Many roast chicken recipes claim to be the best, but which one really is the best?
Today, you will find out.
Here's how it went down:
BuzzFeed Food editors chose eight famous roast chicken recipes and randomly seeded them in a single-elimination bracket. For each matchup, the two competing chickens were cooked in separate ovens exactly as the recipe prescribed.* Every matchup was decided by a blind taste test of both white and dark meat from each chicken, marked only as "Chicken 1" and "Chicken 2."
*Since the goal of this tournament was to find the most delicious method of roasting a chicken, each chicken was served plain, with no sauce. Therefore, if a recipe called for a sauce or au jus, that part of the recipe was ignored.
Let's meet our eight competitors:
1. Glamour magazine's "Engagement Chicken"
WHY WE CHOSE IT: In 2006, Glamour magazine published this recipe, claiming that the chicken is so good that, ladies, if you make it for your boyfriend, he will propose. Degrading concept, but the recipe gets a lot of love.
2. Jamie Oliver's "Perfect Roast Chicken"
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Jamie Oliver's chicken illustrates a classic rustic approach: It calls for herbs, lemon, and garlic stuffed inside the cavity, then the bird is trussed and roasted on a bed of vegetables.
3. Julia Child's "Favorite Roast Chicken"
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Julia Child is untouchable, and her chicken recipe is built around the techniques of classic French cooking. That said, it is fussy. We were curious if all the work would pay off.
4. The Food Lab's "Butterflied Roast Chicken"
WHY WE CHOSE IT: J. Kenji Alt-Lopez, author of Serious Eats' The Food Lab, created this recipe because he was sick of the breast meat always drying out the way it often does when you roast a whole chicken. So he butterflies the chicken (meaning he cuts out its spine), then lays it flat on a roasting rack. The theory is that this helps the breast and thigh meat cook at the same rate.
Note: Legs were pulled open from the body of the chicken after cooking and before photographing, because the thermometer said the chicken was cooked but we wanted to make sure.
5. Judy Rodgers' "Roast Chicken" from Zuni Café
WHY WE CHOSE IT: This recipe, from San Francisco's Zuni Café, is one that food writers, chefs, and cooking instructors all over the country swear by. It's interesting because the chicken gets herbs under the skin, then is seasoned with lots of salt and left to sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours. It's cooked in a preheated cast-iron skillet in a super hot oven to get the skin extra crispy.
6. Martha Stewart's "Perfect Roast Chicken"
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Because it's Martha! But also, her recipe allows us to use some of the same techniques from other chickens all together in combination: Herbs, garlic, and lemon inside the chicken cavity for flavor, butter on the chicken skin to crisp it, and a bed of sliced onions in the pan. The goal? A moist chicken with all-over crispy skin without a roasting rack.
7. The Pioneer Woman's "Roast Chicken"
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Ree Drummond, aka "The Pioneer Woman," runs arguably the most successful food blog in America, which led to a show on The Food Network. She is famous for accessible, kid-friendly, not-always-healthy recipes, and this one is no exception.
8. Thomas Keller's "My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken"
WHY WE CHOSE IT: Thomas Keller is famous for his elaborate, fine dining restaurants, but his chicken recipe is as simple as it gets. Dry the chicken, season generously with salt and pepper, truss it, then roast it in a super hot oven. That's it. The key is that you must dry the chicken thoroughly. Keller says that any moisture will create steam in your oven, making the skin less crispy and the meat drier. He doesn't add lemons, herbs, or other vegetables; all of these things create steam.
LET THE TOURNAMENT BEGIN.
Glamour's Engagement Chicken gets seasoned, smothered in lemon juice, stuffed with lemons, then roasted on a rack at a low temperature. It took 85 minutes to cook, which was annoyingly long. Also, the lemon juice that supposedly mixes with the chicken drippings to create "marry-me juice" (their words) that gets poured over the chicken? It just evaporated and burned the pan. See the original recipe here.
The Food Lab's Chicken needs to be butterflied, which only takes a minute, and it helps the chicken cook faster and the skin crisp more evenly. Minimal ingredients, easy prep — from a cook's perspective, this is a great recipe. See the full recipe here.
The Food Lab's Chicken had crispier skin and voters said it was "more evenly seasoned," but the meat wasn't as memorable as Glamour's Engagement Chicken, which was bright, moist, and tender, especially the breast meat. Engagement Chicken had slightly soggy skin, but the lemony chicken prevailed.
BLIND TASTE TEST WINNER: Glamour's Engagement Chicken
Thomas Keller's Chicken roasted quickly and didn't produce any smoke despite the high roasting temperature. It was by far the easiest and least expensive too. See the full recipe here.
Jamie Oliver's Chicken has 10 ingredients, which is a lot. That said, the "roast on a bed of vegetables" thing is great for anyone without a rack, and those vegetables are delicious after they've soaked up all that chicken fat. See the original recipe here.
Both chickens had great, crispy skin. Tasters liked the earthy herb flavor of Jamie Oliver's Chicken, but the white meat on Thomas Keller's Chicken was more moist and flavorful. This was a close call.
BLIND TASTE TEST WINNER: Thomas Keller's Chicken
Martha Stewart's Chicken recipe was easy to follow, but didn't call for any fat in the pan, so the onion slices burned and filled the kitchen with smoke. See the full recipe here.
Judy Rodgers' Chicken needs to be seasoned a day in advance, which is easy if you plan ahead. Roasting the chicken directly on a hot skillet did crisp the skin beautifully, and it cut the cooking time down to 60 minutes. BUT, be warned that it will fill your kitchen with smoke if you don't have a great hood. See the full recipe here.
The skin on Martha Stewart's Chicken was slightly soggy, and the meat was bland, whereas Judy Rogers' Chicken had really crispy skin and so, SO much flavor. You could definitely taste the herbs.
BLIND TASTE TEST WINNER: Judy Rogers' Chicken, by a landslide
For The Pioneer Woman's Chicken, no special equipment or technique is necessary (no roasting rack, no trussing). The raw chicken is slathered in a whopping stick and a half of butter — so much that is was difficult to get it all to stick. And, because the chicken was cooked directly on a foil lined pan (no rack, no bed of veggies), the skin stuck to the bottom of the pan and ripped off. The skin on top ripped as well. :( See the full recipe here.
Julia Child's Chicken was by far the most labor intensive, and there are ELEVEN ingredients. Vegetables need to be diced, cooked, and then stuffed into the cavity of the raw chicken. Then, you need to take it out to baste it after 15 minutes, then again to cover it with lemon juice after 45 minutes, then AGAIN for another baste after an hour. See the full recipe here.
The skin on Julia Child's Chicken was gorgeous: super crispy and DARK golden brown. The meat was moist and had a very savory taste. The skin on The Pioneer Woman's Chicken wasn't crispy, and some tasters said their skin was soggy. The meat tasted moist but kind of bland.
BLIND TASTE TEST WINNER: Julia Child's Chicken, also by a landslide
Tasters thought Glamour's Engagement Chicken had soggy skin, and both the meat and the skin tasted bland. In terms of white meat, there was no comparison: The white meat of Thomas Keller's Chicken was tender and flavorful. Though the white meat of Glamour's Engagement Chicken wasn't dry, it was the drier of the two and didn't really taste like much. Also, Keller's chicken's skin was bonkers crispy-good.
WINNER: Thomas Keller's Chicken
Judy Rodgers' Chicken tasted great, and the skin was crisp, but the meat (especially the breast) was slightly drier than the meat on Julia Child's Chicken, which had deeply browned skin and moist, tender white meat.
BLIND TASTE TEST WINNER: Julia Child's Chicken
The chickens in the final round were both really solid, and tasters agreed that both chickens were moist, well seasoned, and had crispy skin. The deciding factor was the white meat; both were good, but one chicken was slightly more tender than the other.
WHICH RECIPES WOULD WE COOK AGAIN, AND WHY?
Both chickens that made it to the final round tasted fantastic, but I'm not sure I would ever choose to cook Julia Child's Chicken; it was just so fussy, and the end result was delicious but not worth all of the time and effort.
Though it didn't make it past the first round (to be fair, it was up against the chicken that ultimately won the tournament), Jamie Oliver's Chicken was really good, and the vegetables that cooked beneath the chicken soaked up all the fat and tasted amazing. This recipe is great if you want an entire meal in one pan.
If you plan dinner a day in advance, it's worth trying out Judy Rodgers' Chicken. Salting the meat a day before cooking makes this chicken uniquely flavorful. Just make sure your stove has a hood, and crack open a window, because this one will SMOKE while cooking.
Honestly, though, Thomas Keller's Chicken will be our go-to from now on. It has the fewest ingredients, cooks really quickly, and tastes the best.
Learn to Make Thomas Keller's TRULY PERFECT Roast Chicken here.
Photos by Emily Fleischaker
Graphics by Chris Ritter and Justine Zwiebel