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The best way to roast chicken is Thomas Keller’s perfect 3 ingredient roast chicken recipe

If you are into bare bones minimalism, this is the easiest and most elegant roast chicken you could ever make. Crisp golden skin, super juicy insides, and a blank canvas for any flavors you might want to add – not that it needs any. This is chicken pared down to its bare essentials.

For something simple like roast chicken with salt and pepper, you would think that there would not be a lot of variations possible, but even the tiniest details can matter. Thomas Keller’s roast chicken recipe is as famous as Gordon Ramsay’s scrambled eggs, yet recently I realized I’d never made it, so I went out and bought a chicken. How did it turn out?

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It was really, really, unbelievably good. As always, jump to the recipe and get started, or read on for some roast chicken geekery and tips for a perfect roast chicken.

Tip #1: Temper your chicken

This goes for all meats, but especially chicken. Bringing your chicken to room temperature before you roast it can seem like a scary proposition, but it’s worth it. Bacteria doesn’t grow fast enough for this to matter. You will get a better end result if you bring your chicken to room temp, because the oven will need less time to warm up the inside of your chicken, meaning the outside will stay juicy and not burnt.

Tip #2: Season inside and out

Seasoning the inside of your chicken doubles the effective surface area you get for developing flavor. TK gets a lot of grief for sticking a pepper grinder right up inside the cavity; don’t do this. I like to mix up a good blend of salt and pepper beforehand in a pinch bowl and go to town, it’s far easier and you won’t worry about future cross contamination.

When seasoning the outside of your chicken, Chef Keller recommends salting from up high, so that you get a wide dispersed coverage. I say go one further and pull a #saltbae or a drakebae. Warning for us normal people who have to do our own cleanup: do this over a sink or a large work surface.

The best way to roast chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com

Tip #3: Don’t bother with the prep

Tucking in the wings is an aesthetic thing; it prevents the relatively small and meatless wingtips from burning in the high heat of the oven. If you prefer to handle your chicken as little as possible, you can safely avoid this step.

Similarly, Keller likes to remove the wishbone so you can do a very cool trick of slicing the chicken right down the middle. Caveats abound here: this is a step where it is super easy to hurt yourself, and you end up having to slice through the chicken’s ribs anyway, so unless you have a durable, heavy chef’s knife, there is no point. I like to remove the two bottom linkages and just break the wishbone, but honestly, I’d just as soon skip this step. The only benefit here is that you can literally cut a chicken in half to save for tomorrow (which is actually pretty cool).

The best way to roast chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com

Tip #4: Trussing the chicken isn’t necessary

Keller is a huge proponent of trussing your chicken to create an equal density bird that cooks evenly. I disagree on this one, if you watch any of the videos of him making it, when he cuts the bird in half you will see that it’s still quite rare in the middle, and that’s partially because of his trussing. While I don’t mind raw chicken, it can be offputting to many people. Dark meat can handle a higher internal temperature, so you have a lot of leeway to avoid this one.

I prefer using a turkey roasting frame, and if using rosemary, I’ll tie the chicken legs together with the rosemary twig for aesthetic reasons, but overall you want a fairly loose bird so that the nooks and crannies get some heat into them. Next time, I think I’ll try his saute pan trick without trussing so that you are actually frying the bottom of the chicken in its own fat.

The best way to roast chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com

Tip #5: No fat needed

It’s not necessary to oil or butter the chicken because chicken skin is naturally fatty. Avoiding the fat gives us a nice dry skin that comes out crispy and golden. Extra side benefit: It seems healthier!

Bonus tip: Choose for size and quality

Thomas Keller doesn’t talk about this one, but I will: For a roast chicken the quality of the meat is front and center, so it’s important to buy the highest quality chicken you are comfortable with. There’s no need to buy a $30 chicken, but go one step above the $5 mystery-chicken if you can.

The best way to roast chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com

The other secret to a great roast chicken is buying the smallest chicken you can find, because the surface area to meat ratio means the chicken will cook better, faster, and be a better tasting chicken (because more skin means more flavor, and you are able to season more of the chicken). A 3.5lb bird should feed 2-4, and if you need more, just buy (and roast) two birds – it’s worth it.

Thomas Keller’s 3 ingredient roast chicken recipe
Serves 2-4


  • 2½ – 3½ pound high quality chicken
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste) + extra for the top
  • 1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)
  • Chopped rosemary, thyme, or other herbs (optional)
  • Vegetables to roast (optional)

An hour or two before roasting, take your chicken out of the fridge and rest on the countertop to come to room temperature. Mix 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in a pinch bowl and set aside as well.

Preheat oven to 400ºF, set your racks to allow a 10″ space in the middle of the oven, and prepare a roasting tray with washed and cut vegetables (if desired). Oil a turkey rack if using and set it up on a setting small enough to hold your chicken snugly.

While trying to handle the chicken with only one hand (so that the other hand stays clean to avoid excessive handwashing): unwrap your chicken and drain over the sink. Pat dry with a paper towel. Remove the gizzards and other offal if there are any (you can roast these or make soup out of them). Turn the chicken cavity up and season inside the chicken with your salt and pepper mixture.

Place your chicken on the roasting tray or rack, tuck the wings underneath the body of the chicken, and tie the legs together if desired. Place the roasting tray in the sink or in the middle of your countertop and liberally salt the top of the chicken from a 12″-18″ height.

Pop the chicken in the center of a 400ºF oven for approx 55 minutes, or until the thickest part of the chicken thigh reads 155ºF/160ºF (the chicken will cook another 10 degrees while resting, use the higher temperature if you don’t want to see any pink in the chicken).

Rest your chicken uncovered for 5-10 minutes, then enjoy!

 

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6 Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    I have followed this recipe for years – with basically the same caveats – although I always use a frying pan. I am invariably asked how I am able to turn out such magnificent chickens… should I tell?

    1. Mike says:

      A frying pan is next on my list. Share your secrets with the internet, but the magic alive for dinner guests is my philosophy

      1. Kevin says:

        Frying pan tip: Brown the chicken on the stove then take it out and put a layer of aromatics (celery, onion, whatever) in the pan and lay the chicken on top. That will raise the chicken during roasting, afterwards while you’re resting the chicken you’ve got the foundation for a great pan sauce – strain out the veg first, or if you’re looking for something heartier run everything through a blender. When I’m doing my mise I shoot for a large matchstick on the veg to cover the bottom of the pan and maximize contact with the chicken.

        Funny thing about the arc of cooking – you start out trying to impress with almost-painfully-constructed laundry-list-of-ingredients “tall food”, but the years go by and at the end of the day you’re the guy who does “that effing incredible chicken”….

  2. Kari says:

    I love Thomas Keller’s restaurants & these tips are so great! I’m buying a chicken right now!
    Kari
    http://sweetteasweetie.com/passion-fruit-colada/

  3. Ying says:

    How did you develop such a nice patina on your knife? I’ve tried everything, but it’s still rusty and has a weird odor. The chicken looks amazing!

    1. Mike says:

      Thanks for both the compliments on the knife and chicken! The patina just comes from habitual use, hand washing, immediate towel drying, and storage. The rust and odor might be fixed by soaking it in a little coffee, or so I’ve heard. Might want to Google that before trying though.