First of all, I do admit that it is hard to beat a rotisserie chicken for convenience (and they taste pretty good too), but they aren't cheap and require ANOTHER trip to the market.
I buy whole chickens when they are on sale and freeze them. It takes 2-3 days to thaw a big raw-frozen chicken in the refrigerator, so plan ahead.
I used to bake chickens whole (like you would a turkey), but I was GROSSED OUT by the empty chicken cavity that filled with unappetizing-colored mystery juices as it baked (shudder). To remedy that, I split the chicken open, removing the backbone so the chicken could lay flat while it baked. Not only does it speed up the baking time, but it is just so much more civilized (wink).
Start off with a whole thawed chicken that is 3 to 4 pounds. Remove it from the wrapper and use SHARP kitchen scissors to cut down along each side of the backbone (neck to tail) of the chicken. You can do this step with a sharp knife, but it is safer and easier with kitchen shears. Remove the backbone and discard (or see note).
Once the backbone is removed, rinse the chicken thoroughly in running cold water, then blot dry with paper towels.
At this stage, the chicken still won't want to "lay flat" like in the photo below. To get it to do that, turn the chicken over so you can see the breast bone; make a small cut at the center-top of the breast bone and flex that bone with your hands, it will easily lay out flat. Sounds complicated (but it isn't) and it just takes a second to do.
Ready for the Oven
Brush the chicken skin, lightly, with butter and sprinkle with a little onion powder and dried (and crushed) rosemary (see note) then generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Surround with favorite veggies if you like (but not necessary). If you have a nice big roasting pan, leave out the veggies and bake TWO of these fat hens at the same time. You'll have enough chicken on hand (for sandwiches, salads, quick dinners, etc.) for the whole week, not to mention lots of broth for gravy!!
Bake, uncovered, in pre-heated 400° oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, reduce the oven to 375° and bake for one more hour.
Remove chicken from oven and spoon any pan juices over the chicken. Cover loosely with foil and let the meat rest for five to ten minutes. This produces a VERY tender and juicy chicken.
CAUTION: It doesn't matter what store you get your chicken from or what brand you buy; you still need to be very careful about cross-contamination when it comes to RAW chicken: WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER HANDLING RAW CHICKEN !!!
ANYTHING that touches raw chicken (from your hands, to utensils, to cutting boards, to dish towels and sinks) needs to be washed thoroughly with warm soapy water before you touch ANYTHING else. I go a step farther and use a bleach based kitchen cleaner on all surfaces after preparing chicken. Personally, I worry about this step being ignored when it comes to deli roasted chicken.
NOTE: The backbone that you removed makes GREAT chicken stock. Keep a re-sealable bag in the freezer and throw the backbones in there. When you get half dozen or so, you can make a fantastic chicken stock by throwing them into the crock pot with 2 quarts of water and some onion, celery, carrots and peppercorns; let it cook on low all night. The next morning, strain and let it cool and skim off any fat. You can either use this right away or freeze it. It is WORLDS BETTER than canned chicken broth!!
NOTE: Rosemary goes wonderfully with baked chicken, it sort of tastes like stuffing to me. It looks like hard pine needles, so I crush mine up before I put it on the raw chicken.