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Simple Roast Chicken

Thomas Keller's simple roast chicken recipe on a platter with thyme sprigs.
Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Susan Ottaviano
  • Active Time

    15 minutes

  • Total Time

    1 hour 30 minutes

Chef Thomas Keller’s food is known for fine dining finesse, but his recipe for simple roast chicken is about as easy as it gets. For Keller, the perfect roast chicken doesn’t require a lot of extra ingredients—just some kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and fresh thyme (and the thyme is optional). Instead, it gets its wonderful flavor and crispy skin from a few simple but essential steps: using a pasture-raised whole chicken (which will have more flavorful meat than a conventionally raised bird), drying the skin thoroughly, salting both the skin and the cavity of the chicken, trussing the chicken with kitchen twine so that the breast meat doesn’t dry out, and roasting at a pretty high temperature without basting. It’s such a simple meal that any home cook can make on a weeknight, along with a side of roast vegetables or a quick salad.

A good roasting pan (or even a large cast-iron skillet) will help make this easy roast chicken recipe even simpler to execute. Instead of relying on just the suggested cooking time, you’ll want to use a reliable instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the meat (the thigh) and the breast. You can take the chicken out of the oven when the breast is around 155°—the temperature will go up about 10° as you let the chicken rest. Dark meat is safe when the meat thermometer reads 165° but more tender between 175° and 190°. Get a heavy-duty cutting board (the kind that catches the meat’s juices when you cut into the bird) ready for carving—feel free to decorate it with a few pretty thyme sprigs or whatever fresh herbs you have on hand.

This recipe was adapted for style from ‘Bouchon’ by Thomas Keller. Buy the full book on Amazon.

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What you’ll need


2–4 servings

One 2- to 3-lb. farm-raised chicken, giblets removed and discarded
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. finely chopped thyme (optional)
Unsalted butter
  1. Step 1

    Preheat oven to 450°. Rinse one 2- to 3-lb. farm-raised chicken, then pat dry with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.

    Step 2

    Season chicken cavity with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, then truss the bird. Trussing is not difficult, and if you roast chicken often, it’s a good technique to feel comfortable with. Trussing helps the chicken cook evenly and makes for a more beautiful roasted bird. Wrap a long piece of kitchen string around the drumsticks at the “ankles” in a figure-eight and pull it taut. Turn chicken over and tie a knot that pulls the tail of the chicken toward the legs. Pull the ends of the string up so that they rest in the joints between the drumsticks and thighs. Pull the string over the wings to hold them close to the body of the chicken, then pull the skin taut over the top of the breasts and tie a double knot at the top of the chicken to secure it. Cut away any excess string.

    Step 3

    Now, salt chicken—I like to rain kosher salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 Tbsp.). When it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt granules on the crisp baked chicken skin. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

    Step 4

    Arrange chicken breast side up in a sauté pan or roasting pan. When oven is up to temperature, put chicken in oven. I leave it alone—I don’t baste it, I don’t add melted butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don’t want. Roast it until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 150°–155°, 50–60 minutes. Add the 2 tsp. finely chopped thyme, if using, to pan. Baste chicken with pan juices and thyme, then transfer to a cutting board and let chicken rest 15 minutes.

    Step 5

    Remove kitchen string. Separate middle wing joint and eat that immediately. Remove drumsticks and thighs. I like to take off the backbone and eat one of the oysters, the two succulent morsels of meat embedded here, and give the other to the person I’m cooking with. But I take the chicken butt (a.k.a. tail or pope’s nose) for myself. I could never understand why my brothers always fought over that triangular tip—until one day I got the crispy, juicy fat myself. These are the cook’s rewards. Cut breast down the middle and serve it on the bone, with one wing joint still attached to each. The preparation is not meant to be super elegant. Slather with fresh unsalted butter. You’ll start using a knife and fork but finish with your fingers because it’s so good. 

    Editor’s note: This recipe first appeared on Epicurious as ‘My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken’ in December 2008. Head this way for our best side dishes for fall

Cover of Thomas Keller's cookbook Bouchon featuring pain d'epi next to a glass of red wine.
Reprinted from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller, Copyright © 2004, published by Artisan. Buy the full book from Amazon or Bookshop.
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Reviews (791)

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  • I made two chickens in the same pan with this recipe tonight. I have LOVED roast chicken since I was a young girl. My mother made it & my mother-in-law made it. I’ve been making it for decades. But this is the recipe that I’ll give to my kids to make, because it’s fool proof & so delicious. I would cut back on some of the salt on the outside of the bird, but not too much. I’d still cover the skin, but with a thinner layer. Salt & pepper is all I used. Perfect. My husband & I stood at the counter eating it, it just fell off the bone. We tested it for about 20 minutes. Resting it is a must. Enjoy!

    • Judy

    • Finger Lakes. Upstate,’mmmNY

    • 10/10/2023

  • So in other words, Cheryl, you would make a completely different bird. Why even bother commenting? Just get your own YouTube channel or something!

    • Anonymous

    • 10/8/2023

  • Sounds fine...although I would tweak this recipe a bit. I am literally a "farmer's daughter" father raised turkeys and chickens for 40 years and delivered to butcher shops and sold out of our yard. I have eaten much poultry. Re the cavity of the bird, if it was not stuffed with stuffing, I would put lots of chopped onions, garlic cloves (halved or quartered), poultry seasoning, seasoned salt, pepper etc. inside. Be as creative as you wish. I would sprinkle the exterior with seasoned salt, garlic powder, maybe oregano, whatever you love for savoury seasoning. In the water your bird is sitting in to roast, I would add much of the same, onions, garlic, etc. Also some wine or sherry, to kick it up a notch!

    • Cheryl Bell

    • British Columbia, Canada

    • 10/8/2023

  • I have used this method for several years, and it's foolproof. I use a preheated cast iron skillet. I do use butter, and lower the heat after 15 minutes to 375. I may try it w/o butter. Sometimes I put veggies (potatoes and carrots) in the same pan.

    • Anonymous

    • Santa Fe NM

    • 9/16/2023

  • Haven't we decided to not rinse raw chicken because it spews droplets of contamination all over???

    • Beth

    • 60004

    • 9/16/2023

  • Amazing . Easier than my old recipe and ten times better

    • Nikki

    • Cleveland

    • 4/4/2023

  • Can't beat this!

    • Anonymous

    • 1/12/2023

  • This chicken is fabulous; super moist with awesome crispy skin. Recently this is my go to instead of turkey for small group Thanksgiving dinners because moist turkey is so difficult when balancing everything else for the feast. When finishing the chicken though I decadently mix softened unsalted butter, good Dijon mustard and fresh thyme and “paint” the warm carved chicken pieces with the flavored butter. Absolutely Amazing!

    • Mindy

    • Key West, Fl

    • 11/24/2022

  • Moist with crispy skin. Delicious and extremely easy. After 50 minutes, my 2.5 lbs chicken as 168-180 degrees, but still wasn't dry. I would check sooner next time.

    • Carol

    • Davis, CA

    • 10/7/2022

  • MICK ST. LOUIS, MO says ‘Fair warning though, the chickens will run about $20 to $25 each.’ Wow! A 3.50 pound fresh BIO chicken here in France costs around $15-17 and we think that is extortionate. Mind you when you compare the price of gas, you have no reason to complain!

    • Bobbit

    • Niort, France

    • 5/1/2022

  • recipe?

    • Anonymous

    • 2/19/2022

  • Where's the recipe

    • Erazmo

    • Tx

    • 2/19/2022

  • Love this recipe! I roast on a bed of sliced potatoes, baby carrots and sliced onions - the veggie cooked in the chicken fat are delicious and it helps with any potential smoking.

    • Jacci

    • Knoxville, TN

    • 1/25/2022

  • I made this recipe again last night, it had been a few years. It was great as always. I dried the bird in the morning and left it in the fridge all day to dry more. Instead of serving with mustard, I whisked about 2 tsp of good Dijon into the drippings (after basting the cooked bird with a large spoonful of the drippings) along with 1/4 c. dry vermouth and some good butter. The resulting sauce was amazing, if a bit decadent. For leftovers I skimmed most of the fat, resulting in a (sadly too small) amount of amazing mustard-chicken jus. For Mary Jane, I am in STL and have no problem finding fryer hens, 2.5-3.5 lbs. If you can't find them at a grocery store (though I do regularly) I'd suggest a good local butcher. Many places carry local chickens, and I'd recommend Bolyard's in Maplewood, an amazing whole animal butcher. Fair warning though, the chickens will run about $20 to $25 each. While I am fine with paying up for local beef and pork, I'm not sure the quality satisfies the price on the chickens. That said, the humane practices vs. factory practices sits much easier with me personally.

    • Mick

    • St. Louis, MO

    • 1/6/2022

  • Will this work for a larger chicken? It's almost impossible to find a whole chicken these days less than 5 pounds where I live. The birds have been bred for a large breast, and obviously they want to sell larger poundage.

    • Mary Jane

    • St, Louis

    • 12/24/2021

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