Overheard at the market, “I’m a breast girl.” “Really? I’m definitely a thigh girl,” pause…”dark meat, so much more flavor.”
Had to laugh, I’m so so so much a thigh girl myself. What’s the secret to wonderful lemon chicken? Use chicken thighs (or legs, but thighs are easier to eat), bone-in and skin-on.
Lemon is acidic and helps balance the stronger flavor of the dark meat in thighs and legs, and the fat from the chicken skin.
Of course you can use chicken breasts if you prefer. Depending on the size of your pieces, you probably won’t need to cook them as long as thighs.
Don’t like the skin? Not everyone does. But do cook with the skin-on if you can. Cooking with the skin on not only protects the meat from drying out, the chicken gets bathed with the flavor from the skin while it cooks.
This recipe has been one of the most popular on Simply Recipes for years. It’s easy to make—just a simple marinade with lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, and herbs, and then into the oven it goes. And the taste is just right. Not so lemony it makes your mouth pucker. Perfect to go with rice or buttered noodles.
Recipe photos and method have been updated, first published 2008.
- 3-4 pounds chicken parts (thighs and legs recommended), skin-on, bone-in, trimmed of excess fat
- 4 teaspoons lemon zest (about zest from 2 lemons)
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 Tbsp fresh chopped thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 Tbsp melted butter
- Lemon slices for garnish
1 Marinate chicken: Place lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a large, non-reactive bowl, whisk to combine.
With the tip of a sharp knife, cut into the underside (skinless) of each chicken piece one or two times by about 1/2 an inch. (This will help the marinade penetrate.)
Place the chicken pieces in the bowl and turn to coat with the marinade. Place in the refrigerator and marinate for 1 to 2 hours.
2 Place chicken in baking dish, brush with butter: Preheat oven to 425°F. Remove chicken from marinade and place in a single layer in a large baking dish, skin side up. Reserve the marinade. Use a pastry brush to brush melted butter on each piece of chicken.
3 Bake, baste with marinade: Bake for a total of 35 to 45 minutes, until the skins are crispy brown, and the chicken is cooked through, juices running clear (internal temperature of 165°F for breast pieces, 170°F for thighs and legs). Half-way through the baking, at about the 20 minute mark, baste the chicken pieces generously with the reserved marinade.
Depending on the size of the breasts, they may be ready before the thighs, so if you are cooking a mix of chicken parts, keep that in mind, you may have to take them out of the oven before the thighs.
Let rest, covered in foil, for 10 minutes before serving.
4 Save meat juices to serve with chicken: Pour the juices from the pan into a serving bowl. Use a tablespoon to skim the fat off the top (save the fat for cooking with later, or discard, but do not discard down the drain or it will solidify and clog your drain).
Serve the chicken with the juices on the side or a little poured over the top of the chicken.