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Home » Explore NH

Cooking Heritage Chickens

By Helen Brody (April 1, 2012)

Source:  “Foodie News,”  American Farm Bureau.  Number 1, January 2012, Volume 5

The backyard poultry trend continues to gather momentum across the nation, although it’s difficult to pinpoint the total number of chicken enthusiasts since the Agriculture Department does not track hobbyists.

Most backyard chickens are heritage breeds such as Barred Plymouth Rock, New Hampshire, Jersey Giant and Buckeye, which are kept strictly for egg production. Chicken hobbyists who raise birds for meat and foodies who buy a freshly slaughtered chicken direct from a farmer face the challenge of how to properly cook the meat for optimum flavor.

“The traditional meat types each requires appropriate cooking methods,” explained chicken-keeper Gina Bisco in an American Livestock Breeds Conservancy article. “Far from being a disadvantage, this greatly expands culinary potential,” she said.

Bisco believes the quality and flavor of chicken meat from historic breeds is superb, but attention must be paid to the age of the bird at slaughter, as different cooking methods are required. Generally speaking, older birds require more time to cook. Further complicating the issue, heritage chickens typically have well-developed leg muscles that re-quire more cooking time than the breast meat.

Old cookbooks published before the 1950s provide a treasure trove of information on how to properly cook heritage chickens for optimum flavor. Fowl and Game Cookery by James Beard (1944), Better Homes and Gardens Cook-book (1941), The Modern Family Cookbook by Meta Given (1942) and Let’s Cook It Right by Adele Davis (1947, 1962 and 1970 versions) are all excellent resources, according to Bisco.

But before you put that bird in the oven, Bisco cautions that “fresh from the farm” chicken should be chilled for at least 24 hours before cooking for optimal meat texture. Birds that will be frozen should be chilled in the refrigerator for three days first.

Learn more about heritage chicken and livestock breeds at


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