrost.
  • If you forget to defrost overnight the next best method is to defrost meat (sealed in a plastic bag) in cold water. The USDA website recommends changing the water every 30 minutes and the defrosting times are as follows: “Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood — about a pound — may thaw in an hour or less. A 3-to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound.” After you use the cold water method for defrosting it is best to cook the meat right away – absolutely do not refreeze or refrigerate the raw meat for another day!

I admit that for years I used to just throw a frozen pack of meat on the counter for a few hours if I needed it in time for dinner. We obviously lived to tell about it with no problems, but what I’ve learned is that using cold water to defrost meat is not only safer but actually MUCH faster than just leaving it on the counter to fend for itself. The USDA says “Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.” Oops…better late than never I guess!

Since life just gets in the way sometimes, here are some more tips that might come in handy when you don’t exactly remember to follow the rules above:

  • If you accidentally defrost your meat in warm water (as I also did recently) – the USDA does not consider this to be a “safe” method – but if you want to roll the dice (which apparently my facebook community does a lot with no problems) be sure to cook the meat right away and cook it thoroughly.
  • Two hours is the key number – perishable foods should “not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.” I use this guideline when putting away leftovers and groceries as well. The USDA specifically advises to not leave perishable foods in the “Danger Zone” temperature range for more than 2 hours. The “Danger Zone” is between 40 and 140 °F (i.e. anything warmer than your fridge, but not warm enough to cook) and is when bacteria begins to multiply. Just say “no” to the multiplying bacteria (well, “bad” bacteria that is). :)
  • When all else fails the USDA website says, “It is safe to cook foods from the frozen state. The cooking will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.” Good to know!

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4.5 from 4 reviews
Rosemary Roasted Chicken
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (with lemon peel reserved)
  • ¼ cup olive oil + extra for roasting rack
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 lbs in size
  • Special equipment needed: Baking sheet or roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack (or a cooling rack will do), basting brush, and a basic (yet good-quality) meat thermometerChicken
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the roasting rack (or cooling rack) on a baking sheet or roasting pan and brush the rack with oil. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl mix together the rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Remove any giblets or bag of "parts" that may be stored inside the chicken. Reserve for another use (like stock or gravy) or discard.
  4. Place the chicken on the prepared rack with the breast side down. Brush a little less than half of the oil mixture on the top and sides of the chicken. Turn the chicken over so the breast side is now up. Pour a little bit of the olive oil mixture inside the cavity and brush the remaining oil on the top and sides. Stick the reserved lemon peel inside the cavity (as much of it as you can fit).
  5. Put the chicken in the oven and then use a measuring cup (or small bowl) with a pour spout to add 2 to 3 cups of water into the bottom of the roasting pan or baking sheet. Roast the chicken for 40 to 50 minutes or until the thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 170 degrees F (don't leave it inserted while baking). Check on it a couple times while cooking and add more water to the bottom of the pan if necessary.
  6. Let the chicken cool before carving. Serve "as is" or dice it, shred it, or chop it so you can add it to another dish!
  7. And don't forget to make overnight chicken stock in your slow cooker with the bones!

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45 comments to Recipe: How to Roast a Whole Chicken (and safely defrost meat)

  • Thank you for the thorough information on this post! I’m preparing a large meal with several roast chickens for Rosh Hashanah, and needed some tips on the best quick defrost methods.

  • Jessica

    Our family is only a few weeks into eating only Real foods, so if this isn’t a a very bright question, y’all forgive me, okay?! Planning on making the oven roasted chicken for dinner tonight, but I have NO fresh rosemary… is dried rosemary an okay substitute in this recipe, and how much would I use?
    Also, I wanted to thank you, Lisa. You have been a huge inspiration, teacher, and my go-to girl for all recipes. You’ll never know what you’ve done for my family!!!

  • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Jessica. We can rarely answer recipe questions in real time. How did it turn out? ~Amy

  • Tiara

    Hooray! I have no roasting pan, and have been searching for a way to create one for chicken roasting, which I have yet to do. I’m so excited to try this out. Thank you for sharing!

  • Brittany

    I was wondering if you had a guide as to how long meat will stay good in the freezer? I am always confused about this an end up throwing out way more than I should.

  • Jamie Dunson

    I think I like this chicken more than the crockpot version but still thankful for these whole chicken recipes. Before Lisa, I never made whole chicken. Thank you

  • Well, a big disappointment on my end. I thought I read that the chicken would be done at 160 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh. This resulted in an undercooked breast upon further examination. Well, even though the chicken was a messy bust for me this time around, I did manage to make Paula Dean’s “The Lady’s Chicken Soup” minus the dairy products and it was delicious. I highly suggest that soup (nom nom nom) It did make delicious gravy too! Although it wasn’t quite done enough, there were still drippings galore!

  • Tricia

    The USDA has a wonderful food-safety website called You can submit a question and they will respond to you within 24 hours. There is also a live chat during specific hours. I have used it several times, once when planning a camping trip and once when planning a large school dinner for 30 family’s at my son’s school. (I’ve had food poisoning a few times, so I definitely didn’t want to inflict that on anyone else!). They’re answers are very thorough and helpful, I’ve been very impressed by it.

  • Amazing! This blog looks just like my old one!
    It’s on a completely different subject but it has
    pretty much the same layout and design. Wonderful choice of colors!

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