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

9 Reviews / 4.2 Average
If you've never cooked a whole chicken before, I'm showing step-by-step how easy it is to roast in the oven. This is a great way to feed the whole family and have leftovers for other delicious meals. I've adapted this recipe from the Williams Sonoma French Cookbook.
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How to thaw a chicken quickly and safely roasted chicken with a lemon on a cooling rack.

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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 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. Get the most out of your groceries with this guide on how to thaw chicken quickly, and safely before trying out the perfect rosemary chicken in the oven!

How to Thaw Chicken Quickly and Safely

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).

Now before you get started, it’s important to make sure you aren’t trying to cook a frozen chicken. 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 on how to defrost chicken safely.

Time to safely defrost meat varies by method and weight of the frozen meat

The ideal way to defrost meat is in the fridge overnight.

  • A small chicken or turkey (5 pounds or less) usually can defrost in 24 hours or less
  • large whole chicken or turkey can take 2-3 days to safely defrost in a refrigerator

The next best method is to place the frozen meat in a plastic bag, or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and place it in a cold water bath. The USDA website recommends changing the water every 30 minutes. After using 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!

  • Small packages of meat, chicken, or seafood (1 pound or less) can thaw in an hour or less
  • 3-4 pound packages may take 2 or 3 hours
  • A whole frozen chicken or turkey should be estimated by 30 minutes per pound

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! If you want to know how to thaw chicken quickly and safely as possible, remember to keep these things in mind!

What to do if You’re Unsure About Defrosting Meat

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!

There are many ways to enjoy this chicken. Try this Buffalo Chicken Pasta!

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78 thoughts on “How to Roast a Whole Chicken (and safely defrost meat)”

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Recipe Rating

  1. 5 stars
    Great taste. Wish I could still see the comments though. First time I followed the recipe to the letter, but it was not done. Someone posted how long they roasted the bird and it was perfect.

  2. 1 star
    I have tried many recipes from this blog and follow the directions as it states; however, this was not my favourite. I prefer the crockpot whole chicken recipe from this site to this one. As others have said, the chicken was not cooked through even after I kept it in the oven longer, the bottom was mushy, and it lacked flavour.

  3. 4 stars
    The recipe is very tasty, but I believe it needs some fine tuning on the cooking time and temperature. My old oven runs hotter than stated. I roasted a 4.5lb chicken as recommended at 425F for 55 minutes, then I let it rest while I finished the rest of the meal. I didn’t have a thermometer handy. When served, it was completely red by the bone, and in fact blood came out of the first piece I served. After this I googled it and the top results gave me something to the effect of cook at 425F for 15 minutes, then lower to 350F and roast for 20 minutes per pound. I imagine that would be a safer bet and I will try it next time.
    That said, I loved how crispy the skin came out. The rack and water in the bottom of the pan worked great. And rubbing lime (which I used instead of lemon) zest on the inside made it scrumptious.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi. This is in #2 of the instructions: In a small bowl mix together the rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. This is in #4 of the instructions: 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.

  4. Curious regarding the water in the roasting pan – various other roasting recipes I’ve run into don’t include this. What good does the water do, and does the water “steam” the skin to be less crispy?

  5. Hi all! My mom makes the most fabulous roasted chicken and I finally got the details of her technique so I can use it myself. Here is the best way I’ve found to roast a whole chicken.
    – Preheat oven to 350 degrees on the roasting setting.
    – Mix together a dried herb and spice blend with thyme, sage, basil, oregano, rosemary, white pepper, garlic salt, a little paprika, and anything else that sounds delicious to you.
    – Rinse the chicken with water, remove andy giblets inside, and pat dry.
    – Place the chicken in a glass baking dish (like 8×8 or 8×12).
    – Apply seasoning generously to all surfaces of the chicken, inside and out.
    – Place in the oven breast-side down.
    – Roast for 45 minutes.
    – Then flip the chicken over so the breast-side is up and roast for another 45 minutes. Baste the breast side once during the 2nd 45-minute stretch – about halfway through is best.
    – After 90 minutes total of roasting, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 mins before carving. You don’t need to check the meat temp, It will be cooked through and delicious!

  6. Hi Lisa,
    I’ve loved your recipes since I found out about your blog. Mostly because they are so easy and always come out great! I have been eating a “real food” diet for a long time now. I have two kids, one who just started kindergarten this year, so the lunchbox recipes are always inspiring.

    There are two things I wanted to mention to you, I didn’t know if you had done research on. One that I always substitute maple syrup for the honey in any dish that is heated. Honey should never be heated on the stove or in the oven. The same goes for olive oil. Many Itallian recipes call for olive oil, but it can become toxic when heated. It should always be used afterwards. When using it in a sauce, I use butter or coconut oil and then add the olive oil after it is done cooking.

    I was curious what you have found out about honey or olive oil, and would love to hear what you think.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Mary. We do not recommend using olive oil for high temperature cooking. As far as honey goes, we’ve looked at the research and while it is true that some of the beneficial enzymes are lost when honey is heated above a certain temp, we’ve not found any science points to toxicity. But it is important to come to your own conclusion. :)

      1. Just curious about this comment. You say you DON’T recommend olive oil for high temperature cooking but this recipe cooks at 425 and uses olive oil.

      2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Hi Alyssa. Yes, I should have been specific with: not cooking with it on high direct heat because it will smoke. I roast with olive, coconut and avocado oils. :)

  7. I like to oven roast 2 chickens at the same time in cool weather. You need to make sure you have something to serve as a roasting rak for both chickens. Keep in mind you need a deeper pan as their will be more drippings.
    In warm weather, I prefer the slow cooker. Either way, I save as many bones as possible for broth.

    My mother used to cook cut up chicken in the oven. I am not sure how she did it. It was not shake n bake. Wish I had asked her. I fix boneless skinless all the time. But, bone-in and skin on is different.

  8. I’ve read a lot about replacing olive oil with coconut oil because health benefits of olive oil drastically change and become unhealthy when cooked or cooked at high temps. Do you have any thoughts on coconut oil? Thank you!

    1. I don’t think the olive oil turns into anything dangerous. It is just that coconut oil is digested in a way that is healthier for our cholesterol levels. It was on living
      I read a page on this site that recommends coconut oil for baking (cookies, etc.)

  9. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

    Hi Jennifer. The temperature was correct. Glad it turned out well in the crock pot. Could you have had some drippings spill over onto the bottom of the oven? That makes mine smoke like crazy.