I learned early that a good slow cooker is both a budget and sanity saver on busy days. I bought my very first one at a thrift store when I was 23 and living alone for the first time. It held four quarts, was avocado green, and cost $3. In those days, I would make cheap, filling things like split pea soup and pots of long-simmered beans flavored with just a little bacon.
I still make some of those same comforting dishes that I started with, but in more recent years, have discovered that one of the very best things that a slow cooker can do is make a tender roast chicken.
In the bottom of a cooker, you build a bed for the bird with a few chopped carrots, onions, and potatoes. Then, you rub a whole chicken with a few dried herbs, salt, and pepper and plop it on top of the vegetables. Once that minimal prep is done (it should take no more than 10 minutes), you set the cooker to low and walk away.
Six hours later, you come back to a chicken that is juicy and perfectly cooked, along with a side dish of tender vegetables. Served with a loaf of crusty bread (for there is a pool of flavorful juice at the bottom of the crock for dipping) and a simple green salad, this is a whole chicken dish worthy of company and easy enough for the frenzy of autumn and the return to school year schedules.
Before you start warming your slow cookers, here are a few things that are good to know:
The only downside to this slow cooker chicken is that the bird comes out looking pale and flabby. I remedy that by lifting it out onto a rimmed baking sheet and popping it under the broiler for a couple minutes. It crisps up the skin and brings a little color to the party.
My preferred slow cooker for this chicken is an oval one that holds six quarts. Round will work too, though you might want to opt for a chicken in the three to four pound range (I typically do one that is closer to five pounds).
I find that six hours of roasting is the sweet spot for a slow cooker bird. However, before you declare you chicken finished, use an instant-read thermometer to ensure that you’ve reached a safe temperature. You want it to read 165°F when inserted in the dark meat. Try not to cook it much longer, as it can overcook and become mushy.
Slow Cooker Chicken
1 whole roasting chicken, approximately 4½ to 5 pounds
1 yellow onion
2 russet potatoes
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Remove chicken from packaging. Pat dry with paper towels and set on a plate.
Cut the onion, potatoes, and carrots into small pieces (no more than about an inch in diameter) and place in the bottom of the slow cooker crock, along with the garlic.
Season chicken evenly with sea salt, Italian seasoning, and black pepper. Set it on top of the vegetables, nestling it down a little so that the lid will fit.
Set cooker to low and cook for 6 hours. This works best if you have a cooker that automatically shifts to a “keep warm” setting when the time is up. If not, set yourself a timer or alarm.
When time is up, check chicken temperature. If an instant read thermometer reads at least 165°F when inserted in the dark meat, it is done. To crisp the skin, place the chicken on a rimmed cookie sheet and place under the broiler for 4 or 5 minutes.
Once your chicken is nicely browned, serve with vegetables from the bottom of the crock, green salad, and crusty bread.