The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_FIRST_FI_001

Master the Chicken Dinner

This is the year you stop fearing the whole bird


I roasted my first whole chicken when I was 21. A senior in college, I lived in a little house off-campus with two friends. We took turns cooking and ate together most nights. That first chicken was a sad, scrawny little thing that I managed to first under-cook and then, in an attempt to correct it, overcooked it mightily. My kind housemates suffered through that meal with me, but we all knew it was not my best work.

In the 10-plus years that have followed, things have improved. I cook whole chickens on a regular basis and have a reliable method for making a tender, juicy bird. (Low, slow cooking is the key.) It’s my go-to for dinner parties and busy weeks, but lately, I’ve found myself longing for something more.

So, in pursuit of new chicken horizons, I’m introducing the Whole Chicken Project. Throughout the coming year, I’ll be testing out new ways to handle the whole chicken. There will be chickens in pots, birds in slow cookers and, come summer, fancy things done with the grill. Once a month, I’ll stop in and report back my findings on the latest whole chicken (complete with side dishes).

For the first installment of the WCP, I offer up my classic, most-beloved whole roasted chicken. You perch a bird on a bed of onions, tuck a cut lemon into its cavity and sprinkle it with herbs, salt and pepper. Covered with foil, it goes into a pre-heated oven for a couple of hours. It doesn’t need basting or tending, though you do want to pull the foil off after a time so that the skin crisps up.

Before I send you off into chicken land, let’s talk a little bit about roasting vessels. I often use my beloved cast iron skillet. It’s heat-proof, sturdy and doesn’t need any special treatment. Other options include glass Pyrex pans, stainless steel skillets, and ceramic roasting dishes. Just make sure it’s something that isn’t too much bigger than the bird you’re cooking. You don’t want to give it the opportunity to slip and slide when you’re moving it from oven to countertop and back.

Basic Roasted Chicken


  • One 3½-to-4 pound chicken
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried herbs (herbs de Provence or an Italian blend are both good)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 450°F.

Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels (make sure to remove packets of giblets from the cavity). Remove any large bits of fat clinging to the bird as well.

Cut onion into eighths and arrange around the edge of the pan. Place the chicken in the center. Break open the head of garlic and scatter the cloves around the bird. Tuck the lemon halves inside the cavity of the chicken.

Drizzle the chicken with the olive oil. It will help the seasoning adhere and will help give you a crisp, deeply browned skin. Sprinkle on the herbs, salt and pepper. Using your hands, pat the seasonings in a little and make sure they’re evenly distributed across the chicken.

Cover the chicken with aluminum foil and slide into the hot oven. Once the chicken is in, reduce the heat to 300°F.

Bake covered for 1 hour. Remove foil and continue to cook for an additional 1 to 1½ hours. In the end, you should have a chicken that is golden in color and is deeply tender. The legs should wiggle in the joints easily and the onions should be caramelized around the edges.

Let the chicken sit for at least 15 minutes before carving.

Makes 3 to 4 servings

Braised Cabbage with Leeks and Lemon


  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large leek, cleaned well, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced into thin half-moons
  • ½ large cabbage, shaved fine
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Melt butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until they begin to brown.

Add cabbage and use tongs to work it into the leeks (the goal is to get the cabbage down to the bottom of the pan and move the leeks up, so that they don’t burn).

Cook uncovered, stirring regularly, until the cabbage begins to wilt. Add a splash of water (or, if you have a bottle open, a quick pour of white wine or beer) and cover.

Reduce heat to medium and cook with the lid on for 5 to 7 minutes, until the cabbage goes happily opaque and tender. Stir in lemon zest and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 3 to 4 servings

Roasted Carrots


  • 1 pound carrots
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper


Scrub carrots well, trim ends, and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Place carrots on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle them with olive oil, and sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper. Stir carrots with your hands, to ensure that everything is well-coated.

Place in oven with chicken for 45 to 50 minutes, until tender and brown.

Makes 3 to 4 servings

Marisa McClellan is a food blogger, freelance writer and canning teacher based in Center City Philadelphia. She runs a website called Food in Jars, where she writes about canning, preserving and delicious things made from scratch. She regularly writes for the Food Network, USA Today, Grid Philly and Mrs. Wages. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.


  1. Dale says:

    These look delicious! I still have cabbage and carrots from my last CSA delivery in December so I’m happy to have some new ideas on what to do with them. Usually I roast the cabbage, and shred the carrots into a salad. This will be a fun reversal of fortunes. On the chicken front, I suggest you try spatchcocking. I’ve had great success on the 3 birds I’ve tried it with – love to hear someone else’s experience.

  2. Janice says:

    I conquered my fear of the whole chicken with this method: It’s fast and hot instead of low and slow, but it comes out beautifully every time (I use a probe thermometer). It does want to spatter a lot, so I use my dutch oven to cook in when I do this. My next mission is to make a quick easy gravy from the delicious drippings that collect at the bottom of the pot and maybe experiment with seasoning. Looking forward to following this project, I think it will be interesting!

  3. My cast iron skillet . . . now why didn’t I think about that? What a super idea. Thank you!

    If you have never tried Penzey’s Bicentennial Rub on a roast chicken . . . well it’s just delicious. I got a free sample with a coupon and when that jar was empty I had to get more.

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