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How to Cook Pasture Raised Chicken

written by

Desiree Nelson

posted on

February 7, 2024

Occasionally I will get the question of how to cook pasture raised chicken.  Customers often associate the difference in cooking grassfed beef and non 100% grassfed beef, thinking there is a similarity for poultry meat.  There is a difference between grassfed beef and pastured poultry meats. 

Cattle are ruminants and are able to eat, survive and thrive off 100% forage based diet = grassfed.  When cattle are fed some grains to their diets to shorten grow out times, this also adds in fat to the meat and acts as a cushion during the cooking process.  Grassfed meats being leaner, you need to cook them more carefully to avoid drying out the meat.

Poultry have never consumed an all forage diet and been productive and economical.  Yes, your backyard chickens can do it and not be fed anything from you but maybe kitchen scraps.  But there is a difference between the number of chickens that will support one family in a backyard, compared to our farm business supporting over 100 families.  (And also keeping vegetative cover on our land while raising the chickens.)  Chickens are omnivores and need small, protein packed nutrition for optimal digestion to be a productive animal.  Feeding grains has been the traditional way to feed poultry, and seeds are a small powerhouse of nutrition. 

Chicken is a lean meat either way you raise them.  Both ways of farming, our way moving on vegetative pastures or in a house fed only grains, yield similar leanness of chicken meat.  Being on pasture for a chicken is mainly to express their chicken instincts, humane husbandry management being outside in nature and added nutrition the chickens will get from the forages and invertebrates they do eat in addition to the grain when on pasture. 

Your biggest difference between chicken meat bought from a big Ag company in the store and our farm family raised chicken is saline injection into the meat.  Adding saline into breast meat in particular, to afford the unexperienced cooks of our society room for error, is an industry standard.  Since the USDA had recommended cooking all meat WELL, (in the name of protecting us from all the bad things on meat) I think as a whole we have overcooked our meat and may end up with dryer, less palatable meat.  Whether that is beef or chicken.  Big chicken figured out how to avoid that.  Our chicken is only processed at inspected butchers and packaged, then frozen.  They add nothing to our meat, and we add nothing to our meat.

If you have had problems cooking pasture raised chicken, that is probably why, we don’t have saline in the meat to give it more moisture during the cooking process.  Here are a couple cooking methods I have used that yielded good results. 

  1. Avoid dry cooking methods.
    1. Open roasting in an oven.  If you like the roasted chicken method, used a covered baking dish with added moisture in the bottom.  Take the lid off toward the end of the cooking time to crisp up the skin.  Monitor internal temperature closely.  160° is considered done.  Let rest for 5 minutes (it continues to cook during this time).
  2. Remember that light and dark meats cook at different rates.  
    1. This is important when cooking whole chickens.  While waiting for the drumsticks to be cooked, you can dry out the breast meat, especially in dry cooking methods.
    2. Try a spatchcocked chicken, where the back is cut out and the bird is flattened.  This helps cook the chicken evenly.
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Roasted Spatchcock Chicken

My favorites ways to cook chicken:

Crockpot

This is the easiest way to thoroughly cook and not dry out the meat.  It also helps with time spent getting the meal ready at supper time, most of your prep was done early in the day.  I’ll cook a whole chicken on low for 8 hours.  If you want crispy skin, put it in the oven on broil.

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Three Small Chickens in Crockpot

Instant pot

Depending on the size of your instant pot, smaller chickens work best.  This may take some trial and error on timing.  Below is a good place to start.  I think the temperature of the meat when you put it in the instant pot can change the cooking time.

Cook your chicken on high pressure for 6 minutes per pound, then do a natural pressure release for 15 minutes before manually releasing remaining pressure.

  • 3 lbs = 18 minutes on high pressure with 15-min natural release
  • 3 1/2 lbs = 21 minutes on high pressure with 15-min natural release
  • 4 lb = 24 minutes on high pressure with 15-min natural release
  • 4 1/2 lb = 27 minutes on high pressure with 15-min natural release
  • 5 lb = 30 minutes on high pressure with 15-min natural release

Stewing

This is definitely how you want to cook a stew hen, an older retired laying hen.  But I have also cooked our young broilers this way as well.  I put the whole chicken under water in a pot on the stove.  Bring to a boil, skim off the scum that comes to the top during this process.  Add your preferred seasonings and veggies.  I like salt, thyme, parsley, rosemary, carrots and onion.  Reduce to a simmer and cooked covered.  The whole chicken is done in about 2 hours.  I check by lifting the drumstick and when it easily comes off the rest of the bird, it’s done and perfect.  Added bonus is that you have meat broth done and ready for your next meal, or this meal.  (Bone broth is the carcass cooked for 24 hours) 

Stewing the whole chicken has become my family’s favorite way to eat chicken.  When I cook individual cuts alone, I use a cast iron pan.  I usually end up cutting the breasts down because otherwise they are too thick.  I cover the pan towards the end of the cooking process to finish cooking and preserve moisture in the meat. 

What are your favorite ways to cook chicken?

More from the blog

Why Support a Pasture Raised Egg Farm in the Winter

I have a few reasons for you to support your local pasture raised egg farm in the winter. We farm in Minnesota, we obviously have winter with cold and snow. This isn’t suitable for chickens to be on pasture during our winter months. On our farm, they go inside a building to protect them from the wind and snow. It also allows us to have thawed water for the hens with below freezing temperatures outside.  It’s still local to you. Imagine how much energy and fuel it takes to get a pasture raised egg to MN from the Southern United States, compared to your local farm.  You want your farmer to still be in business come spring and summer. Careful planning by the farmer enables them to have year-round eggs to sell, and year-round cash flow. Also, if a farmer has too many eggs in the winter, they will downsize their flock size and not have the extra eggs during the summer months.  The hens typically still get stored/dried forages. Chickens being omnivores, don’t get all their nutrition from forages. The pasture, and the insects, are a supplement to their formulated balanced production grain feed. It’s relatively easy to continue feeding forages to the chickens through the winter, in their winter housing. This is something we do on our farm.  You can’t depend on yolk color to determine how the bird was raised. The egg industry as a standard knows the consumer wants nicely colored egg yolks, so there are yolk color enhancers added to feed. Even your big box store brands of “pasture raised eggs” feed yolk color enhancers in their feed to have a consistent product between all the farms they buy eggs from for their brand. (Yolk color enhancing feed additives needs its’ own post.) Here is a reason knowing your farmer is an advantage, because you can ask them. Can you ask the grocery/co-op store? Will you get an answer with integrity from the big brand aggregator?  It still is a high quality, highly nutritious egg product. We feed the same high quality grain feed in the winter that we feed in the summer. We may be changing the protein or energy levels slightly to help the hens adjust to the temperatures. But it’s still the same whole grains as the majority used in our ration, custom milled at a local feed mill, and not all grain byproducts = less complete nutrition = less expensive grain. We don’t cut costs at the expense to nutrition. The small family farm is a very small percentage of the “farms” producing food in our country. Small family farms, defined by grossing under $350,000 annually by the USDA, produced about 18% of the production in 2021. That’s only 18% of the food distribution system that is decentralized, localized and not susceptible to collapsing if a couple of those farms go out of business. Or their business is shut down. Are you ready to grow everything you want to eat if we aren’t here? Number one reason to support small family local farms. Here are how our hens spend their winter in Minnesota: We have two groups of laying hens, one stays in our mobile range coop all winter, and the other flock is inside a pole shed building with access to outside with our cows.

Are You Getting Duped by Egg Yolk Color?

When you know your farmer, you can ask them if they use egg yolk color enhancers in their feed for laying hens. Otherwise, maybe you should just assume those orange yolks aren't just happy laying hens chasing bugs and eating grasses full of carotenoids.

with customization by Grapevine Local Food Marketing