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The Delicious Glory of High-Heat Cast-Iron Roasted Chicken

Credit: Drool Ltd, William Lingwood / Getty

It's not a new trick. It's been making the rounds for a few years, but if you haven't learned it yet, it'll change your chicken roasting game forever. Roasting a whole, partly spatchcocked chicken in a 500°F oven yields succulent, juicy meat, golden crisp skin, and lightly smoked flavor reminiscent of grilled poultry. What's more, it finishes up in 35-45 minutes, considerably quicker than traditional recipes for roasted birds.

Two important considerations before we go further. First, you will need a self-cleaning oven. This will cause lots of grease splatters and smoke inside the oven, nothing you want to clean by hand scrubbing.

Second, on the smoke front, you should have a powerful hood vent, and you may want to plug in an additional fan in the kitchen just to keep the air clear. Your smoke alarm may go off. This is no need for panic; it just means you're doing it right.

On to the technique, which is blissfully simple: Preheat a large cast-iron skillet in a 500°F oven for 30-40 minutes. In the meantime, pat down a 4-pound whole chicken to dry the exterior. Then you need to splay the leg quarters.

To do this, use a sharp knife to slice the skin between the breasts and leg quarters, all the way down to the base of the thighs so the thigh bones are visible. Press down on the leg quarters to flatten them. To keep them flattened as they cook, pop the thigh bones from the sockets by bending them downward until they're disjointed.

The advantage: The thigh meat will cook faster since the skin side will be in constant contact with the scorching hot cast-iron skillet, while the inside meat part of the leg quarter is openly exposed to 500° heat, not insulated by the breast.

If you're comfortable breaking down poultry and want to go the extra mile, you can remove the keel bone from the breast, which lets the breasts cook a little quicker and more evenly. If the phrase "keel bone" means nothing to you, no worries. It's an inessential step. Moving on.

Rub the bird with a little olive oil (regular is fine here rather than extra-virgin, which will smoke and grow bitter in the high heat; but feel free to drizzle the cooked bird with your finest evoo, and a squeeze of lemon never hurt, either). Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set in the preheated skillet, making sure the skin-sides of the thighs are in contact with the skillet. Start checking for doneness at 35 minutes; cook until breast meat is 160° and legs are 175°.

This is the most basic form of the recipe; you can of course riff as you like. Brine the bird beforehand, use whatever seasonings you like, add fresh herbs, potatoes, and veggies to the skillet. Longer-cooking items that can withstand 35 minutes at 500°F can go into the pan with the chicken; with more delicate items, pull the skillet after 15 minutes or so and nestle the ingredients around the chicken.

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