The Ideal Size For Evenly Roasted Whole Chicken

There is nothing quite like a classic roasted chicken. The skin is crispy, the breast meat tender, and the dark portions succulent. You can achieve this result in a number of different ways, but if you don't start with the right size bird, you won't get the most even roast.

The ideal chicken size for roasting is between 3½ to 5 pounds, but if you can manage to find one that's right around 4 pounds, all the better. These smaller birds are more likely to roast evenly, meaning that once the breast meat is cooked, the dark meat is done too. With the right size, nothing ends up overcooked, and you're more likely to end up with a juicier overall chicken. Unfortunately, since uncooked whole chickens don't fetch a high price per pound, grocery stores tend to stock ones that are 5 pounds or heavier. For smaller chickens, you'll very likely have to source from a local farmer, and if we're being honest, that's probably the better choice anyway. 

If you're cooking for a crowd, your instinct would be to go for a larger bird. But you might want to think about roasting two smaller ones. While a tad more involved, roasting two small birds can be a better option because of the fact that the meat is going to be more tender. Ensuring this tenderness, however, is not simply a matter of size but of age as well. 

Why age is also a factor

As a general rule, larger chickens above the 5-pound roaster range are going to be on the older side. This is because as chickens age, their meat becomes tougher, given the extra time their muscles have had to develop. The result can therefore turn out dry if it's not cooked the right way. This is why chicken stews like coq au vin call specifically for older birds — because the low and slow cooking helps tenderize the meat.

There are 6 size categories for chickens: broilers, fryers, roasters, stewing chickens, capons, and roosters. The smallest and youngest are the broilers, which are between 6 to 8 weeks old and weigh just over 2 pounds. The largest and oldest, over 10 months old and often weighing 10 pounds or more, are the roosters and capons.

Roasters sit evenly in the middle. They are on the younger side, less than 8 months old, so their meat will be some of the most tender. They also tend to fit right into that perfect weight range for roasted chicken — 3½ to 5 pounds.