Here's Why Ina Garten Only Cooks Small Chickens

Ina Garten is a master in the art of keeping things simple in the name of delicious food. You'd be hard-pressed to get through an episode of "The Barefoot Contessa" without hearing the four soothing words that comprise the celebrity cook's signature catchphrase: "Store-bought is fine." Indeed, when writing a recipe, the Food Network star is looking out for herself just as much as she's thinking about her fans. 

"I think that I'm a very nervous cook," she told NPR's Michel Martin in an interview regarding her 2022 Thanksgiving menu. "If a recipe isn't simple enough for me to do and do well and repeat and do it again the same way [...] it doesn't make it into a book." 

In this same vain, Garten's expertise in stress-free cooking and baking comes with an arsenal of easy tips that, for home cooks prone to hyperbole, are nothing short of life-changing. One such tip is to always spring for small chickens. Here's why.

The smaller the bird, the bigger the flavor

If you're one of many who carved a 20-pound turkey this Thanksgiving, despite the avian flu outbreak that caused a massive price surge this year, Ina Garten would likely tell you to downsize next time. She'd certainly tell you to opt small the next time you make chicken, countless recipes for which appear in her many cookbooks. In a roundup of Garten's best morsels of wisdom, Food & Wine notes that she advises against roasting birds that weight more than 5 pounds — a tip featured in her book "Cook Like a Pro." Her recipe for Chicken Marbella, for example, calls for two 4-pound birds.

In 2022, the benefits of smaller birds are no secret. The meat of small chickens — particularly breast meat — is in higher demand than ever. And, according to Bloomberg, poultry farmers are churning out petite birds not only for their superior taste, but for reasons related to ethics.

Unfortunately, Bloomberg also notes that breasts under 4.25 pounds are in such high demand that they're even more expensive than their jumbo counterparts. The way we see it, that's all the more reason to seek out locally sourced chickens — something Garten would surely condone as well.

Ina Garten's roast chicken 101

If you're working with a whole chicken for the first time, you can't find a much simpler recipe than Ina Garten's "Perfect Roast Chicken." Employing the tried-and-true combination of lemon, garlic, butter, and herbs (plus a generous amount of salt and pepper), Garten boasts on an episode of "The Barefoot Contessa" that the recipe is so easy she can make it in her sleep. What's more? The recipe alone features a host of tips that will serve you with other roast chicken recipes — be it one of Garten's or someone else's.

For starters, Garten rinses her chicken and pats it dry to help the seasonings stick to the skin. Then, she seasons the whole bird — don't forget the inside — with salt and pepper and places a quartered lemon, a halved head of garlic, and some fresh thyme in the cavity before brushing the whole thing with melted butter. While some people prefer to use olive oil, Garten explains that the milk solids in butter help the chicken skin to get brown and crispy in the oven. 

After tying the legs together with kitchen twine and tucking away the wings, she pops it in the oven on a bed of vegetables for an hour and a half. Once it's out of the oven, Garten says to let it rest for at least 20 minutes. She uses that time to let the veggies finish caramelizing in the oven, et voilà — it's time for dinner.