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How do you cook heirloom chickens?

Heirloom chickens are becoming increasingly popular for their unique flavors and textures. While cooking heirloom chicken is similar to cooking regular chicken, there are some important differences to keep in mind. In this article, we’ll walk through everything you need to know to cook delicious heirloom chicken meals.

What are heirloom chickens?

Heirloom chickens are heritage breed chickens that have not been hybridized for commercial production. Some common heirloom breeds include Plymouth Rock, Jersey Giant, Wyandotte, and Rhode Island Red. Heirloom chickens have a longer lifespan and grow slower than commercial broiler chickens. This slower growth results in moreflavorful meat and a tougher texture.

Benefits of cooking with heirloom chickens

There are several benefits to cooking with heirloom chickens rather than conventional supermarket chickens:

  • More flavor – Heirloom chickens develop deeper, more complex flavors over their longer lifespan.
  • Better texture – The meat is usually firmer and chewier rather than soft and tender like commercial chickens.
  • More nutrition – Heirloom chickens contain more protein and less fat since they grow more slowly and naturally.
  • Support small farms – Buying heirloom chickens supports small, sustainable poultry farms.

Choosing an heirloom chicken

When selecting an heirloom chicken, look for the following qualities:

  • Active, bright eyes
  • Smooth, bright red comb and wattles
  • Skin with no blemishes or tears
  • Firm, meaty breast
  • Flexible beak and smooth legs

The chicken should feel heavy for its size. Estimate 1.5-2 pounds per person. An average 3-4 pound chicken will serve 2-3 people.

Preparing an heirloom chicken

To prepare an heirloom chicken for cooking:

  1. Remove giblets from the cavity. Rinse chicken under cold water and pat dry.
  2. Trim excess fat and skin.
  3. Tuck wing tips under body with legs pointing down.
  4. Tie legs together with kitchen string.
  5. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before cooking.

Seasoning an heirloom chicken

Heirloom chickens benefit from bold, flavorful seasonings. Here are some seasoning ideas:

  • Lemon, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper
  • Onion powder, paprika, salt, and black pepper
  • Chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper
  • Rosemary, sage, and thyme with salt and pepper

You can rub the seasoning directly on the skin or place herbs and spices inside the cavity.

Cooking methods for heirloom chicken

The most common cooking methods for heirloom chicken include:

  • Roasting – Roasted at 350°F for 1-1.5 hours depending on size.
  • Grilling – Grilled over direct medium heat for 30-45 minutes.
  • Sous vide – Cooked sous vide in 170°F water for 2-4 hours.
  • Braising – Braised in liquid for 1-2 hours until fall-off-the-bone tender.
  • Stewing – Simmered in a sauce or gravy for 1-2 hours.

Roasting and grilling are best for achieving crispy skin. Braising, stewing, and sous vide are good choices if you want very tender meat.

Roasting times and temperatures

Chicken Weight Oven Temperature Estimated Cooking Time
3-4 pounds 350°F 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours
5-7 pounds 350°F 1 1/2 – 2 hours

Use an instant read thermometer to ensure the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165°F.

Grilling tips

  • Use direct medium heat (350-450°F).
  • Grill skin-side down first to crisp the skin.
  • Move to indirect heat if chicken starts to burn.
  • Brush with oil or barbecue sauce near the end to prevent drying.

Carving an heirloom chicken

Carving an heirloom chicken is similar to carving a turkey:

  1. Let rest 10-15 minutes before carving.
  2. Remove kitchen string.
  3. Cut straight down along both sides of the breastbone to remove whole breasts.
  4. Slice each breast across the grain into thin slices.
  5. Remove leg quarters by cutting through the hip joints.
  6. Separate drumsticks from thighs if desired.

Slice the chicken as you go to serve it immediately while hot. Save the back, wings, and carcass for making stock.

Heirloom chicken recipes

Here are some delicious recipe ideas for your heirloom chicken:

Heirloom chicken salad

Shred roasted chicken meat and mix with mayonnaise, chopped celery, diced apple, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Serve on bread, lettuce, or crackers.

Coq au vin

Braise chicken pieces in red wine with mushrooms, onions, garlic, and bacon. Thicken the braising liquid to make a rich sauce.

Chicken pot pie

Make a creamy sauce with vegetables and shredded chicken. Pour into a pie crust and bake until golden brown.

Heirloom chicken parmesan

Bread and fry chicken cutlets. Top with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese.

Jerk chicken

Marinate chicken legs and thighs in a spicy jerk seasoning blend. Grill until charred and cooked through.

Freezing heirloom chicken

To freeze heirloom chicken:

  1. Portion chicken into breasts, thighs, drumsticks, etc.
  2. Place in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Freeze until solid, about 2 hours.
  4. Transfer to freezer bags or airtight containers.
  5. Press out air and seal.
  6. Label with name and freeze for up to 9 months.

To use frozen chicken, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before cooking. You can also cook frozen chicken straight from the freezer – just increase cooking time.

Food safety with heirloom chicken

Follow these food safety guidelines when handling heirloom chicken:

  • Refrigerate at 40°F or below.
  • Cook to an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
  • Use leftovers within 3-4 days.
  • Thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by washing hands, utensils, and surfaces.


Heirloom chickens require a bit more time and attention than conventional chickens, but provide outstanding flavor and texture. With proper preparation, seasoning, and cooking, you can enjoy delicious heirloom chicken dishes. Experiment with different cooking methods and flavor combinations. Always follow food safety guidelines. With these tips, you’ll be ready to cook incredible meals with your heirloom chickens.