It’s safe to say that Travis McShane is an expert at roasting chicken. Before he created Houston’s signature roast chicken at his Montrose mainstay, Ostia, McShane learned the ins and outs of all things chicken roasting at New York City’s famed Barbuto as celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman’s right hand man. Over the years, McShane says he’s roasted upwards of 13,000 a year at Ostia, and hundreds of thousands over the course of his career. We reached out to McShane for some of his top roasting tips. Follow his guidance, and you, too, can become an expert.
Picking the right chicken
Although buying organic is nice, it’s more important to go with an antibiotic and hormone-free bird. After chickens have been processed, they are either water chilled or air chilled. McShane recommends going with an air-chilled chicken because there is less water content, meaning you’ll end up with crispier skin. Picking a bird that is on the smaller side—3 ½ to 4 pounds—will mean your bird will roast at a more even temperature. Also, check your package and go with a bird that has a lower water content because as the bird cooks that water is going to evaporate and dilute the flavor.
Preparation is key
It’s important to plan ahead. If you dry off your chicken and leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight, your bird will have crispier skin when it’s cooked. It’s also important to leave your chicken out at room temperature for an hour or so before you cook it (you can place it in a bowl and leave it off to the side to avoid cross-contamination) so the entire bird can reach room temperature before it’s loaded into the oven. This will help your chicken cook more evenly since less energy will be required to get the center of your chicken cooked.
McShane recommends using simple salt and pepper for seasoning and to avoid brining your chicken. If your bird’s skin is super dry, you can brush it with some olive oil, which doesn’t burn quite as fast as butter (however, butter is a good option if your chicken is high in water content). It’s important to make sure your chicken is well seasoned since all of the chicken’s flavor will be coming from the outside.
The hotter the better
Consider cooking your chicken at 425 to 450 degrees, which is hot enough to give you that crispy skin that everyone loves, without drying out your bird. If your bird is at room temperature when it goes into the oven, you should cook it for 15-20 minutes per pound. So, a 4-pound bird should take around an hour and fifteen minutes to cook. It will need to reach an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees before you remove it from the oven for resting (and a final internal temperature of 160 degrees while it rests—more on that in the next tip). As it cooks, you should consider taking it out every 20-25 minutes to baste it in its own juices, which will help enhance the chicken’s flavor. McShane also recommends roasting your chicken on a bed of sliced lemons.
The importance of resting
It is important to rest your chicken after it has been cooked since the chicken will continue to cook as it cools down. McShane recommends resting the chicken for at least 30 minutes before serving. Your chicken should rest uncovered. A lot of people cover their chickens with foil as they rest, but really all they are doing is creating a low temperature oven, which will overcook the chicken. After the chicken has rested for an appropriate time, hit it with some of its basting juices again and warm it in the oven at 550 degrees (or under the broiler) for about five minutes, which will help re-crisp the bird before it is served.