Simple Roast Pheasant
April 03, 2014 | Updated June 18, 2020
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When life gives you a beautiful pheasant, one that you have not shot up, you should roast it whole like a chicken. But a pheasant is not a chicken — it can get dry and ugly very fast if roasted poorly. That’s where this recipe comes in.
I designed this recipe for young birds, but I have also found that ranched birds are ideal; you can often find whole pheasants in places like Whole Foods or other specialty markets.
This roast pheasant recipe, unlike many of the others you may have seen, relies on a few special tricks. One is an eight-hour brine; this will season the bird and help it to retain moisture.
Brining is a critical step when roasting lean game birds such as wild turkey, pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, or even smaller birds such as chukars or quail. You risk dry birds if you skip this step.
It can also help chicken or Cornish game hens, although you’ll need to check, as many store-bought chickens are pre-brined.
Another trick is a searing hot oven, followed by a stint in a cooler oven. This isn’t a terribly new idea, and if you happen to have the Englishman Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book, he goes into this pretty thoroughly. I like my second, cooler step a bit cooler than he does, however.
The third is resting the bird. Fearnley-Whittingstall is big on this, but then again so are all cooks worth their apron.
Serve your roast pheasant with root vegetables, mashed potatoes or roasted Brussels sprouts. A big white wine or a light red is a good choice, as is a hard cider or pale ale.
- 2 whole pheasants
- 8 cups water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 bay leaves, optional
- 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries, optional
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or softened butter
- Black pepper to taste
- Brine the bird. Make a brine by bringing the water, salt, bay leaves, juniper and sugar to a boil. Cover and let cool to room temperature. When it cools, submerge your pheasant in the brine and keep it in the fridge for 4 to 8 hours. The longer you brine, the saltier the pheasant will become. I brine pen-raised birds for 4 hours, old roosters for 8 hours.
- Optional step: If you really want a crispy skin, take the birds out of the brine and set them uncovered in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. This dries out the skin (but not the meat} and helps you get crispier skin.
- When you are ready to cook, take the pheasant out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour. Heat your oven. Get it to 500°F if possible, but at least 400°F. Give yourself at least 15 minutes of preheating, and up to a half hour. Oil the bird. You can do this with olive oil or you can smear butter all over it. Crack some black pepper over the bird.
- Stuff with a piece of onion or apple and a few fresh herbs. A cut lemon is a good choice, too. Do not pack the cavity. Truss the bird if you want. I do this often because it helps the pheasant cook more evenly. (Here's a video on how to truss a chicken, which is basically the same thing as a pheasant.)
- Roast the pheasant uncovered for 15 minutes at your high temperature. Take the pheasant out and lower the temperature to 350°F. Leave your oven door open to speed this process.
- Optional step: Baste the bird with either butter or a glaze. When I do this, I like to use a boiled-down combination of butter and maple syrup.
- Return the pheasant to the oven and roast uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes. You want the internal temperature of the thigh meat to be about 155°F to 160°F and for the bird’s juices to run pretty clear. A little pink in the juice — and in the bird — is what you want. The higher end of this cooking time will give you a well-done bird, which I try to avoid but many people prefer.
- Remove the pheasant and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This resting time is vital, as it lets the juices redistribute within the pheasant. It will also finish off the cooking process through carry-over heating.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Any preference on putting it in the oven breast down/up? I saw the glazed pheasant says start with breast side down and flip. Is it the same idea here or do you just go the whole way on one side?
Mex: I tend to go the whole way with it breast side up. But you can flip it like the glazed recipe.
Will use this recipe again. Juicy and tasty. Thank you for sharing your recipe.
Perfect recipe. Crispy skin, juicy bird, what more could you want? I used my own spice blend instead of just salt and pepper, but that’s up to you!
Can this be made with skinless pheasant?
Assuming I adjust brine time down, any idea how long?
Mary: Not really. You don’t really roast skinned birds.
I cheating, doing the Shore Lunch Wild Rice soup mix. Don’t do what I did and dump the brine down the drain, but instead use it as the base for the soup. Both call for 8 cups anyhow. Duh! Turned out great just the same. Thanks Hank.
Yeah, WOW is right! I followed the recipe almost exactly (used honey instead of maple syrup for the baste — just mashed the butter and honey together). Cooked on the longer end of the time frame because I’m a real beginner cook and I was a bit nervous. But the result was spectacular, moist, unbelievably delicious and makes me look like I know what I’m doing (which surprised everyone). Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. I had no idea I could cook!
Followed brining tips and full recipe. Like the title says its simple. It came out great. Thanks
Alrighty. ? Thank you, I appreciate the advice! That saves me a lot of trouble.
Do you have recommendations for roasting time if I am using a wild turkey?
Katrina: Yes, don’t. Roasting a whole wild turkey is extremely difficult to pull off correctly. My advice is to cook the legs/thighs/wings separately from the breast. They have very different cooking times. A brine will also help you.
WOW! I followed the recipe instructions word for word, brined 24 hours & it turned out fantastic. Moist, tender, no game taste, I will definitely be making this again. My family, even the kids loved it. Thank you for sharing this recipe. Our first time eating pheasant & it was a real feast.
I followed the recipe to the T with the exception of the Juniper berries , can’t find them in Arizona,…… best pheasant I have ever cooked and best I have ever ate.
Cooked 3 birds and followed the recipe using the butter and maple syrup option. Cooked for 40 minutes after the initial 15 minutes of 500 temp. Probably should have gone 50. But even though it was still by far the best recipe I’ve tried for pheasant. Learned a little about cooking wild birds too A+.
So glad I found you. Never cooked pheasant in my 75 years! A friend shot, dressed and gave us 2. No juniper berries so used rosemary. Otherwise followed your excellent directions to a T! Brined for 4.5 hours, not salty at all. They were delicious!
Had one pheasant and filled in with four chicken thighs. Brinef for a day and a half. Dried for a day. Had to bake longer than the recipe but that might of been because oven was opened so much. Best birds ever. Pheasant was amazing, the chicken was amazing. I love this method. Will share it with the family who bagged the bird.
This was a winner! I usually cook pheasant smitane style following the joy of cooking recipe (stove roast in Dutch oven with sour cream and apples), but I think this may have been better! The meat was extremely tender and very flavorful. I even did this with a bird out of my deep freeze (shot and cleaned a year ago) which is hardly ideal conditions.
Let fully thaw and then brined per instructions. High temp with bird only. Then I added to the roasting pan redskin potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and brocolli. Served with a pinot noir. Was exceptional. I currently have the remains going in my stock pot.
Thanks for the great recipe! It turned out moist and delicious. I never cooked pheasant before. I wanted to find a game meat to go with Jäger spätzle for our New Year’s Eve dinner. I read the recipe after I bought the bird and saw that you have to brine it for four hours. Couldn’t wait that long, so I brined it with sea salt for 30 minutes, stuffed the cavity with 2 lemon wedges and a small scallion. Also put sprigs of marjoram and thyme inside. Placed it on a roasting rack inside the oven pan above 1/2 inch of water and baby carrots. Starting upside down, I turned it every 15 minutes until it was golden brown and 165 degrees. The lemons and the water kept it moist while the carrots roasted too with the drippings from the bird. A very tasty way to ring in the new year.
Very good recipe, detailed and I had a great outcome. The pheasant was moist and delicious. Thanks for the great recipe!
I shot these two birds two days ago and have followed the directions with a couple of additions on my own and will roast these tomorrow so stayed tuned.
Used this recipe for Christmas dinner and it came out fabulous. Brined the birds for 4 hours and did the butter/maple syrup glaze after 15 mins. Very easy to follow recipe and it comes out perfectly, even if you’re a novice cook.
Thanks for the recipe. I don’t cook often at all but just tried it out with a pheasant someone hunted. It turned out great absolutely loved it.