The word giblets (pronounced with a soft "g" as in the word "ginger") refers to the hearts, livers, and gizzards of poultry, mainly chickens and turkeys. These items are often (but not always) packaged up and included within the body cavity of a whole chicken or turkey, usually with the neck and sometimes with the kidneys too. You can use them to flavor homemade stock or gravy.
What Are Giblets?
An interesting fact about that bag of giblets: The contents may not be from that particular chicken or turkey unless you buy poultry direct from a farmer. And because so many home cooks don't know how to handle them, a lot of factory-farmed chickens do not even include the giblets any longer.
In earlier times, in addition to necks, hearts, livers, (sometimes kidneys) and gizzards, the term giblets also referred to such items as the feet, wing tips, heads, and even that floppy red crest on a rooster called the cockscomb. Today, there is a fringe notion that the word giblets only refers to edible organs, relegating the unfortunate neck to the status of an interloper. And yet, there it is in that little bag.
Wing tips (the pointy, flappy section of the wing) and chicken feet are excellent for making chicken stock, and both are a delicacy in some Asian cuisines. As for the head and cockscomb, most likely end up as ingredients in pet food with other chicken or turkey by-products.
A digestive organ, gizzards help grind up the food eaten by the animals who possess them (chickens, turkeys, and ducks, plus other animals such as penguins and crocodiles). A chicken swallows tiny pebbles and bits of grit that get stored in the gizzard; when food comes through, the muscular organ squeezes and contracts, causing those stones to grind up the food.
How to Cook Giblets
In classical cuisine, giblets would be cut up and simmered until tender, usually with potatoes and onions as well as other items such as carrots, garlic, and bacon. Alternatively, they can be dusted in flour, browned in butter, and simmered in wine before getting chopped up and used in a number of sauces.
Turkey giblets à la Bourguignon is a classic preparation in which the giblets are simmered in red wine along with onions and mushrooms. A common use for giblets today is in gravy, stuffing, or even pasta sauce.
Giblets can also be battered and deep-fried, but of course, most people only have the giblets that came in whatever bird they are preparing, which makes for a scant serving. You can always stockpile them in the freezer until you have enough to make cooking them worth your while. Defrost them in the fridge overnight.
Set the liver aside until the last 10 minutes of cooking, otherwise, its flavor can overpower a dish. Better yet, dust the liver in flour, and pan-fry it in butter and garlic or grill it on a skewer.
As with all uncooked poultry products, use care when handling the raw giblets as they can be a cross-contamination hazard. Be sure to cook the giblets or any dish containing them to 165 F.
What Do Giblets Taste Like?
Each piece in the giblets bag brings its own flavor to the table. The heart and gizzard taste more like dark meat, with just a little bit of a tangy gaminess. The liver and kidneys usually have a slightly metallic flavor. But it's the rich flavor they impart to gravy, stock, and dressing that makes them so valuable.
Giblets may seem weird or scary, but they're actually quite easy to prepare. For most uses, you'll simply simmer them in water on the stove until they're cooked through before adding them to your recipe. You can also roast them alongside the bird.
Where to Buy Giblets
You can make sure to buy a brand of whole turkey or chicken that includes the giblets (some producers include this information on the packaging), or buy them separately at many grocery stores. Look among the other offal offerings (offal refers to the organ meats) or ask the butcher for extras.
You can store giblets in your refrigerator in airtight packaging for one or two days. They can be frozen at 0 F or below and stored indefinitely; for best results, though, use frozen giblets within a few months. Thaw them in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.
Nutrition and Benefits of Giblets
The composition and use of giblets vary enough that it's hard to pinpoint a calorie count. In general, most people consume only a small quantity as flavoring in a holiday dinner gravy or dressing, for a negligible effect on the overall nutritional profile of an individual meal.
A 1-ounce chicken liver provides a 75 percent daily value for vitamin A and 79 percent daily value for vitamin B12, along with a significant amount of riboflavin, selenium, and iron. The heart and gizzard don't have the same concentrated nutritional punch, but a 1-ounce chicken heart does supply 34 percent daily value for vitamin B12. Turkey giblets provide similar benefits. These small morsels do pack a proportionally large amount of cholesterol, however.
US Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Chicken, liver, all classes, raw. Updated April 1, 2019.
US Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Chicken, heart, all classes, raw. Updated April 1, 2019.
US Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Turkey, whole, giblets, raw. Updated April 1, 2019.