brown roasted turkey in a roasting pan

How to Cook a Chicken, Turkey, or Duck

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Learning how to cook a chicken, turkey, or duck whole is super simple. It’s easy to prepare and there’s little more to do. But it’s so versatile, it’s a great basic cooking skill to learn.

roasted whole chicken on a plat with a sprig of rosemary and a knife and a fork about to cut into it.

A roasted chicken is truly one of the most versatile dishes you can make. And not only that, you’ll make a very impressive display when you present it on a platter. You’ll feel like a true artist in the kitchen. You can cut pieces off of it to serve, shred the whole thing for other dishes, or do some of each, which is what we do when I cook a chicken and use it to make three meals. It’s a huge time saver!

Another thing about roasting a whole bird of any kind is FLAVOR! There is no other meat that tastes so rich and good as roasted meat on the bone basting in its own juices. You’re about to blow your friend’s minds, so let’s get started!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Roasting pan, casserole dish, or 9 x 13 cake pan
  • Tongs
  • Meat thermometer (if you don’t have one, we’ll talk about what to do instead)
  • Aluminum foil or a lid
  • Seasonings

Buying a whole chicken (or any other bird) is far less expensive than buying the parts. Plus you’ll have the bones leftover to make a wonderful chicken stock that blows the store-bought versions away! There are a few things you need to know to keep the people you’re feeding safe when you cook a chicken or other bird.

  • Keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or the freezer if longer.
  • When you thaw it, set it in the fridge for 2 days, don’t thaw it at room temperature.
  • If you’re in a hurry, you can put the whole package in cold water, changing out the water every 30 minutes and it will thaw in a few hours.
  • Wash your hands every time you handle the chicken or the packaging.

Here are the steps to cook a chicken whole:

  • Before you get started, set your chicken out for about 20 minutes to warm up just a bit
  • Dry the chicken by blotting with paper towels
  • Apply seasonings
  • Place in the pan
  • Cook to internal temperature of 165
  • Let rest for 20 minutes
  • Enjoy!

So what do we season with when we cook a chicken whole?

I love this garlic bread seasoning. It has all the bells and whistles of taste for me. You can also choose ranch seasoning or bbq rub. Another great one is just some Italian seasoning. It takes about 2-4 tablespoons rubbed all over the chicken. You can also do just salt and pepper. It’s still great that way!

Once the chicken is rubbed down with your seasonings, add a little fat. You can use olive oil, bacon grease, softened butter, or whatever tickles your fancy. Use about 1/4 c for the whole bird and rub it all over the outside.

Preheat the oven before you put the chicken in. We cook ours at 325, low and slow so it’s tender and juicy!

How long to roast a chicken at 325

It will probably take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours to roast the chicken depending on the weight. It takes about 23 minutes per pound.

Check the chicken for doneness by inserting a meat thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and the meatiest part of the breast. It should register at least 165ºF degrees. Return it to the oven if it is not done, covering it with foil if the skin is already browned.

Store leftover chicken in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 4 days or take it off the bone and store it in the freezer so you can remove all the air. Then you can set it back in the fridge for a day to rethaw it for use. It’s best to cover it in foil or a pan with a lid with a few tablespoons of water or stock and reheat it in the oven. You can use the microwave, but the oven keeps the flavor and texture better.

Here are some poultry tips that will make all of your birds turn out better:

  • Happy birds are tasty birds. Buy free range, all natural, unplumped chicken tastes best.
  • Don’t remove the skin, it’s a natural baster. If you don’t want to eat it, just remove it AFTER you cook it.
  • If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can poke the meat in the leg or fat part of the breast and make sure the juices are clear that come out. If they have a pink tint, it’s not done. You can also wiggle the leg of the bird and it should move easily in the socket. If it’s stiff, it’s not done.

Whole chicken in ninja foodi

My Ninja Foodi Air Fryer Oven is my favorite kitchen tool and it has plenty of room to roast a whole chicken or even turkey. I love using it because it doesn’t heat my whole kitchen and I feel like it gives the meat a juicier inside and a better flavor on the outside. If you don’t have a Foodi, but you have a convection oven this can help as well.

How to cook a whole frozen chicken

What if it’s time to cook your chicken but it’s still frozen and you don’t have 4 hours to thaw it in water? Check out this article on how to cook a whole frozen chicken.

Instant pot whole chicken recipes

If you want to cook your chicken in an instant pot, it will be the most tender chicken you ever made, but it doesn’t get that pretty browned crispy skin. It’s still great if you’re going to shred it. It will cook super fast, and you can let it cool and get it shredded for tons of meals in no time. Here are some ideas for cooking a whole chicken in the instant pot.

dark roast crispy skinned duck on a plate with lettuce

Crispy roast duck

Roasting a duck is done almost the same way as chicken. Duck skin is thicker and harder to crisp up, so follow these instructions for the perfect plan.

Slowly roast the duck in the beginning and finish up at a higher temperature you will achieve the beautiful crispy golden skin.

  • Start with a 5-6 lb duck
  • Thaw the duck completely.
  • Leave it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to dry the skin out thoroughly.
  • Score the skin on the breast to help release some of the fat during the cooking process. Just take a sharp knife and make cuts in a diamond pattern, without reaching the breast meat below. The fat will escape while the duck slow roasts in the oven.
  • Poke the duck all over with a knife. Only prick the skin, don’t hit the meat.
  • Rub it with 2 tablespoons of salt
  • Stuff the cavity with a few garlic cloves and some shallots or onions and either a sliced lemon or quartered apple
  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  • Cook the duck for 1 hour.
  • Remove it from the oven and reprick the skin.
  • Cook for another 2 hours.
  • Baste it with some glaze. You can make one with a cup of honey, 1/4 cup molasses, 2 tablespoons of orange juice, 3 cloves of crushed garlic, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce cooked in a sauce pan on the stove for a few minutes until it thickens.
  • Turn the oven up to 400 degrees and cook for 15 minutes. Brush with glaze again and finish for another 5 minutes or so.
  • Remove from oven and rest for 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Instant pot duck

If you want to cook your duck in the instant pot, there’s no reason you can’t. Again, the instant pot makes tender and juicy meat. Here is a recipe for instant pot duck.

So now let’s talk about the big bird, turkey! Many people find roasting the holiday turkey to be intimidating but it could not be easier. It’s the easiest part of the Thanksgiving or Christmas table.

My one big tip is to use a turkey bag! There is no basting, it bastes itself, and it works every time! My mother-in-law taught me this and that’s one big thing she was right about!

You need to use plenty of seasoning because it’s a lot of meat. It might seem like 1/4 cup of salt is too much, but depending on the size of your bird, it might not be enough.

Mix your seasonings together before you get the bird out. It’s a messy bird and you won’t want to put those turkey-covered hands on everything else once you start wrestling it.

I season my turkey with 1/4 cup of salt, 2 tablespoons of black pepper, and a stick of butter. I like to use fresh sage from the garden, so I get a handful, chop it up, and mix it with salt and pepper. Then I like to lift up the skin on the turkey breast and place some under there in a pretty pattern. If you don’t have access to fresh sage, you’ll need about 1 tablespoon of dried. Make sure your butter is room temperature.

Now, cut the turkey out of the bag and discard it.

Remove the excess items from the neck cavity and the butt cavity. You can use those for stock or gravy, or throw them out. My husband is terrified I’m going to try to feed them to him so I throw them away.

Rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels and set it in a big roasting pan.

Slide the bag around it and roll it up so you can reach inside. Rub your spice mixture all over the bird inside and out.

Now grab the butter and smoosh it all over the outside as well.

Wash your hands really good (and your arms to be honest) and grab some herbs if you have any, an onion cut in half, a couple of cloves of garlic and a lemon cut in half and place them into the butt cavity of the turkey.

Tie the legs together and roll the bag down over the end of the turkey legs. Tie it shut.

Roast the turkey at 325 for about 15-20 minutes per pound.

Check for an internal temperature of 165 or use the methods above for checking for doneness. Many times your turkey has a pop-up to tell when it’s done as well.

Man, I’m getting hungry. I just love turkey! And leftover turkey! And all the turkey!

Don’t forget the turkey gravy. This recipe works for chicken and duck as well. But brown gravy rules. So yummy and grandma reminding. I love it.

Honey baked turkey

Here is a wonderful recipe for a honey baked turkey as well.

Boneless turkey breast

Roasting a boneless turkey breast is pretty much the same deal. Take your breast, sprinkle it liberally with salt, pepper, and sage, and roast.

Use a chicken poultry bag since it’s smaller. Use a few tablespoons of butter on the outside. And roast is slowly at 325 for 15-20 minutes per pound until its internal temperature is 165.

Turkey breast in Ninja Foodi

The Ninja Foodi, again, will make a better texture on your turkey breast. Use the same seasonings to start, but leave the bag off. You’ll have to baste it every 15 minutes with the juices to keep it juicier, but it will turn out amazing and you’ll impress even yourself!

Instant pot whole turkey

If you have a big enough instant pot, you can cook a whole turkey in it. It will be juicy and succulent guaranteed! Check out this recipe for instant pot whole turkey.

cornish hens on a plate surrounded by lettuce

This instant pot turkey breast makes a wonderful tender juicy flavorful meal in no time.

Air fried cornish hen

Now for the tiny birds! This air-fried cornish hen is going to blow your mind too. Remember the smaller the meat, the quicker it cooks! We have made these and they turned out AMAZING!

Just season the hen with the spices, place the bird in the air fryer, set time and temperature, and let the air fryer do its magic.

For two cornish hens, use a teaspoon of one of the spice mixes mentioned above for chicken. Rub the hens in olive oil. And place them in the air fryer.

How long to cook cornish hen in air fryer

Set the air fryer on 375 and cook for about 30 minutes or when internal temperature reaches 165. Don’t forget to let them rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Now that you know how to cook any kind of bird into a masterpiece, you’re going to rock that kitchen. For more basic cooking skills, check this article out.

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