I remember the first time I ever brought home a whole chicken from the grocery store. I placed it on the counter, sat down at my kitchen table, and gave it a good long stare.
For reasons I couldn't explain, I was completely intimidated by the shrink-wrapped naked thing on my cutting board. The bones. The form. The big-ness. I couldn't even. I'd long been a pro at finding the deals on boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and that was all I knew how to cook! I'd make the odd drumstick dinner, but those came all cut up and prepared for me, too. Guys, excuse the pun, but I was totally chickening out.
Pinterest is my friend (and the best way to get anything done without feeling judged). I found a step-by-step and play-by-play and just went with it. Over the years, I've gotten really good at baking whole chickens (go figure) to the point where it's all we make now. I can tell you from experience that cooking a grocery store chicken is NOT the same experience (in taste or visually) as cooking a bird raised on pasture. But let's leave the advertising for another time and talk about this process!
Step 1: Unwrap and Inspect. I usually put the whole thing in the sink in case any liquid comes out as I'm unwrapping it. Get the trash can nearby so you don't drip any "chicken juices" on your floor because ew, man. I pull up the wings and look into the armpits to check for stray feathers and peer into the body cavity to make sure it's clear (meaning, no organs). As a side note- if you get your birds from us, these things won't be an issue save the occassional feather which comes right out.
Step 2: Rinse gently. I know, I know. "But the CDC told me not to and I saw the video with the green germs and I'm never rinsing chicken ever again".... I know. And you can skip this step if you want, but the CDC is thinking through the filter of chickens you buy at the grocery store, which are largely mishandled during processing time. The birds I cook, I trust, because I know exactly what they have/have not been exposed to. I rinse my birds, okay? Inside and out.
Obviously, wash your hands afterwards. Use wisdom in all things, folks.
Step 3: Oils and spices. Olive oil is my oil of choice around here. Pour a tablespoon sized amount onto the chicken and rub it over the surface with your hands. The point is just to cover the outside of the skin so that the skin crisps instead of burns. Easy peasy.
After oiling comes spicing. Feel free to get as crazy or basic as you want. Sometimes I just do salt and pepper. Sometimes I quarter a lemon, stick it inside the body cavity, and rub in rosemary on the outside. Sometimes I use a pre-made "poultry seasoning" blend and sometimes I make my own out of thyme, rosemary, and sage. There are few limits here, is the point. This is the way we cook a chicken every single week without getting bored. Spice it up! Lemon squeezey.
Step 4: Cooking. My current favorite (and the fastest, for me) is to put the chicken in an oven preheated to 425. I put the timer on half an hour, then reduce it to 400 for an hour. (This time is for a roughly 5-lb bird). Cooking it at the high temperature at the start crisps the skin, which keeps all the moisture in as it cooks the rest of the way.
There are other ways to cook your birds. I have a friend who roasts them on 375 for about 2 1/2 hours and she swears it is the way to go. I don't usually remember to start the process early enough, so I stick with my way.
What you're looking for is the meat on the legs to start bunching up towards the chicken's body. Usually at that point, it's done- but I've been known to need to stick it back in for 15 more minutes or so depending on how well I thawed out the bird if it was from our freezer. Thawing is important, btw.
Step 5: Let it be. Give it a few minutes after removing from the oven before you start slicing in. This locks in the moisture of the meat. About 10 minutes is sufficient. (Note: this takes a lot of self control, which you will understand the second that thing comes out of the oven. In the meantime, take a selfie and show all your friends how domestic you are).
Step 6: Enjoy. No explanation needed.
The nice thing about cooking a whole bird is that there are usually a ton of leftovers. My chicken-loving family of 4 eats about half of a bird for dinner, leaving the rest for sandwiches or casseroles or the like. Sometimes I even stick a bag of cooked chicken in the freezer for a quick addition to soup or salad!
After all the meat is gone, you can make stock out of the carcass for a high-nutrient base for stews and soups. I'm telling you, once you start cooking whole birds, you'll never stop!