We Tried Ina Garten’s Perfect Roast Chicken

Roast chicken has been a cozy dinnertime staple for centuries, and thanks to Ina Garten, the humble bird is getting the kudos it deserves.

Ina Garten is your go-to girl for meals that boast comfort, simplicity and amazing taste. For 17 years, she’s opened the doors of her Hamptons home to enlighten viewers of her celebrated Food Network show, “Barefoot Contessa,” with her delicious recipes and foolproof tips.

Get her latest cookbook, Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks, ($21).

I’ve been longing to try one of Ina’s recipes, and since I grew up on homey comfort food, her famed roast chicken rose to the top of my list. With 5 stars and over 1,100 reviews, I knew it had to be winner.

Even newly minted Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle has a soft spot for Ina’s chicken, telling Good Housekeeping magazine the chicken is “a game-changer.” Meghan revealed Ina’s recipe was the inspiration for the cozy, romantic meal she shared with Prince Harry the night he proposed (read the cute story here). If the aroma of this savory dish wafting from the oven will get a man down on one knee, I knew it was one I had to try!

Ina Garten’s Perfect Roast Chicken

1 (5- to 6-pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed and cut into wedges
Olive oil

Initial Thoughts

If I were making Ina’s chicken in the summer, I would have scooped up the garden-fresh herbs and veggies at my local farmer’s market. But living in Wisconsin and suffering through a brutally cold winter (and spring!), my only option was to head to the supermarket. That wasn’t a problem though, because I easily found everything I needed for this recipe at one store. (I like to move through a grocery store fast, so any recipe that doesn’t require a mad hunt for unusual or hard-to-find ingredients is one I make sure to keep.)

After glancing at the garlic, lemon and large bunch of thyme in my cart, I knew these aromatics would take my modest roast chicken from simple to spectacular!

Getting Started

I started by preheating my oven to 425°. I placed my uncooked 5-lb. roasting chicken on a clean work surface. I didn’t rinse it under running water because I didn’t want to risk contamination by accidentally spreading bacteria if some of the juices dripped from the sink to the counter. (Psst: Check out these other important food safety tips). Knowing I wasn’t going to use the packet of giblets that came with the chicken, I pulled them out of the cavity and discarded them.

The Seasonings

Chicken has long been a dinnertime staple, but it’s the seasonings that give it a flavorful upgrade. I sprinkled the inside of the empty cavity with sea salt (also known as kosher salt) and fresh ground black pepper. Then I added a liberal amount of thyme. If you can’t find a bunch of fresh thyme, a generous handful of sprigs works just fine. Thyme is one of those herbs that’s a flavor powerhouse. Available as fresh leaves or dried and crushed, it has pungent, earthy flavor with minty and lemony tones. If you have lots of thyme left over, consider one of these recipes.

I grabbed my fresh lemon, but before cutting it in half, I peeled it so that any bitterness from the rind wouldn’t infuse into the chicken. But if you like that little extra zing from the rind, by all means stuff it inside the chicken unpeeled.

Next up was the garlic. I quickly learned that cutting a whole, unpeeled head of garlic in half requires a good chef’s knife and a steady hand. But as a garlic lover, this was one ingredient I was not going to skimp on. After stuffing both halves into the chicken, I liberally basted the whole exterior of the chicken with melted butter and sprinkled on more salt and pepper.

Then, I simply tied the legs of the chicken together with kitchen string. Feel free to get fancy and truss your chicken if you like.

Finally, I tucked the wings under the body for more even cooking.

The Veggies

On to the ah-mazing roast veggies. I like big, chunky roasted vegetables so I purchased the biggest carrots I could find. After peeling off the skins, I cut them into approximately 2-inch pieces. I used two big sweet yellow onions instead of one and cut them into slices. I also used two bulbs of fennel because I wanted to fill my roasting pan to the brim. I tossed everything into the bottom of my roasting pan, added salt, pepper and more sprigs of thyme, then sprinkled it all with olive oil. I knew these veggies would boast amazing tangy and savory flavors. Then I added my chicken to the top of the rack in my roasting pan and put it in the oven.

The Outcome

I let that bad boy roast in the oven per Ina’s instruction for 1½ hours until it was a tantalizing golden brown and the vegetables were just tender. You can also cut between a leg and a thigh; if the juices run clear, it’s done. And always test the bird’s internal temperature by making sure a thermometer registers at least 170°-175° when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh. This is the safe temperature for both white and dark meat.

Finally, I removed the chicken and vegetables from the roasting pan to a platter and covered the bird with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. That short amount of time felt like an hour because I could hardly wait to slice into the succulent, juicy meat and scoop up the tender veggies.

Ina’s roast chicken is worthy of every ohh, ahh and mmm it elicits. No wonder the Royals love it—it’s as perfect and impeccable as Ina herself. My family gave it a thumbs-up and quickly asked for seconds. Regardless of your cooking style or level of experience, this crisp-skinned and tender-fleshed chicken will earn its title as a dinnertime hero.

If you love entertaining, then don’t miss Ina’s best tips for hosting happy gatherings of all kinds.

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Amy Glander
Amy is a book editor at Taste of Home where she gets to pour her passions for food and storytelling into trade and series cookbooks. When she’s not writing or editing, you’ll find her antiquing, cooking and baking from her favorite vintage cookbooks and exploring Milwaukee’s urban beauty with her digital SLR in hand.