For most people, chicken is just chicken. For your butcher, and chicken lovers all over the world, chicken is far more than just some generic term. Chickens come in all shapes, sizes, and types and all are raised differently. Deciding on the best chicken to get for a particular event or gathering should be more than just grabbing anything you see at a supermarket.
- First off, it is important to find a local butcher shop. This way you can be assured that the meat is not only fresh but often it has been raised locally. This can make a huge difference in quality as well as taste. Most chickens of a commercial nature are raised in huge pens and are unable to properly move about. Their diets tend to be supplemented with hormones and other additives. This is why it is so important to buy locally from your butcher and nearby farms and ranches.
- Cage free chickens are housed with all of the chickens in their coops and houses but are allowed to roam around the yard at will. However, cage free to some ranchers, especially the large commercials ones, may also mean that they are, indeed cooped up in the coops and never really get to venture out into the open. One example of cage free chickens is the capon which can grow up to 8-10 pounds.
- Your free range chickens mean that your chicken has been allowed to roam at will outside of the hen house or coop for some of the time during its life. It will vary with producer’s which is why, again, local may be your best bet. According to government requirements, chicken producers can open a window or allow the bird out into a tiny enclosed area and it can be called free range. Mid sized broilers and fryers weighing between 3-5 pounds are your most common variety of free range chicken.
- Organic chickens have been raised entirely on an organic diet. In addition, these chickens have never been fed antibiotics or other hormones or genetically altered food or animal by-products.
- Finally, there is your pasture chicken which includes both the stewing hen and the Poussin. These chickens wander around outside and use the old hunt and peck method of feeding themselves. These birds can be more flavorful as the meat develops more because their diet is so varied to include grasses as well as insects and other grubs.