When you need a crowd-pleasing meal, baked or roasted chicken is a safe bet for almost any group. It's comforting and savory, and you can season the bird to match almost any cuisine. About its only downside is the chicken's frequent habit of spattering your oven with hot fat, making a sticky mess and -- often -- enough smoke to trigger your smoke detector. It's almost impossible to prevent spattering completely, but several thoughtful techniques can help minimize it.
Why It Happens
Chicken spatters in your oven for the same reason it does in a skillet on the stovetop. As it cooks, juices leak from the flesh and mix with the hot fat in your pan. The fat is at a temperature well above the boiling point of water, so the juices turn immediately into steam. That sudden expansion of steam is what sprays the surrounding fat against your oven walls. Minimizing contact between the juices and hot fat, or physically blocking the spatters, are your two best options. There are several ways to do this, some of which address both of those factors.
Several Easy Options
- Reduce the amount of fat in the chicken by briefly simmering it first in water or broth. The skin will still crisp and brown when it's roasted, but less fat will remain in your pan. This technique works best with cut-up chicken pieces.
- Bake the chicken in a roasting bag, which will trap the spatters. Slit the bag during the last few minutes of cooking, so the chicken's skin can brown and crisp.
- Cook the chicken in a high-sided roaster or Dutch oven, rather than in a flat or shallow pan. The high walls will physically block many spatters from leaving the pan. Covering the pan, once the chicken is browned, is even more effective.
- Roast a whole bird by positioning it over the central tube of an angel food or Bundt pan, then placing the cake pan on a sheet. Drippings mostly stay in the bottom of the tube pan, where the bird itself blocks their escape.
- Bake small birds or cut-up pieces on your broiler tray, rather than in a conventional roasting pan. Drippings will flow through the broiler's slits to the bottom of the pan, but the perforated top will trap most spatters and keep them from reaching the oven's walls.
- Transform a conventional roasting pan into the equivalent of a broiler pan by choosing a wire trivet or cooling rack that fits neatly inside the pan. Line it with aluminum foil, then perforate the foil liberally with a fork or knife tip. As with a broiler pan, drippings will be trapped beneath the foil where their spatters can't escape.
- Line the bottom of your baking pan with tightly packed vegetables and aromatic herbs. The vegetables absorb and disperse the drippings, minimizing spatters and -- as a bonus -- providing a single-pan meal.