What’s the Best Way to Roast a Chicken?

“I’ve always liked moist, roast chicken but LuAnn in our test kitchen showed me how to make them even better.  It’s incredible how good these can be.  Let LuAnn show you.”

Roast ChickenWe roasted tons of chickens–horizontally and vertically, in the pan and on racks.  We roasted them right out of the wrapping and after soaking them in brine.  Over and over, we’ve set chicken on plates in front of testers.  Now we’re ready to tell you how to roast the best chicken.

It became evident that everyone likes a moist chicken.  In fact, the most common complaint was, “This chicken is dry.”  So we set about to roast a chicken so that it is always moist and plump.  But first we had to avoid soggy and greasy chicken.

Chickens have so much fat that there is quite a pool after baking.  If the chicken is sitting in that pool, it’s greasy and soggy.  With a rack, the juices dripped to the bottom of the pan and all the fat drained off for a healthier meal.  So very quickly, we decided that our chickens had to be roasted on racks.  (A rotisserie does the same thing.)

We used both horizontal and vertical racks.   We could tell no difference in the meat but with the vertical racks, we had a nice even golden color on the skins.  If you use a horizontal rack, turn the chicken breast up so that the tender breast meat is turned away from the heating elements in the bottom of the oven.

Chickens roasted on racks were consistently dry.   So we tried a vertical rack with an infuser.  The rack has a cylindrical reservoir in the center that protrudes into the chicken’s breast cavity.  As the chicken cooks, the liquid evaporates and fills the cavity.  (Think “beer-can chicken.”)  We used apple juice, orange juice, water with herbs, and water with garlic.  Any liquid made the meat much, much moister and in every case was preferred over the dry rack-roasted chicken.   The infusers made a much superior chicken.

While the infusers made for moist, succulent chicken, much superior to dry roasted, the infusers did not impart a lot of flavor.   Maybe there is a trick to imparting flavor with these racks but we never discovered it.  Still, we would not hesitate to purchase a vertical rack with an infuser for the moisture.

To create a moist chicken, we next tried a steam roast—roasting the chicken in a steamy pan.  We placed the chicken on a rack in a pan and added water to a depth of 1 1/2 inches.  Since we didn’t want a boiled-looking a chicken, our strategy was to bake the chicken for about half the time with the lid off so as to brown the chicken skin nicely and then place the lid on the pan to capture the steam.  The roasted chicken was attractive but the meat was not as moist and nice as when we used the infuser.  We concluded that since the infuser concentrated the steam in the breast cavity and did so over the entire cooking, the resulting roast chicken was much more moist.

We next tried soaking our chickens in water before roasting.  Maybe the chicken would retain water for a moister roast.  The results were surprising.  While soaking the chicken in plain water did not do much, an hour in brine water made for a very moist, succulent chicken.  The brine water soak rivaled the chickens baked with a vertical rack and infuser; our testers couldn’t tell the difference.

So our conclusions are:

  • Roast your chicken on a rack or rotisserie.  This makes for a healthier, less fatty chicken.
  • Use either a vertical rack with an infuser or soak your chicken in brine water for an hour.  Either way will give you a moist, much superior chicken.

If you use brine water for soaking, add one-half cup of salt to 8 or 10 cups of cold water. Stir the water to dissolve the salt.

About the racks used: 

We tested three racks in the roasting of our chickens: A horizontal nonstick rack that was large enough for a turkey, a nonstick vertical rack, a stainless steel vertical rack with an infuser.  All of these racks are available at The Prepared Pantry.  If you use either the horizontal rack or the nonstick vertical rack, soak your chickens in brine water before baking.  With the rack with the vertical infuser, soaking is not necessary.