For an apparently no-frills dish, roast chicken provokes a lot of heated opinions. That’s because turning out a bird with crisp, golden skin and juicy meat is a lot easier in theory than it is in practice.
“It’s the litmus test for any good chef,” says Jonathan Waxman, the mastermind behind New York City’s Barbuto and San Francisco’s Waxman’s, whose famous roasted chicken helped define his storied career. The challenges of executing such a seemingly simple dish helps explain why there are at least a dozen iconic recipes floating around, with chefs who swear by their own tried-and-true methods. (These include, but are not limited to: starting the chicken in a hot oven then turning it down or off; salting or brining the chicken nearly a week ahead of time; cooking the chicken on a rack; sliding tons of butter between meat and skin; and roasting the bird on a bed of veggies or potatoes.) Or perhaps it’s merely because a roasted bird at its peak is enticing to all the senses—the perfect marriage of tenderness and texture.
“There’s something intrinsically perfect about chicken,” says Waxman. "There’s something even more perfect about a roast chicken. And then there’s something amazing about a perfect roast chicken.”
Formulas for making that platonic ideal abound, but luckily we've got a poultry guru in Waxman to walk us through various tactics, separating the good tips from the ones not worth your time. But even more important than following his time-tested “basically scientific” method is realizing that, as a home cook, you’ll have to overcome obstacles, from poorly calibrated ovens, to chickens bred too large. “Some chickens have different bone structures,” Waxman says. “Every chicken is very different. Everyone thinks life is perfect, but it’s not."
Along with Waxman's philosophical musings, here is the complete guide to making roast chicken at home.