Frugal Recipe: Oven baked whole chicken

This chicken recipe is part of a delicious frugality series called How to stretch a whole chicken into many healthy meals. To start this plucky series from the beginning, read the clucky introduction.

To stretch a whole chicken you need two things. First, you need a whole chicken. Second, it helps to have a plan. Since I squawked about buying an organic chicken at the beginning of this series, let’s get crackin’ with the first part of the plan — and that’s baking or roasting a whole chicken.

I used to be scared of baking a whole chicken. Since a raw chicken isn’t stunning to look at, has a daunting cavity space where my grandmother used to stuff things, and looks like a meal that requires a lot of work, I tended to steer clear of the full cluck in favor of prettily packaged boneless skinless chicken breasts. Wow, what a costly mistake! Here’s why:

Non-Organic Chicken Breasts vs. an Organic Whole Chicken

  • Non-organic chicken breasts are expensive to buy, and cost around $4/lb in Canada (where I live). You get very few meals from this costly meat.
  • A whole organic chicken costs around $3.49/lb, and can be used for multiple meals.

The price I used to pay for so-called ‘convenience’ chicken is no more, thankfully.

Anyscaredofchicken, I got over my fear of cooking whole chickens when my good friend Beth had me over for a frugal roast chicken meal. She called her pleasant feast ‘The Perfect Roast Chicken’ — and she was right. Using a simple recipe from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, Jamie’s Food Revolution, she quickly and easily chopped a few veggies, stuck the chicken on top of them, and in under two hours served a delicious, and very affordable, dinner. I was gobsmacked. Beth’s tasty meal served four adults, one child, and there was A LOT leftover for lunch and dinner the next day.

How to cook a whole chicken

My ingredients differ slightly from Jamie Oliver’s recipe. He uses olive oil to coat the chicken and vegetables, but I skipped the added grease — chickens are pretty fatty as-is.

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken, 6-7 pounds (free-range, organic, or what your budget allows)
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 garlic bulb
  • 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • small bunch of fresh thyme, rosemary, bay, sage or mix

Preparing your chicken:

Here are 10 simple steps to cooking a whole chicken. Yes, you can do it.

Step One: Remove your chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before it goes into the oven.

Step Two: Preheat your oven to 240°C or 475°F. Got a convection oven? Try this convection calculator to get the temperature and timing right.

Step Three: Wash and chop vegetables coarsely, and don’t peel them. Break the garlic bulb into cloves, leaving them also unpeeled. Rinse your chicken.

Step Four: Place all vegetables in the middle of a large roasting pan.

Step Five: Prick lemon with a fork, and place it inside the chicken’s cavity with herbs. Add a little salt, pepper, and herbs to the chicken. Place your chicken on top of the vegetables, then into the preheated oven.

Baking your whole chicken:

Step Six: Once your chicken is in the oven, immediately turn down the heat to 200°C or 400°F. Cook the chicken for around 2 hours and 20 minutes for a 6-7 pound chicken. I used to wonder How long do you cook a whole chicken?. If your chicken is bigger or smaller, take a peek at this roasting chart for cooking times. Or just use an inexpensive (and classic) oven-safe Meat and Poultry Thermometer — I’ve had mine for years and it takes the guesswork out of cooking.

Step Seven: Roasting potatoes and other veggies? Get them into the oven for the last 45 minutes of cooking. Baste your bird halfway through cooking, and add a little water to the roasting pan if the vegetables under the chicken look dry. No one wants burned vegetables.

Step Eight: When fully cooked, transfer your chicken to a cutting board and let it rest for around 15 minutes. Cover it with a damp tea towel and put it aside.

Step Nine: Carve your chicken. It’s really not hard to carve a chicken, so I’m including a little video to help you along the way. Here’s how carve a chicken in under three minutes.

Step Ten: Enjoy! Oh, don’t forget to make gravy if you’re into that sort of thing.

Chicken Results: (so far)

The amount of chicken meat carved from this one organic 6lb bird is amazing. Can you guess the size of these chicken breasts?

Yes, I measured each breast. Smirk. And I swear I cleaned Carl’s measuring tape after I was done calculating the digits. The lengths I go to for you guys. Sheesh!

Each chicken breast measured around 8 inches long, 3 inches wide, and 1.5 inches thick. That’s bigger than any boneless chicken breast I’ve bought from the grocery store. Plus, the amount of meat from the carcass, legs, thighs, and wings was astounding. I must admit to being shocked with the value of this single whole chicken so far. And yes, the roast chicken dinner was amazingly tasty.

Read the rest of this chicken series:

Frugal Chicken Series:
  1. Introduction
  2. 1 Organic Chicken, 22 Meals, $49 Bucks
  3. Oven baked whole chicken
  4. Homemade chicken stock
  5. White Chicken Chili
  6. Chicken Noodle Soup
  7. Chicken Stew
  8. Chicken Lentil Soup

Squawkback: When you stretch a chicken, how much meat do you portion per meal?

Your two cents:

  1. Frugal Gal January 18th, 2011

    I have never bought organic chickens as they are so expensive, but I have to agree they’re alot bigger so probably get more bang for your buck. A non-organic chicken from big box grocery store usually feeds only 2 people for 2 meals in my house. My significant other eats the white meat and I eat the dark (I hate chicken breast). Of course, there will be potato and veggies to go along with the meal. Bones are used for chicken stock.

  2. Veronica January 19th, 2011

    Do you eat the vegetables the chicken is sitting on? They look delicious to me, but since you left the peelings on, I was wondering if you discarded them. Beautiful bird!

  3. Kerry January 19th, 2011

    @Veronica Yes, we eat the veggies. I remove the onion peels though.

  4. Adam P January 20th, 2011

    Great post, I really should stop just grabbing the package of $21.99/kg chicken breasts. One thing though:

    “Rinse your chicken.”

    Actually, you’re not supposed to rinse your chicken as you can’t rinse off the unpleasant bacteria, you just kill them by cooking them; and you’re much more likely to splatter the salmonella all over your kitchen by “rinsing” your bird in the kitchen sink.

  5. Jace January 21st, 2011

    Ok now what? I guess we all have to wait til the series is done to go out and get the chicken since I would have no idea waht to do next. Am loving the idea and can’t wait till it is all posted so I can try it.

  6. Kerry January 21st, 2011

    @Jace I’m working on it. My husband wants the series done too — he wants to eat dinner. :)

  7. Caitlin January 25th, 2011

    Count me as one of the ones waiting eagerly for the complete series! Cooking and I don’t get along (it’s a mutual dislike) but I’ve always wanted to cook a “real” chicken “like a grown up”, but I have no clue what to do next or how to do most steps. I want to try this when you’re done, though!

    What’s the point of leaving the onion skins on for cooking if you’re just going to remove them and eat the onion? I can’t see the dried out husk adding any flavour or nutritional value that we’d miss out on by peeling the onion.

  8. Andy Mmm February 6th, 2011

    I’ve only got the confidence to roast full chickens about 2 years ago when I was a poor recent university grad and it was certainly not the organic variety :) more of the $5 little ones.

    Some additional $ saving tips: save your old bread ends in the freezer and use it for stuffing your bird. I keep my stuffing simple: cube pieces of bread, dice up a little onion, add a little pepper and your fav spice (mine is summer savory)and stuff it.

    Others mentioned the soup stock. Keep the bones and boil then simmer for about 1 hr with some big pieces onion and celery for flavor. Drain the broth from the big veggie bits and bones. Return broth to med-high. Add 1/2 c rice, your favorite veggies (mine: diced carrots, onion, celery, cauliflower), your fav spice and any remaining chicken (usually the not-so-pretty little pieces that were left over).

  9. Julie @ The Family CEO June 20th, 2011

    Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) was my inspiration for trying to roast a whole chicken. It really is so easy.

    I’m also trying to break the boneless, skinless chicken breast habit. For those times when I don’t feel like roasting a whole chicken, I stock up on chicken drumsticks. They’re easy to bake and cost much, much less. Dark meat is also more flavorful.

  10. erin February 11th, 2012

    Umm. Do you suggest removing the funky innards before cooking?

  11. Kerry February 11th, 2012

    Yes, you MUST remove the bagged innards. :)

  12. Sharon August 13th, 2013

    I think for a young girl you are wonderful I just found this sight and I love it JUST love it thanks for all the ideas going to get my Organic chicken we only eat organic meat

  13. kelly March 31st, 2014

    We grow organic chicken for a major organic store so I love that people are getting smarter about what they eat. I love even more than my husband went down to the ranch, got me a fresh chicken, processed it and it’s in the oven now! Thanks for a new idea :)

  14. Sue April 2nd, 2014

    I just found a small organic chicken at our grocery for 5.99 – that was not on sale. True, it was only about 3 pounds, but organic! We had it for supper, and wondering what to do next to stretch it out as far as possible.

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