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Types of Chicken

Your Guide to Choosing a Chicken


Dried-out breast meat, under-cooked thighs, and meat so tasteless you simply think of it as "protein." Fear not! Delicious, flavorful, juicy chicken raised with care by local growers awaits you. Below are explanations of the types of chickens you may encounter at the market. Whatever kind of chicken you choose, it’s worth finding one raised close to you. You’ll support local growers and end up with a tastier, fresher bird, whether it's for Tuesday night dinner or a holiday feast.

Cage-Free Chicken

Cage-free chicken comes from birds that were, quite simply, not kept in cages. They were free to walk around the hen house, to perch on roosts, and to lay eggs in nests.


Capons are large, castrated male chickens. They are sold whole and weigh in at 5 pounds minimum and can get up to 8 or 9 pounds – the same size as a small turkey!

Free-Range Chicken

Free-range, according to the USDA, means the animal is allowed to be outside at least part of the time. For some growers this may be a short time; other growers allow the chickens to roam a large area and hunt-and-peck as they like (see “pastured” below), with access to shelter, as the animal desires.

Fryer or Broiler

Fryers and broilers are both mid-size chickens – between 3 and 5 pounds. These are the most common size chickens at most butcher shops and meat counters.

Natural Chicken

According to the USDA, meat and poultry — including chickens — labeled “natural” have not had any artificial flavorings or preservatives added. They may, however, have had salt, water, and “natural flavorings” added.

Organic Chicken

Certified organic chickens have been fed organically grown feed all their lives and never treated with antibiotics. Many small growers and free-range growers follow organic practices, but may or may not be certified organic.

Pastured Chicken

Pastured chickens are raised the way you probably picture how you'd likeyour chickens raised. These birds are raised outdoors and allowed to hunt-and-peck insects and grasses for their food. Their varied diet makes them more flavorful, and the active life of a pastured bird makes its meat more developed.


Poussin are simply a small, very young chickens. They are sold whole and usually weigh between 1 and 2 pounds.

Stewing Hens

Stewing hens are large, older chickens. Traditionally they were chickens past their prime egg-laying years. They tend to be harvested younger now, so they aren't as tough, but if you can get your hands on older, active birds you'll want to truly stew them – cook them long and slow in plenty of liquid (think coq au vin or chicken and dumplings) to tenderize the meat and take full advantage of the rich, developed flavor.

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