Before you throw me over the cliff for even suggesting you turn on the oven in August, give me a chance to explain.
First, I live in Michigan. It’s hitting 50F and below here at night, so our A/C hasn’t even been on in weeks.
Second, it’s chicken season. As in, chickens are kind of seasonal if you don’t get them from the store, and if you want to have a bird that is running around during the day and on your plates that evening – because I know that’s SO on your bucket list – you need to do the deed in the summer.
And last, it’s time to get ready for school and lunch packing, and there’s no better way to have leftover cold chicken than to roast the whole bird.
Yes, grilled chicken is yummy, but roasted whole chickens have two benefits over grilled breasts:
- Expense. If you’re sourcing organic chicken, especially if you’re lucky enough to have found a local farmer raising pastured birds, your costs are likely pretty intense for boneless, skinless breasts. I didn’t buy any chicken without bones for years after our switch to real food because I couldn’t justify the cost without making homemade chicken stock to stretch our dollar. Which brings me to the second benefit:
- Chicken stock. Chicken bones are basically free, and if you save onion, carrot and celery ends for the mirepoix in your stock, you can make quart after quart of practically free, wholly nourishing real food. How can you pass that up? To get the “boneless, skinless” fix, I would occasionally buy split chicken breasts – still expensive – and hack the meat off the bones for stir fry or grilled tenders, then make stock afterward and get another few cups of chicken for soups.
Is Roasting a Whole Chicken Difficult?
Roast chicken is an iconic Sunday afternoon dinner, making it seem like roasted chicken is a difficult and special task, requiring much skill in the kitchen.
I think the moms of the 1950s were just pulling the wool over their husband’s eyes and making it seem like roast chicken was a big deal, when really, they were enjoying a Sabbath of putting their feet up while the oven did all the work.
Roasting a chicken is truly almost as convenient as chicken breasts, and it’s one of the easiest meals I ever plan (get the roasted chicken recipe HERE on Plan to Eat, 30 day free trial if you’re not already a member!). Preparing the bird takes about 5 minutes, and sides like baked potatoes and a quick veggies are so simple. There’s hardly any chopping or collecting of 5 million ingredients, no special blending tools to wash, no dough to roll.
Better than Lunchmeat
If you’re convinced that processed lunchmeat, with its carcinogenic preservatives (for starters), is no good for your family – please tell me you are! – then you may be on the hunt for some other sandwich ideas (or non-sandwich main courses?) for lunch.
Roasted chicken (or other meats) is the way to go. The flavor imparted by roasting, on the bone, cannot be compared to a stewed chicken or one in the crock pot, which are very moist and fine for soups and stews and casseroles, but pale and mushy in a wrap, salad or sandwich.
Even baking chicken breasts does not have the flavor you’ll find from putting the whole bird in the oven, bones and all. And if you price compare with quality lunchmeat, nitrate and nitrite free, organic, etc., you’ll find that pound for pound, a pastured roasted chicken costs less, and you get all that stock, too.
The Healthy Lunch Box: Sandwich-free Secrets to Packing a Real Food Lunch is loaded with strategies to streamline your packing process, stock your pantry with emergency backups for your backups, and send healthy, delicious food in the lunch box, no matter how old your eater is. Read more and start packing healthier, processed-free lunches today.
Friends with Benefits: Spices
I add certain spices to my whole roasted chicken for additional health benefits beyond those of chicken and chicken stock, including:
By far my new favorite spice, turmeric is packed with health benefits, including being highly anti-inflammatory. It also supports and detoxifies the liver, counteracts the carcinogens in grilled/charred meats, inhibits skin and breast cancer, and promotes healthy brain function, potentially reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. It even may aid in fat metabolism and help in weight management. Always have black pepper in the same dish, as they complement each other, not just in taste, but in health benefits. (sources: 1, 2)
- Note: “Turmeric should not be used by people with gallstones or bile obstruction. Though turmeric is often used by pregnant women, it is important to consult with a doctor before doing so as turmeric can be a uterine stimulant.” Most sources say eating turmeric in pregnancy should be fine but no supplements.
High in Vitamin C, which can help to ward off (or heal from) sunburn. See? I’m not crazy for doing this in August. Also a good anti-inflammatory and may improve blood pressure, joint pain, circulation, and stomach acid balance. (source: 1, 2)
Has powerful antioxidant properties, as well as antimicrobial/antibacterial properties, good to keep in mind as we head into cold and flu season. Thyme also helps preserve food because of that, so your leftovers might even last longer. Thyme can aid in digestion, fight parasites, Alzheimer’s, stress and arthritis, and has a positive impact on the respiratory system. It’s even a very good source of calcium, iron, manganese, chromium, vitamin K and fiber. (sources: 1, 2, 3)
Ready to roast some chicken with benefits? Here’s our family’s favorite no-fail method:
- 2 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. Real Salt
- 1 tsp. dried minced onion + 1 Tbs. more
- 1 tsp. thyme, ground or dried
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- ¼ tsp. cayenne (red) pepper
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- 1 whole chicken, about 4-5 pounds is good
- Preheat over to 325F.
- Mix spices in a small bowl first (less the 1 Tbs. minced onion).
- Place the whole chicken right into a deep covered baking dish. Season the bottom of the chicken, then turn over into your baking dish and season the breast side and inside cavity.
- Sprinkle minced onion on top (or use a real onion, but sometimes I don't want to get a knife and cutting board out).
- Cover the baking dish and bake 20-30 minutes per pound or until inner temp is 160F.
- Allow a 5-10 minute rest before carving, during which time the internal temperature should raise to 165F.
Other Roasting Options
The KS community has come through with some other options to roast the chicken without turning the oven on, so I thought I’d make the post more useful by adding them right in:
Snip the backbone out of the chicken (save for stock) and then press the chicken out flat (pressing down on the bird’s sternum until you hear it crack). Grill skin side up over indirect heat with an aluminum water-filled pan, legs pointed toward the coals/gas flame. [Indirect heat means to light one side of the grill and put the chicken on the other.] Monitor and grill to 150 or so [about an hour], then flip the bird, putting it directly over the heat until it reaches 160/165 so the skin crisps. Thanks to Michelle via Facebook!
A lot of people like to brine the chicken first, which entails soaking the whole bird in a salt water solution (Google for ideas). That will keep it moist!
Kathleen K says in the comments:
I don’t love using the oven. It is after all, August, and we won’t see 50 degrees for at least another 3 months! Instead, mine roast in the less-heat-generating crockpot! My favorite part of the crockpot is that I don’t have to clean it after roasting. I just add more liquid, throw the bones back in and forget it for a few hours (or overnight). (Then, after straining out the yummy broth, OF COURSE I clean it!)
I’ve only ever cooked crockpot chicken covered in water, but I do see now that you can put a whole chicken in for 4 hours on high without any liquid. The finished texture will be a bit different from the oven, but I’m sure it’s wonderfully moist and delicious.
Raw Chicken Clean Up?
I know a lot of people get squeamish about raw chicken, and the bigger the chicken pieces, the bigger the mess. That’s why I like to contain the chicken right in the roasting dish.
If you have any raw chicken juices that you had to pour into the sink, you can wash your sink down with very hot, soapy water, then spray with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, in separate bottles, for extra bacterial precaution. I try to be aware of giving those substances time to kill the germs before doing something with raw veggies sitting in the sink.
Other Recipes to Use the Chicken
Our family has gotten big enough (and our toddler is a total carnivore) that I often roast two birds at once to make sure our leftovers are sufficient. The picture above is of chicken number two, with very little seasoning so it’s more versatile in other recipes.
I love having cooked chicken (roasted or stewed in a pot) frozen in 2-cup portions for many other meals, like the casseroles I retooled in Better Than a Box for make-from-scratch bliss.
- Creamy Stovetop Stuffing Chicken Casserole (with no Stovetop) – free printable!
- Spicy Cheesy Chicken Dip (this one actually requires stewed chicken, but it’s so delish I have to list it anyway)
- Slow Cooker Lentil Brown Rice Casserole
- Honey Dijon Chicken Casserole and one other
- 10 Tips for better homemade chicken stock
- There’s a great skillet chicken dish in The Family Camping Handbook, available for free via the Kindle Owners Lending Library this summer only.
- California Chicken Wraps (or any cold sandwich or wrap with chicken, yum! My kids will just eat it with mustard to dip at school, lucky me…)
- Good old chicken noodle or chicken rice soup, of course
- I still need to try this one, but I pinned Creamy Turmeric No-Heat Vegetable Noodles a while ago, and it’s definitely time to try, perhaps with chicken on the top?
What’s your favorite way to wrangle a whole chicken onto the table? What’s your biggest lunch packing challenge?
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