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Thomas Keller recommends bringing a chicken to room temperature before roasting. Peter Meehan and the Lucky Peach gang recommend chilling a chicken before roasting, as a fan describes here. Either they're going for two different results, or one of them is wrong. What's going on here?

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One is pointless, and the other is very specific.

Keller's approach - bringing the chicken out of the fridge 45 minutes before - is pointless, because there's no way in hell any significant proportion of a chicken is going to get from fridge-cold to room temperature in 45 minutes, or any other time that still allows it to be safe to eat. Point 1 in this article from the Food Lab is about steak, but that only reinforces my point. If a steak barely warms up after 1.5 hours, a chicken will do no better.

The Lucky Peach approach seems to be using the fridge mainly to dry out the skin in order to give a crispy result for that particular 'lacquered' recipe. That approach may well work for a chicken without all the lacquer as well.

Personally, I go more or less straight from the fridge and use a digital probe thermometer to ensure I don't overcook the bird, and have generally very satisfactory results.

  • 1
    For a steak, even having the very surface warmed probably helps with the initial sear getting formed, I'd think, which is more the purpose than warming up the meat its core. Just a thought. Your answer as it applies to the question is completely on point. – PoloHoleSet Apr 10 '17 at 18:52
  • I'm not sure, but I don't think the few degrees will make an appreciable difference when the meat hits a multi-hundred degree metal surface... – ElendilTheTall Apr 18 '17 at 8:09
  • I think for searing a steak, the presence of ice crystals and a resulting layer of steam is more the issue than a few degrees, but that's a vague impression/recollection I have. I can't pull out exactly where I got that from. – PoloHoleSet Apr 18 '17 at 13:38
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There isn't an especially right or wrong answer on this, there's benefits to both approaches. When I did the research to write the roasting planner for my meat app I found that there is a notable difference in cooking time when you leave the chicken out for 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time, the chicken left out cooks faster. I can't remember exactly the figure I used, it was dependent on chicken size, but it's definitely shorter. I tested my algorithm several times and found it was pretty accurate, and the user feedback agreed. So, by taking the chicken out and letting it warm up some you can reduce cooking time. This can be an advantage sometimes, for example when you need the oven for many different things, but otherwise it's not particularly useful. I have found no flavor or texture differences between the two methods.

I have found that letting the chicken warm up some is very helpful in determining the right place for your meat thermometer as the temperature differential lets you determine the coldest part of the chicken. The coldest part of the chicken is going to take the longest to cook. Personally I find it very hard to guess the right placement without this trick.

Keeping the bird in the fridge does have advantages in getting crispy skin. Think about what happens when you put a cold drink in a warm environment - you get moisture condensing on the surface. A chicken taken out of the fridge will have the same thing happen, and moisture on the skin makes the skin less crispy. I've found that absorbing moisture from your chicken skin using paper towels just before baking does a better job than the fridge for getting crispy skin.

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Bringing meat to room temperature by leaving it out is a bit of an old wives' tale. Kenji Lopez-Alt definitively disproves it in this article. And that's about an inch-thick steak, so it's even more true for a large chicken.

On the other hand, leaving a chicken uncovered in a refrigerator accomplishes two important things:

  1. It dries out the skin (especially on water-chilled birds), making it easier to render off fat and thus create a crispy skin; and
  2. When transferred to an oven directly, it keeps the meat cold for longer when the chicken is in the oven, giving more time for the skin to crisp before the (breast) meat gets overcooked.

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