Choosing Chicken

Learning about the types of chicken available in the supermarket can make you a better chicken cook. Chickens are first classified by age and weight. Young chickens are tender and cook quickly; older chickens need slow cooking to make them tender. For best results, it's important to know which type of chicken to buy.

Try It!

Here are some poultry recipes from our collection:

Type of Chicken

  • Broiler-fryers are young chickens weighing from 1-1/2 to 3-1/2 pounds. Only 7 to 10 weeks old, they yield tender, mildly flavored meat and are best when broiled, fried or roasted.

  • Roasters are 4- to 6-pound chickens that are 16 weeks old. As the name implies, they are perfect for roasting and rotisserie cooking.

  • Capons are young, castrated roosters that weigh from 5 to 7 pounds. These richly flavored birds have a higher fat content and yield more meat than roasters.

  • Stewing hens are adult chickens from 1 to 1-1/2 years old. They weigh from 4-1/2 to 7 pounds and have tough, stringy meat. Stewing hens are excellent for stocks, soups or stews, since moist-heat preparation tenderizes them and enhances their chicken-y flavor.

Supermarkets fulfill a constant demand for chicken with a variety of chicken cuts and products. The key is knowing what you plan to use it for and then buying according to your needs. Here are some of the more popular choices:

  • Whole chickens of every type are available with the neck and giblets wrapped separately and stuffed inside. Look for livers and giblets packaged separately for use in stuffings, soups, and specialty dishes.

    You can use a whole chicken in many different kinds of recipes.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    You can use a whole chicken in many
    different kinds of recipes.


  • Cut-up chickens, usually broiler-fryers, are disjointed whole chickens consisting of two breast halves, two thighs, two wings, and two drumsticks. Small broiler-fryers are also available in halves and quarters.
  • Chicken pieces are available to suit many needs:
    • Chicken legs are whole broiler-fryer legs with thighs and drumsticks attached.
    • Thighs; boneless, skinless thighs; and drumsticks are available packaged separately.
    • Chicken wings are a popular choice for appetizer recipes. Drumettes are disjointed wing sections.

      Bread chicken drumsticks for flavor.
      ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
      Bread chicken drumsticks for flavor.

    • Chicken breasts are popular because of their tender, meaty, sweet character. They are available whole or split into halves. Recipes that call for one whole breast require both breast halves.

Once you have the right kind of chicken on your shopping list -- and you remember to take your list with you to the store -- you also need to remember the principles of how to select the best chicken.

Choosing Chicken

Make sure you inspect and purchase chicken safely and confidently.

  • Check the package for the U.S.D.A. Grade A rating; chicken in most supermarkets should be government inspected. Look for secure, unbroken packaging, as well as a "sell-by" date stamp that indicates the last day the chicken should be sold.
  • Physically inspect the chicken before purchasing. Its skin should be creamy white to deep yellow; meat should never look gray or pasty. Odors could signal spoilage. If you notice a strong, unpleasant odor after opening a package of chicken, leave it open on the counter for a few minutes. Sometimes oxidation takes place inside the package, resulting in a slight, but harmless odor. If the odor remains, do not use the chicken. Return it in its original package to the store for a refund.
  • To make sure you buy enough chicken to meet your family's needs, follow this guide: One broiler-fryer (2 to 3 pounds), cut up, yields 3 to 5 servings; one roaster (3 to 6 pounds) yields 4 to 8 servings. One whole chicken breast or two chicken breast halves (about 12 ounces total) yields 2 servings; one pound of chicken thighs or drumsticks yields about 2 servings.

    Two chicken breast halves yield two servings.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Two chicken breast halves
    yield two servings of cut chicken.


  • As a rule, two whole chicken breasts (about 12 ounces each) yield about 2 cups chopped, cooked chicken; one broiler-fryer (about 3 pounds) yields about 2-1/2 cups chopped, cooked chicken.
Once you've bought chicken, you need to follow proper procedures for storing and handling it at home. Learn how in the next section.