My Roast Chicken Secrets Revealed

A year or two ago, I got rid of my roasting pan. Not because I’m anti-roasting pan, or because I needed the space, but because I realized that my roasting pan had a non-stick surface and that I’d been scratching it up with a metal spatula over the years and that there was a teensy, tiny chance I’d been exposing myself and my loved ones to carcinogens whenever I roasted a chicken and that we’re all going to die and it’s all my fault.

So these days, when I roast a chicken, I rely on my largest cast iron skillet. Frankly, I think it works better. And I riff on the beloved Thomas Keller roast chicken recipe, the one I’ve been making for the past eight years, combining assorted root vegetables and potatoes and garlic in the bottom of the pan with a splash of vegetable oil, salt, and pepper, and then topping it with a chicken that I stuff with thyme and garlic, also rub with vegetable oil, before sprinkling with lots of salt and pepper. Only, I’ve been much bolder with a certain ingredient to really make my roast chicken shine. Can you guess what it is?

Hint: it starts with the letter “b” and it rhymes with shmutter.

That’s right, butter.

You know, in addition to PBS, one of my biggest sources for cooking inspiration is Instagram. I follow lots of chefs and food people on there and not too long ago, I was looking at Ludo Lefebvre’s feed and he positively slathered a chicken in butter. Ludo’s food at Trois Mec and Petit Trois is some of the best French food in L.A., so when I saw that, I made a mental note: the next time I roast a chicken, I’m going to use more butter than usual.

And you know what? It makes a big difference.

Not only does it keep your roast chicken moist, it also helps it brown up beautifully. I mean just look at last night’s bird.

The other big step I’ve been taking has to do with cooking time. In the past, I used to worry about overcooking the chicken; now I worry about undercooking it. Through my various roast chicken experiments, I’ve discovered that the longer I let it sit in the hot oven, the better it gets. Very rarely does the breast dry out (probably because of all of that butter) and the legs and dark meat get properly done, they become almost fall-off-the-bone tender. My new procedure: start at 475 for 20 to 30 minutes, until the outside is really brown, lower to 425 and then cook for an hour more. So 90 minutes total.

The other thing I do? Once the pan’s out of the oven, I lift the chicken off, put it on a plate or platter to rest, and, after tossing the vegetables around a bit with a metal spatula, I stick the pan back in the oven to get the vegetables even more caramelized.

The dirty secret about this roast chicken recipe is that it’s not about the chicken at all, it’s about the vegetables. They get infused with all of that chicken fat and butter and salt and then get super brown and sweet and I’ve had many a friend nod happily when they try my chicken, but then swoon when they try the vegetables. (See: my friend Ryan proving this point.) (Actually, it looks more like he’s finished his vegetables and he’s recoiling from Craig.)

Finally, last night, I figured out the perfect way to serve my roast chicken. Scoop all of the vegetables on to a platter, then cut the bird up with a big knife and place the pieces on top, sprinkling everything with parsley.

Who wouldn’t want to see that on their dining room table, especially as it starts to get chillier outside? Serve with Dijon mustard, a bottle of Pinot Noir, and that’s pretty much the perfect roast chicken dinner, as far as I’m concerned. You could add a salad, but after all of that butter? You’d only be kidding yourself.

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  1. I Cannot wait to do this! Adam I adore your recipes. And your writing too. Thanks for this. Tuesday night this is what we are having

  2. I just sent this to my husband with the note:

    “From the blogger who brought us The Best Broccoli of Your Life! He’s blogging again!! \o/”

    Can’t wait to make this buttery chicken.

  3. I realized butter isn’t really necessary when I made the famous Zuni roast chicken. It’s astoundingly delicious so people think you’ve smeared it in butter but it has none. Same with Marcella Hazan’s roasted chicken with lemon.

  4. Ever since I saw you do this with chicken a few years ago, it is the only way I make roast chicken now too. So thank you! Its perfect every time. I agree with the butter being the key. Last year, we also did something similar to the Thanksgiving turkey. Lots of butter on top and the turkey was soo good.

  5. I need to make a roast chicken, now, this weekend. (Your initial Thomas Keller roast chicken post is why I haven’t roasted a chicken any other way since I tried it! Thank you!)

    This is BEAUTIFUL.

  6. Yes. Used to use olive oil and was wretched. Have been slathering with butter for years, cooking at 425, and checking after an hour! Luscious! Must look closely at your roots bed, great idea! My latest great discovery is to save all pan drippings too to pour into carcass soup pot. Fat skims off anyway after longgg simmer, and drippings add to that gelatinous perfection in finished soup. Thanks for the roots idea. Can’t wait to try!

  7. Adam it is absolutely wonderful to have you back! I have been using butter with my turkey and chicken for years however my tip is separate the skin from the meat and tuck the butter underneath. I also make a compound butter to do this by putting in salt pepper and vary up the seasonings and herbs. And while I put it under the skin I also put some on top of the skin so if you’re looking for a healthy dish don’t come to my house!

  8. Yum! I’ve got a big bird in the fridge that was going to hit the smoker. That plan may have just changed.

  9. We just returned from Paris, and of course, I had to try a roast chicken. The chicken was ok, but there was a sauce that came with it that was out of this world. I don’t know how to duplicate it. But I’ll make this recipe tonight; sounds great.

  10. This looks so good! I’ve rubbed my chicken with butter, I’ve even put it under the skin….but never this much butter. But this is exactly what I’m going to do to the next roast chicken…probably tomorrow!

  11. I adore adding butter to roast my chicken. On top of skin under skin slather the chicken all over and salt and pepper of course. Lately,adding limes to cavity and that improves the flavor. Thanks for your inspiration.

  12. Hi Adam, you posted this at the perfect time. My husband had mentioned that morning that he wanted to make a roast chicken for dinner – I sent him this recipe and let him go at it on his own. He’s a cooking novice and cooked the bird upside down (breast down) but actually – the breast was the juiciest I’ve ever had, so many it wasn’t a bad idea!

  13. i found your website through smitten kitchen and have been loving it! you are hilarious!

    i’ve recently started to eat meat after being vegetarian for 10 years. i’ve never roasted a chicken! the timing of your roasting is based on what size of a chicken?

  14. Adam, I wanted to thank you for inspiring me to learn more about cooking again! I’d grown so bored with it all…and I happened onto one of your recipes posted on Facebook, and wa la ! Adam, I made this meal this past Sunday, and you’re right…the viggies were to die for! I didn’t use a brined chicken, and I was a disappointed that the chicken seemed a bit flat tasting. I think next time I’m going to cook it breast side down, so all the juices run to the breast meat? Regardless, I feel inspired again, thanks to your blog….big hug and kiss.

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