Looking for some suggestions on how to cook and serve a whole bird, or how to cut it up into parts? We’ve got you covered. Pasture-raised poultry can seem like a whole new world, but with a few simple tricks, it can be easy as chicken pot pie.
Cooking with Whole Poultry
Many of our customers have cooked parted out chickens before (breasts, thighs, wings), but have never cooked a whole bird. Fear not! While it takes slightly longer to cook the bird whole, the reward is the most flavorful meat with the best nutrition.
There’s two general philosophies on cooking whole chicken: high-temp cooking, which focuses on crisping the skin and expediency for your meal, and low-temp cooking, which focuses on creating tender, juicy meat, but takes a little longer. As long as you understand the type of bird you’re working with, you can use either to achieve the desired results.
If you want to cook a whole bird but need it to go a little more quickly, spatchcocking the bird is a great option to help it cook more quickly and evenly.
High Temp Cooking
I consider anything from 350f-450f to be ‘high temp’ when it comes to poultry. Roasting a broiler chicken in the traditional fashion involves pre-heating your over to 350-450f, trussing the chicken with twine (optional), and roasting in a pan for ~45mins to 1.5 hrs depending on the size of the chicken and temperature you choose. Having a meat thermometer will tell you when the internal temp reaches 165f, signaling it is done.
Grilling, BBQing, and pan-frying chicken pieces are also considered high-temp methods, and benefit from paying close attention to cooking time and temperature in order to make sure the meat stays tender.
Low Temp Cooking
Even though I love a good crispy-skinned chicken now and then, low-temp cooking is my preferred method for our chicken because the meat is guaranteed to come out juicy and fall-off-the-bone tender every time. Given all the love and effort that goes into raising great-tasting birds, I like a cooking method that gets great results with minimal effort, and low-temp cooking is perfect for that. I have two main methods: Oven and Crock Pot.
- Oven: Pre-heat your oven to 225f. Prepare a cast-iron dutch oven or metal roasting pot with a lid by pouring a small splash of apple cider vinegar and 1 tbsp of your favorite oil in the bottom. Place your whole, thawed chicken into the pot breast-side down, sprinkle with salt, put the lid on, and stick it in the oven. The size of the chicken will be the primary factor in how long it stays in the oven – 2-3 hrs for chicken ~3 lbs, 3-4 hrs for chickens 4+ lbs. It needs very little attention while in the oven — you can flip if over so that it’s breast-side up halfway throughcooking if you desire.
- Crock Pot: A crock pot is a great option because it’s set-it-and-forget-it. Place the chicken in breast-down, sprinkle with salt, and set the pot to Low. No extra liquid is typically needed, though if you want to put your favorite sauce (such as marinara or coconut curry) under the chicken, that can be tasty too! Crock pots differ in terms of cooking temps and different sized birds will be done in shorter or longer amounts of time, but I usually estimate 6-8 hrs, and the danger of over-cooking the chicken in a crock pot is almost non-existent. I love coming home from a hard day’s work to a warm pot of chicken that’s ready to eat.
When the chicken is done, internal temps will read 165f and the juices from the thigh joint will run clear.
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Types of Poultry
We raise three different types of birds: Red Ranger Chickens, Heritage Delaware Chickens, and Muscovy Ducks. Here’s a breakdown:
1. Red Ranger Chicken
Red Rangers are the most versatile chicken we raise for the kitchen. They are plump young(ish) birds that do well in the frying pan as well as the roasting pot — while still generally lean-eating, they have a nice thin layer of delicious fat under the skin. They are fairly flexible when it comes to cooking temperature — a high-temp cooking with results in a nice crispy skin, while a low-temp cooking will result in meat that’s more tender and fall-off-the-bone. They can be put on the grill or BBQ, and treated much in the same way as the chicken you’re used to eating, with two exceptions: 1) they will be more flavorful, and 2) you have to pay closer attention during high-temp recipes not to overcook them. Using a meat thermometer to monitor internal temps of the meat and ensuring it doesn’t go over 170f will give you good results.
If you brine the bird before cooking, or are cooking parts of chicken in a sauce or casserole, it’s much easier to keep the bird moist even at high temperatures.
2. Heritage Delaware Chicken
The Delaware chicken is one of the best-tasting chickens around. The meat is rich, flavorful, and chickeny in a way that redefines the bird. Delawares have more leg/thigh meat and significantly less breast meat than Red Rangers, making them a dark-meat lover’s bird.
However, Delawares are a little bit older, a lot leaner, and have more fibrous muscles than Red Rangers — this makes the Delaware sensitive during the cooking process. I always recommend cooking a Delaware at a low temperature, and in a closed container such as a dutch oven or crock pot that will hold the moisture in during the cooking process. Delawares are not for frying or grilling, but they are awesome in soups, stews, and saucy cast-iron dishes.
4. Muscovy Duck
Duck is the red meat of the poultry world — yes, the meat is literally red, richly flavored and steak-like. Duck often has a thick layer of fat under the skin, though our Muscovy ducks are leaner than other commonly-produced breeds, which lend Muscovies to cooking more like wild game and less like other domesticated ducks. Don’t use a recipe intended for Pekin ducks to cook a Muscovy or you’ll end up with a tough, overcooked bird. Duck takes a little more attention in the kitchen than chicken, but it’s worth it!
Hank Shaw wrote a great piece about how nearly impossible it is to cook the ‘perfect duck’ whole, but that you should instead choose which part of the duck to focus on when roasting the whole bird.
Alternatively, you can cut the duck up into pieces for cooking to get that perfect experience in every bite.
For food safety, we recommend cooking all poultry to an internal temp of 165f.
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How to Part Out a Bird
Sometimes, serving a whole bird is just too much! Luckily, poultry have a lot of different parts that are perfect for separating and saving for multiple meals. Raw poultry can be thawed, cut into pieces, and then refrozen in separate packages, as long as the following precautions are taken:
- Raw whole poultry must be thawed in the refrigerator to maintain safe surface temps on the meat.
- We recommend taking the bird from the freezer and partially submerging it in a bowl of water in the fridge. The water helps distribute the temperature more evenly and speeds up the thawing process, while leaving the plastic packaging intact still helps protect it from cross-contamination.
- Raw whole poultry must not be thawed for longer than 48 hrs prior to cutting up and re-freezing.
Poultry can also be thawed, cooked whole and then cut into pieces and frozen or refrigerated for later use as well. This is a good option if you’re looking to save on cooking time down the road, or have a bird that has been out of the freezer longer than 48 hrs.
For instructions on how to cut up a chicken into parts, click here.
For instructions on how to cut up a duck into parts, click here.
I bought myself a pair of poultry shears to use in the kitchen, and they make life so much easier. Do yourself a favor and buy a pair of poultry shears, or at least make sure you have a very sharp knife.
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How to Make 4+ Meals from 1 Chicken
Personally, I love eating well, but I often don’t have time to cook a magazine-worthy recipe for every meal. So, I like to find ways to cook just once and get several meals out of it! Cooking whole chicken is perfect for that. Here’s some tips on how I do it:
- Roast a 4lb Chicken whole as detailed above in ‘Cooking with Whole Poultry’.
- Fresh from the oven or pot, carve and serve the thighs and/or drumsticks with a couple of sides such as stuffing, rice, salad, pasta, broccolini, or roasted root vegetables.
- Once the bird has cooled, peel the breasts and tenders off of the remaining carcass (they come off easily with just your fingers). Save in a container in the refrigerator to use as a quick, easy topping for salads or sandwiches in lunches throughout the week.
- Peel off the wings, and save in the refrigerator for a 5-min reheat in the pan or microwave for a satisfying snack.
- Peel off the scallops and bits of meat from the back of the carcass, and save in the refrigerator (or freezer, to save up a larger amount) for use in pasta sauce or casserole. There’s still a lot of meat left on the carcass after parting it out — don’t let it go to waste!
- Save the carcass itself. The bones left over after peeling off all of the meat can be saved in the freezer, or thrown straight into a pot to make Bone Broth. This is a perfect base to use to replace chicken stock, adding extra flavor and nutrition even to veggie-centric meals such as Squash Soup, Bean Chili, and more.