How to cook chicken with crisp skin and succulent meat

Don’t truss. Tying the chicken legs together blocks heat from penetrating the interior of the thighs, which are the slowest parts of the bird to cook.

Use a V-shaped rack. Elevating the chicken allows the heat to circulate and brown evenly – otherwise, the bird back stays pale and unappealing.

Double-check your oven temperature. In the on-and-off pattern to maintain heat, some ovens cycle at more extreme ranges than others. Some also lose heat faster when the oven door is opened. Each of the six ovens in Sunset’s test kitchen produced slightly different results. If a chicken roasts significantly slower or faster than suggested in the Roasting Chart (see below), you may want to check the accuracy of your oven with a reliable oven thermometer and adjust the thermostat or have your oven serviced.

Use a cooking thermometer. The best way to determine doneness is to use a thermometer. It can be a quick-read thermometer or one that heats with the bird.

Position the thermometer carefully. A chicken isn’t the same temperature all over when it’s cooked. For the breast, insert the thermometer through the thickest part of the meat to the bone; for the thighs, insert the thermometer parallel to the thighbone through the meat to the hip joint. The chicken is done when the breast temperature reaches 170° and the thigh temperature is 180°.

Unfortunately, the critical parts of a chicken don’t always cook at proportional rates, so the breast may not be 170° at the precise moment the thigh meat reaches 180°. It depends on the heat distribution in the oven and the shape of the respective body parts (after all, birds, male or female, aren’t shaped the same). Fortunately, chickens are forgiving when roasted at the ideal oven heat – both breast and thigh meat will be moist within a reasonable range of temperatures.

Ignore the color of the juices. Conventional wisdom has it that a chicken is done when the juices at the thigh joint run clear. This is an old wives’ tale. The color of the juices in any part of the bird is not a good indication of whether it’s done. In the body cavity, the juices are usually pink; at the thigh joint, they are not always clear, even at 180° when the meat is cooked.

Don’t panic at red thigh meat. It’s almost always a little pink when you first cut into the joint, even when overcooked. However, if the thigh has reached 180°, the meat will lose its rosy tint very quickly on contact with the air.

Don’t trust the wiggle test. Moving a leg to see how loose it is in the socket isn’t a reliable test of the bird’s doneness – but it clearly indicates overcooking. If the skin is nice and crisp, it will hinder movement; furthermore, judging mobility is too subjective to be trustworthy.

Let the chicken rest. We found a dramatic difference in the moistness of the meat – especially in the breast – between birds carved immediately and those allowed to rest (uncovered, to keep the skin crisp) about 15 minutes. If sliced hot from the oven, juices drain out and leave the meat dry. When birds rest a spell, the juices stay put.

Roasting Chart

Weight: 3 1/2 to 6 lb.
Oven temp.: 425°
Cooking time: 50 minutes to 1 1/4 hours

Weight: 6 to 8 lb.
Oven temp.: 425°
Cooking time: 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours

Weight: 8 to 10 lb.
Oven temp.: 425°
Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours

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