These are my tips for roasting a 3 1/2 pound bird because I make freaking awesome roasted chicken.
I recommend using the convection setting on your oven if you have it–as long as you use a roasting pan or something where the air will be able to move around the chicken. If you’re using a high walled pot or pan or the chicken is crammed in then use the conventional oven setting. As a general note, a convection oven allows you to reduce cooking time while also using a lower temp due to a fan that circulates the hot air.
In a normal oven, I roast a chicken stuffed with lemon slices and herbs at 400 for about an hour and 45 minutes to two hours. Unstuffed would probably take about an hour. In the convection, I roast at 375 for an hour 15 stuffed and 45 minutes unstuffed. As always, times are approximate. A few key things to remember regarding cooking time: it is always easier to check the done-ness and then add additional cooking time.
It is impossible to take an overcooked chicken back in time to its moister days.
As the cooking time progresses, use a meat thermometer or, for those who don’t need or have no stinking meat thermometer, stick a knife blade into the thickest part of the thigh to the bone and then look at the juices. I’m sure you know this but the juices should run clear or golden. Not pink and definitely not red. Also, I think a key to my chicken is that I let it rest. For reals. Pull your chicken out of the oven, check the juices and let that sucker sit there, loosely covered for AT LEAST 15 min.
If it’s warm outside then I am prone to letting the chicken get to just above room temp. Hell, I’ve left a chicken sitting for 45 minutes and the thing was delicious but maybe that’s just me. The last stages of cooking will happen while it’s resting and the juices really will dissipate back into the bird. The cooking while resting quality of meat also allows for me to err on the side of underdone-ness.
There is no shame in beginning to cut open your chicken only to realize it’s not done. If that happens, suck it up and either put it back in the oven or cut up the pieces and sauté them. For years, I would pull a chicken out too early and then have to jerryrig some sort of final cooking. While it isn’t the most attractive way to finish a bird I think learning to roast my chickens that way has led to success. Mentally, it’s a lot easier to inch a recipe/dish closer and closer to done than it is to work backwards from overcooked.
On prepping the bird:
I generally run my finger between skin and meat. It helps the skin brown and crisp well.
I cut up a lemon and stuff that with thyme or rosemary or garlic or whatever and salt and pepper. Takes longer to cook but helps considerably with moisture levels.
Once or twice towards the end I’ll baste the skin. Helps to brown. Beware doing it too soon or it could get too brown and burn.
Also, liberally apply salt and pepper. Especially inside the cavity of the bird.
As well, tuck the wing tips behind the breast so they don’t burn.
Lastly, if the breast is getting too brown you can tent foil over it or use a damp cheesecloth laid on the top part of the breast. Make sure and keep the cheesecloth moist though.
Most importantly, don’t listen to your friends when they tell you the chicken isn’t done yet. It’s people like us who live on the edge of raw and deliciously moist while the naysayers sit in the safety of dry and mealy pieces of garbage.
Season liberally, check the thighs, and remember that when you open the oven you will be adding time due to heat loss so try and keep that OCD stuff to a minimum.
Let me know if you have any other questions.