Chicken is the most common type of poultry in the world. There are three common terms used to describe the type of chicken sold in markets.
Typical Market Chickens
- Broiler — All chickens that are bred and raised specifically for meat production. The term "broiler" is mostly used for a young chicken, 6 to 10 weeks old, and is interchangeable and sometimes in conjunction with the term "fryer," for example "broiler-fryer."
- Fryer — The USDA defines a fryer chicken as between 7 and 10 weeks old and weighing between 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 pounds when processed. A fryer chicken can be prepared in any manner.
- Roaster — A roaster chicken is defined by the USDA as an older chicken, about 3 to 5 months old and weighing between 5 and 7 pounds. The roaster yields more meat per pound than a fryer and is usually roasted whole, but it can also be used in other preparations, like chicken cacciatore.
Broilers, fryers, and roasters can generally be used interchangeably based on how much meat you think you'll need. They are young chickens raised only for their meat, so they are fine to use for any preparation from poaching to roasting. Bear in mind: when cooking poultry, chefs know choosing the right bird will affect the outcome of a final dish.
In 2011, the USDA revised its previous definitions to reflect the decreasing ages of chickens processed in modern poultry-farming and added Rock Cornish Game Hens.
- Rock Cornish Game Hens — Despite its name, the Cornish game hen is not game but is a very young broiler chicken, slaughtered after 4 weeks, and weighing between 1 and 1 1/2 pounds. The game hen is a hybrid chicken, a cross between a Cornish Game and a Plymouth or White Rock chicken. It is usually roasted whole or split.
Four Other Kinds of Chicken
- Capon — A surgically unsexed male chicken which develops more slowly and puts on more fat. A capon is about 16 weeks to 8 months old, weighing between 4 and 7 pounds. Capons are usually roasted and yield generous quantities of tender, light meat. Capons are great for roasting but can also be used for braises and poaching.
- Poussin (pronounced "poo-sehn") — A young chicken that is no older than 28 days when it is slaughtered. Sometimes called a spring chicken.
- Stewing Hen — Stewing chickens are usually laying hens that have passed their prime, 10 months to 1 1/2 years old. They are older and their meat is usually tougher and more stringy. This type of chicken is best used in stews where the meat has time to break down during the long, moist cooking.
- Rooster or Cock — A mature male chicken with low body fat and lean, ropey muscles. The skin is coarse skin and it has tough, dark meat, and requires long, moist cooking, as in the classic French dish, coq au vin. They're rarely found in chain grocery stores, but can be found in specialty markets and many Asian markets.