How to Brine and Roast a Chicken
Sometimes I assume things which I consider to be easy about cooking, things which are common sense to me, are the same for everyone else. But we all know the platitudes about “assuming” and “common sense.”
There I go, doing it again…
They say if you “assume” you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” They also say, “common sense is anything but common,” but who are these mythical “they” people anyway? I digress…
This concept was brought home to me recently while talking to friends, all of whom enjoy eating, but don’t spend as much time cooking as I do. I was trying to explain to someone about how easy it was to roast a chicken. They looked at me as if I just suggested they consider making their own bacon.
I said, “All you do is get a whole chicken, throw it in the oven, roast it, and voila! you have dinner.” But there I was, assuming that everyone would know this is just that easy. But many people aren’t aware, or perhaps lack the confidence to try it.
When I started this blog, one of my express purposes was to show that cooking need not be intimidating or daunting. I wanted people to see that it’s not hard to cook healthy, tasty food at home. I also assumed that there were enough blog posts already out there on “How to Roast a Chicken” that the world did not need another. But, as a friend pointed out, it’s a good “how to” reference recipe for any blog and the roasted chicken leads to the recipe for assumption #2 which was, “doesn’t everyone know how to make chicken stock?” At my Soup Swap party, I discovered that the answer was no, everyone doesn’t. In a future post, I will show how to make chicken stock from the remains of this chicken.
This recipe can be done two ways; with brining, or without. Brining a chicken can yield moister meat, especially in the chicken breast which tends to dry out, but also takes time which some people don’t have. If you choose to skip this step, that’s perfectly fine (I often do), you will still come out with a delicious fresh roasted bird.
The ratio of salt to water for the brine comes from Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.
However, his recipe includes sauteing vegetables, cooking the brine mixture, and cooling it with ice. I prefer an easier method, but it is difficult to dissolve 6 oz of kosher salt in water so a small amount of water must be heated. You can do this in a pot as I did or try pouring hot water from a kettle over it in a heatproof container. Either way, the chicken and the rest of the water are cold enough to cool down the dissolved salt/sugar/water mix.
The brine recipe below is for a 6 lb chicken. You can adjust the ratio of salt to water down for a smaller chicken. Also note, the 3 different types of citrus aren’t mandatory, but if you have them, use them! If not, just lemons are ok.
How to Brine and Roast a Chicken
Citrus Brine Recipe
- 120 oz 15 cups water
- 6 oz wt kosher salt
- 1 oz wt brown sugar
- 1 each lemon
- 1 each orange
- 1 each grapefruit
- 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 each bay leaf
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 tsp juniper berries
- 4 cloves of garlic
To Roast The Chicken
- 1 whole chicken 4-6 pounds
- kosher salt
- olive oil
Preparing the Chicken:
- Place the raw chicken in a clean sink and remove anything inside the cavity (neck, giblets, liver, etc.). Thoroughly rinse the chicken in cold water.
- At this point, if you choose not to brine the chicken skip to the "How to Roast a Chicken" step.
Citrus Brine Recipe
- Heat 2 cups of the water in a small pot with the salt and brown sugar until the salt and sugar dissolves. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
- Toast the pepper and juniper berries in a small pan for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Crush the pepper and juniper berries in a mortar and pestle or with the flat part of a knife.
- Smash the garlic cloves.
- Place the chicken in a 12 qt pot, large bowl, or large zip lock bag. Cut the citrus in half and squeeze over the chicken. Drop the citrus into the pot. Add the smashed garlic, spices and herbs. Pour in the remaining 13 cups of cold water and then the dissolved sugar/salt mixture. If the chicken floats, weight it down with a plate. Cover and refrigerate for 8-12 hours. Flip the chicken every few hours.
How to Roast a Chicken
- olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- If brining the chicken, remove it from the brine, rinse and pat dry inside and out. Discard the brine.
- Rub the skin with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Place the chicken on a v-shaped rack in a roasting pan in the oven. A 4 lb chicken will take 45 minutes to an hour. My 6 lb bird took about an hour and 15 minutes.
- Check the progress after about 1/2 an hour. If some parts are starting to get dark faster than others, cover them with foil (see photo above) and rotate the chicken in the oven for even roasting.
- At 45 minutes, start checking for doneness. An instant-read thermometer is very useful here; cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees in the thickest part of the meat, thigh or breast, it does not matter.
- When done, remove from the oven and let rest for about 10 minutes before cutting to allow the juices to settle. Like a steak, if you cut it too soon, the juices will all run out and you will end up with a very dry chicken.
For two people, a chicken of this size can yield many meals. Besides the first dinner which included the freshly roasted chicken, we had multiple meals including chicken burritos, roasted chicken with pita and hummus, stir fry with vegetables over quinoa, and a couple of sandwiches. As I said above, I’ll be making stock from the remains which will give me a free and wholesome base for future soups. Not only is it fresh and good, but frugal too!
This is the only chicken I would drag back to the cave and devour. Fantastic images and straight forward presentation. This chicken photographs well!
Ah yes, roasted chicken is caveman food; primal and basic. That’s why it’s so satisfying.
You are so right in saying that not everyone knows how to roast a chicken! It’s not even that long ago that I roasted my first chicken myself. And it was incredibly easy but for some reason I had also always assumed that it was difficult… Not sure why but your chicken definitely looks amazing!
Thanks Simone! I think once people realize how easy it is, they’ll never go back.
Charles G Thompson
This is a very apt post as I think everyone who wants to cook at home more, or learn to, should have a roast chicken recipe that they’re comfortable making. It is the easiest thing in the world to prepare, and it will often provide several meals. Thanks for the brining tips — I don’t usually brine my roast chicken but your brine recipe sounds so good I may just try it.
Charles, I don’t always brine it either, but when I have the time to plan ahead, it is worth it.
My husband is the chicken roaster in the family. He also brine’s the bird, but I don’t think he’s used citrus (my favorite) before. I’ve passed this recipe onto him, and can’t wait to taste the results.
I have yet to brine a chicken, but would love to try! All the spices look so good!
Torrie @ a place to share...
Thank you for posting this. I’ve roasted plenty of chickens, but have never brined it prior. A few Thanksgivings back, we started brining our turkeys… Not sure why I never translated this to chicken! I can’t wait to use this recipe for the upcoming week, or weekend.
As for the stock… I really look forward to your post. I have researched and made several different versions, but was a little overwhelmed by the incredible variation among some of my favorite chefs/cookbooks. Lately, I’ve been using a basic recipe from Martha’s Cooking School, but I still wonder if I’m using enough chicken parts, too much water, too little, etc. And when I roast a chicken, I always wonder if the remains are what I should be saving and using for stock… or not (since it’s already been cooked). ???? Help!! =)
(another common assumption that I see involving chicken is *cutting the chicken into parts!)
Thanks for the feedback. I will try to incorporate some of your questions into my chicken stock post. 🙂
Thanks for sharing. This was a total hit with my friends I had over this past weekend. We did a rotisserie instead of roasting, it was fabulous!
That’s great to hear. Thanks for letting me know!
Thank you for this article, a good roast chicken is hard to beat and it’s something I do regularly. I do have one question after reading this post. The Modernist Cuisine crew advises against brining the whole bird because they say it rubberizes the skin. I’ve never used a brine before roasting a chicken, but I’m just curious if you’ve noticed any difference in the skin texture of a finished bird that’s been brined versus one that hasn’t been?
Again, thanks for the great post (and for the follow-up post on chicken stock, can’t wait to make that soon too!).
Thanks. No, I have not noticed a difference and I have roasted a chicken both ways. Let me know if you try it and what you think.
As luck would have it, I just bought my first whole chicken yesterday with hopes of roasting it, but no clue how. So today, in an unrelated google search for homemade marinara sauce, I stumbled upon your site, was quickly hooked, and discovered this post. I can’t wait to try it out this weekend — I’ll let you know how this complete amateur does. 🙂
The week before Thanksgiving I found your post on making chicken stock which led me to your post on brining and roasting a chicken. I’ve never brined or roasted a chicken but I have roasted plenty of turkeys in my day. If brining makes a difference in the outcome of a roasted chicken, I wondered if it would make for a juicier, moister roasted turkey. So I gave it a try this year. (I followed your recipe to the letter except I didn’t have/couldn’t find juniper berries. Where do you get them?) My husband had a hard time carving the turkey because the meat literally fell off the bones; there was little to actually “carve.” The meat was tender, moist and the flavor was outstanding. One of my guests said it was the best turkey she’s had in 30 years. My husband, who leans towards vegetarianism, said it was so good he may make an exception in his diet for turkey. Can’t thank you enough for sharing your recipe and expertise.
Thanks so much for letting me know! So glad it worked out for you. As for juniper berries, we buy them at a local market which carries a lot of middle eastern spices (though I don’t even know if juniper berries are used in middle eastern cooking). You might look online…
Just brined a turkey and it came out delish. I did use a different recipe (just salt and herbs). My question is about the leftover brine. Can I use it in stock for soup? I know it has bacteria from the turkey but I would boil the heck out of it. Just wondering. Don’t want to waste but also don’t want to make my family sick.
Thanks : )
No, I would not use it. First because of the bacterial issue, but also because a brine solution would be way too salty. There’s no point in risking ruining a good stock over that.
‘Tis Christmas Eve and the salt’n’sugar is dissolving, herbs are pounded and two naked free-range chooks are waiting for their immersion! After reading this earlier this week, I have been almost drooling in anticipation! I am looking forward to my first brined chicken with the family! In the past I stuffed with bread and roasted so this is an adventure! It will be servedwith lemon wedges, on a bed of my own rosemary too!
A WINNER! The family all loved it! Turned out I had no orange, but did that deter me? Everything else went according to plan! I had 2 X 2kg chickens that I left in the brine for 4 hrs then rinsed and let dry uncovered in fridge before roasting in fanforced oven at 180 degrees for just 2hrs. Perfection! It was served on a bed of rosemary from my garden with lemon wedges.
With Passover/Easter celebrations, followed by a major birthday for me, and family popping in… I am planning a series of awesomely brined chicken.
Question 1: Do you ‘truss’ your chickens? Can’t see string marks in the picture.
Question 2: Hey, why not brine a leg of lamb too! Dear Former Chef, have you done that? Hints?
Sometimes I tie the legs together but it’s not really necessary. No, I’ve never brined a leg of lamb.Typically there’s enough fat in lamb that losing moisture is not a problem unless you way overcook it.
Eric @ Eat Like No One Else
I brine turkey every time I cook them, but I never thought about doing that with chicken. Not sure why it didn’t occur to me, but I definitely want to give your method a try, sounds wonderful. And it’s citrus season, so I have access to the best ingredients of the year.
I wondered if it would be ok to brine 100 pieces of chicken in three stages first make brine for all on thursday while thawing chicken put chicken in bus tubs
then on friday 800 am submerge chicken in brine
remove chicken from brine pat dry and place on trays.in cooler cover with saran
sat before event bake chicken remove from oven let stand to rest Plate all dinners
move all dinners to hold in hot box for 30 to 40 mi
weddings cant predict exact time for guests to be served having trouble with drying Will brining help and can it be done in this process thanks for help alice
I’ve never brined chicken in pieces, only whole, so I can’t say how that will effect the quality but my guess is that it would not need as much time in the brine as a whole chicken. I also can’t speak to doing it in that large of a quantity and then holding it, sorry.
This is the recipe I use for brining, and I never roast without brining. One small thing I noticed today. Instructions say:
“Rub the skin with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.”
If you brined it, do NOT season with salt…
Tim- Even with the brine, I find the chicken skin is not particularly salty. The seasoning is just for the crispy chicken skin. 🙂
I was wondering if I cook it with vegetables underneath, will they be too salty to eat and or make a gravy from? I have heard both and I didn’t know what you would think
No, I don’t think it will be too salty. It’s worth a try!
I cook vegetables underneath each time. Toss them lightly in olive oil and a dash of Coconut Aminos since I discovered it! Joan
Due to diabetes in the family, I was wondering if a sugar substitute or agave be used in place of the sugar. I like the way brine fowl turns out but really shouldn’t use sugar.
Joy-That’s a good question. I think the sugar is mostly there to help brown/caramelize the skin. I’m not sure if sugar substitute would have the same effect. We’re not trying to “sweeten” the bird. Maybe agave syrup would work though. I’ve seen brine recipes with no sugar so you can probably leave it out.
Thanks for your insight. Your site is clean, pics are beautiful and recipe easy to read, can’t wait to throw that bird in the oven tonight!
I was looking out for the perfect recipe for a roast chicken. I have roasted chicken many times before, always turned out dry. As I was looking, I came across your page on brining and then roasting it. This is such a wonderful recipe as it turned out so moist and delicious,my partner and the kids loved it so much, !!! Thank you very much for sharing, I hope to see more recipes from you and try them too 🙂
I’ve never been successful at roasting a chicken. Followed your instructions and prepared my first fantastic oven roasted chicken. Thanks for sharing.
That’s great! Thanks for letting me know!
I found this recipe a few months back and have made this at least 10 times since! It’s soooooo good! Question, is it possible to double the brine recipe and use this on a turkey?? I tried a turkey brine recipe last year for my Thanksgiving bird and didn’t notice any extra flavor or anything “special” about it..
Sure, as long as you make enough brine to cover the turkey I put mine in a 5 gallon bucket!
I can’t wait to try this. Where do I get juniper berries? Thanks!
You would find juniper berries in the spice section of the market. If you can’t find them, you can leave them out, they aren’t critical.
Would it be OK if I left it in the brine 22 hours? Thank you!
You can leave it in for that long for large bird like a turkey but I’m not so sure about a chicken. If you can, take it out of the brine after 12 hours and just leave it in the refrigerator.
Thanks to my lab classes in college, I understand the need to be accurate with the concentration of kosher salt (w/v), and I really want to try this recipe, but I don’t have a scale to weight the salt and brown sugar. Is there another way that I can do this? I don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so I really don’t want to buy the scale if I’m only going to use it once. Please help! I’m trying to impress my wife and her friends by either oven roasting or smoking the chicken. Any suggestions on which would be best?
I would try googling standard conversions for those items from weight to cups.
Rosemary is very rare in my country I hope the chicken will still taste good without it, this cooking is commonly translates as lechon manok in my country.
You didn’t mention putting any liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan. Should I? Use brine or water? Neither ? Something else? When you assume we don’t know how to roast a chicken, every detail is important!
Don’t panic! Nothing else is needed!
Can brined chicken be stored before cooking? (After being removed from brine!)
Sure, in the refrigerator. It’s actually a good idea to let it “dry out” for several hours in the refrigerator, which will give it a crispier skin. However, I don’t know how many days in advance you can do this.