January 19, 2019
Raw meat chicken on rustic wooden table

Types of Chicken

by Berkeley Wellness  

As with beef, chicken is graded for quality by the USDA only if the processors request and pay a fee for it. As a result, many processors have developed their own standards, and you often find ungraded chickens on the market. The chickens you do find on the market with a USDA grade are likely to be Grade A. Lesser quality Grade B and C chickens are usually sold to food manufacturers for use in processed and packaged products.

Grade A birds are meaty, well-shaped, free of feathers, and have a layer of fat. The skin must be unbroken, free of cuts, tears, bruises, or blemishes. A chicken with a bruised wing could have the wing cut off and be rated Grade C, but if the rest of the bird were of better quality, it would be cut up and the parts sold as Grade A.

Chicken is divided into classes based on age and sex. The meat from small, young chickens is usually leaner than that from larger birds.

  • Broiler/fryers: The most popular type of chicken, broiler/fryers are six to eight weeks old and weigh 2 1/2 to 5 pounds. They are meaty, tender, all-purpose birds. Despite their name, these chickens can be roasted, grilled, poached, steamed, or sautéed as well as broiled and fried. They are not a good choice for stewing, however, as their meat will become dry and stringy.
  • Capons: These are male chickens that have been surgically castrated. This practice results in large birds at a young age, so the meat remains tender. They are usually slaughtered when 15 to 16 weeks old, and they weigh 9 1/2 to 10 1/2 pounds. Capons have a large proportion of white meat but a thick layer of fat underneath the skin, which makes the white meat fattier than that of other chickens. Capons are best roasted.
  • Roasters: These chickens are a little older and larger than broiler/fryers. They are generally brought to market when they are three to five months old and weigh 3 1/2 to 6 pounds. Roasters have tender, flavorful meat. They can be roasted, grilled, braised, or stewed.
  • Rock Cornish hens: Developed in the 1800s in the United States by crossing a Cornish gamecock with the White Plymouth Rock chicken, Rock Cornish hens weigh 3/4 to 2 pounds—the perfect size for serving one person, though a 2-pound bird could serve two people. These plump-breasted birds are very low in fat, and generally come onto the market at 5 or 6 weeks of age. You may occasionally find them fresh, but they are often sold frozen. The traditional way to serve Rock Cornish hens is stuffed and roasted, but they can also be broiled, braised, grilled, or sautéed.
  • Stewing chickens: These mature hens are usually 12 months old and weigh 4 to 6 pounds. Their meat is flavorful but tough, making them excellent candidates for stewing, braising, and making stock.
  • Chicken parts: A huge portion of chicken is purchased cut up as parts. You can purchase whole or half breasts with the bone in, or boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets. Drumsticks and wings are also sold separately. Chicken breasts can be baked, broiled, grilled, or sautéed. Drumsticks and wings can be baked, broiled, or grilled.
  • Free-range chickens: These are chickens that are not kept in a cage, like most chickens. Some people think that free-range chickens have a better flavor because the exercise develops their muscles. Exercise also toughens muscles, but free-range chickens are usually slaughtered at a young age, so the meat remains tender. They are no more nutritious than other chickens, however, and may come at a premium price. In addition, they are processed in the same way as other chickens, and therefore are just as prone to Salmonella contamination.
  • Kosher chicken: Kosher chicken is no more nutritious nor less likely to harbor bacteria than their non-kosher counterparts. Kosher birds are slaughtered according to Jewish dietary law, plucked without using hot water, eviscerated, and their organs examined. Once approved, cleaned birds are salted (a process called kashering) to draw out the blood. Contamination can occur when the chickens are plucked and gutted. Salting may kill some Salmonella and other types of bacteria, but the birds are not salted long enough to kill all disease-causing bacteria. Also, the salt used in koshering may also increase the sodium content—500 milligrams of sodium in 8 ounces of kosher chicken meat versus 150 milligrams in non-kosher, according to one study. This increase may be significant if you’re on a low-sodium diet. However, some kosher producers claim to wash the birds to remove excess sodium.