Lemon-Thyme Roast Chicken


This simple roast chicken recipe is flavored with lemon and thyme and has crispy skin with a deliciously toasty browned-butter flavor.

Lemon-thyme roast chicken, served on a white plate surrounded by fresh bay leaves and other green herbs.

Con Poulos

Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 15 mins

There are few things more satisfying than opening an oven and pulling out a bronzed, perfectly seasoned roast chicken. One of the best ways to get a crispy, nicely browned exterior on roast chicken is to rub or baste it with butter. Here, a simple mixture of softened butter, thyme leaves, and lemon juice is spread underneath the skin and then rubbed all over the surface. The result is a moist, thoroughly seasoned bird with crisp, deeply browned skin. Once carved, the chicken is then spooned with a delectable lemony pan sauce.

Butter helps brown the chicken in two delicious ways. First, once the water in the butter evaporates, the remaining fat helps conduct heat to the chicken's skin, making it crisp and brown. In addition to this, the milk solids in the butter are deposited on the surface of the skin, where they darken and brown as well, lending a toasty, caramel-like browned butter flavor to the bird.

A note on spreading the seasoned butter mixture under the skin: First, you must create a space for the butter by carefully working an index finger underneath the skin. For the breast, start from the neck cavity. Insert your finger gradually, taking care not to puncture the skin, and then sweep down the sides toward the wing joint and backbone. For the thighs, start loosening the skin at the gap between the bottom of the breast and the thigh. To add the butter, scoop the mixture onto a teaspoon, insert it in the pockets you have created and then slide the butter off by pressing with your finger on the outside of the skin as you withdraw the spoon. Then work the butter around by pressing it through the skin.


  • 1/2 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons thyme leaves

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 (3 1/2-pound) whole chicken, patted dry

  • 1 lemon, quartered


  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a small bowl, blend the 1/2 stick of butter with the thyme and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

  2. Season the chicken cavity with salt and pepper and tuck the lemon inside. Spread one third of the lemon-thyme butter under the skin of the breasts and thighs. Rub the remaining butter all over the chicken and season with salt and pepper.

  3. Set the chicken breast side up in a large cast-iron skillet. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registers 160°F. Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes.

  4. Meanwhile, skim off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan juices. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and cook over moderate heat until hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper.

  5. Carve the chicken and transfer to a platter. Spoon the pan sauce on top and serve.

Suggested pairing

Citrusy Sauvignon Blanc pairs nicely with this lemony chicken. Look for one from New Zealand.

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