Broilers, Fryers, and Roasters: What's the Difference?

The terms for these different kinds of chickens tend to get tossed about and used interchangeably in recipes and articles. When we're buying chickens for a meal like our Slow-Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken, we generally go by the weight on the package and buy the amount that seems appropriate for the number of people we're serving.

But then we would get stuck if a recipe simply called for "one roaster" or "two broiler chickens," and wondered if different kinds of chickens could be used interchangeably.

Wonder no more! Here's a handy guide to identify those chickens and a few pointers on swapping and preparing.Getting to Know Your Chickens:

  • Broilers: Chickens 6-8 weeks old and weighing about 2 1/2 pounds
  • Fryers: Chickens 6-8 weeks old and weighing 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 pounds
  • Roasters: Chickens less than 8 months old and weighing 3 1/2 - 5 pounds

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. You may need to adjust cooking times or amounts of other ingredients (like stuffing) based on what the recipe called for and the size of your chicken.

  • Stewing Chickens: Chickens (usually hens) over 10 months old and weighing 5 - 7 pounds

Stewing chickens are usually laying hens that have passed their prime. They are older and their meat is usually tougher and more stringy. This type of chicken is best used in stews (as the name implies!) where the meat has time to break down during the long, moist cooking.

  • Capons: Castrated males that weigh 6 - 8 pounds

Since they've been castrated, capons don't develop in the normal way of a hormone-crazy chicken teenager. They grow more slowly and put on more body fat. Because of this, their meat is more tender and flavorful than that of any other chicken of the same weight. Capons are great for roasting but can also be used for braises and poaching.

  • Cock/Rooster: Male chickens over 10 months old weighing 6 - 8 pounds

Roosters are tough old birds with low body fat and lean, ropey muscles. They're rarely found in chain grocery stores, but can be found in specialty markets and many Asian markets. Like stewing chickens, roosters are best used in slow cooked stews and braises, like the traditional Coq au Vin.

What's your favorite way to prepare a chicken?

(Image Credit: Wonderjunkie via Flickr Creative Commons)