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How Long Does it Take to Bake a Whole Chicken?

Whereas meats like beef and lamb are often better when slightly undercooked and pink in the middle, this is most definitely not the case with chicken!

Undercooked chicken can cause foodborne illness – sometimes serious – so it’s important to make sure you prepare it properly and check it for doneness. This leads us to the question – just how long does it take to bake a whole chicken?

Roasted Turkey Photo

Well, the answer to that depends very much on the size of the bird. On average, chickens weigh about 2 lb to 4 lb, although they can be bigger.

The rule of thumb for baking fresh chicken is to preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and cook it for 20 minutes per pound, plus an extra 15 minutes.

This means that a 2 lb chicken will be cooked in approximately 55 minutes (20 + 20 + 15) and a 4 lb chicken will be cooked in approximately 1 hour and 35 minutes (20 + 20 + 20 + 20 + 15).

Tip: Did you know that the type of chicken you are cooking can actually affect how long it takes to cook? If you purchase your chicken from a specialist supplier, it’s a good idea to discuss cooking times with them to find out the difference.

Roasted Turkey Picture

What if you stuff the chicken?

It’s quite common to fill the cavity of the chicken with stuffing, or with aromatics like whole onions, garlic, lemon or herbs.

Doing this tends to increase the cooking time, so be sure to check the recipe for the specific guidelines.

Tip: Do you wash your chicken before cooking it? If so, you might think that you are reducing your chances of foodborne illness. Unfortunately, though, the opposite is true! No matter how carefully you wash a raw chicken, you run the risk of spashing bacteria around your sink and the rest of your kitchen. Yuck!

Dutch Oven Roast Chicken with Lemon Picture

How to tell if the chicken is cooked

Even if you follow the guidelines for timing, remember that they are approximate and you still need to check that the chicken is properly cooked.

There are two main ways to do this.

The first is to pierce the bird between the leg and the breast (which is the thickest part of the chicken). The juices that run out should be clear, with no tinge of pink. In addition, the breast meat should be opaque, although the leg meat will be darker.

The second way to check if the chicken is properly cooked is to use a meat thermometer. Once you’ve inserted it into the chicken it should read at least 165 degrees F (74 degrees C) and stay that way for at least 2 minutes.

Two top tips for perfect chicken

Most of us tend to take the chicken from the fridge and put it straight into the oven to cook. But it’s better to take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you plan to cook it, and let it come to room temperature. This allows it to cook more evenly. Be sure to leave it in a cool place, safely covered.

And be sure to baste your chicken as it cooks, as it helps keep the meat moist. Just tilt the pan and use a spoon to scoop up the fat and drizzle it over the chicken a few times throughout the cooking process. 

Tips for adding flavor to your chicken

Sometimes a little salt is all you need to create a delicious chicken – or you can add a salty flavor at a fundamental level by brining the chicken instead.

Roasted Turkey Image

But there are a few other ways you can add flavor and completely transform your meal:

  • Add pats of flavored butter immediately under the skin of the chicken before you start cooking it
  • Fill the cavity with aromatics. Lemon and limes work well, as do fresh herbs, garlic and onion
  • Fill the cavity with your favorite stuffing
  • Use a rub
Lemon Rosemary Roast Chicken Picture

Rub ideas for chicken

Indian rub – combine equal parts of turmeric, cumin, ground coriander and a pinch of garam masala.

Thai rub – make a paste of green chilies, cilantro, lemon grass, ginger and fresh lime juice

Southwest rub – mix together chile powder, sage and cumin

Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs Photo

Now your chicken is cooked to perfection, learn how to carve it.