Jessica Holmes’ Recipe for Roasted Chickens With Garlic-Herb Butter: a Thanksgiving Alternative

This recipe is a much more manageable alternative to a big Thanksgiving turkey, and the chickens cook a lot faster. A good option if you're having a smaller holiday gathering, it's also something you can also cook year round.

This segment aired on KTLA's California Cooking: Episode 8.


  • 2 whole chickens, about 5 pounds each
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest (reserve orange for decoration)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest (reserve lemon for decoration)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 3 fresh sage leaves, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves from several sprigs
  • 4 ribs celery, barely chopped
  • 3 large carrots, barely chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped

How to make: 

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Clean the chicken, gently removing the gizzards from the cavity. Pat the birds dry with paper towels.
  3. Make the garlic-herb butter: In a bowl, use a fork to combine the softened butter, salt, pepper, garlic, the lemon and orange zests, paprika, sage and thyme.
  4. Loosen the skin from the meat of the chickens, and use your hands to spread the garlic-herb butter underneath the skin. Spread butter on outside of chickens too. Sprinkle more salt on outside.
  5. In a large roasting plan, place celery, carrots and onion at the bottom. Nest the two chickens on top, breast side up.
  6. Using cooking twine, tie the legs together on both birds.
  7. Roast for about 1 ½ hours. Once skin is crispy and chicken is done, remove from the oven. Tent loosely with foil and allow to sit about a half-hour before serving. (Note: You can use the pan juices to make gravy, if you like.)
  8. Place the chickens on a serving platter, and decorate with more thyme springs, cut lemons and oranges, if desired.
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