What's the Difference Between Broilers, Fryers, Roasters & Other Sizes of Chicken?

Ingredient Intelligence

Pin it button big

We get a little confused if a recipe calls for a roaster or a broiler chicken. Can different kinds of chickens be used interchangeably?

Have you also wondered about the difference between these sizes of chickens? Wonder no more! Here's a handy guide to identify those chickens and a few pointers on swapping and preparing.

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 recipes calling for a whole chicken sometimes just call for a broiler or a roaster. Want to know the difference?

Get to Know Your Chickens

  • Broilers: Chickens 6 to 8 weeks old and weighing about 2 1/2 pounds
  • Fryers: Chickens 6 to 8 weeks old and weighing 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds
  • Roasters: Chickens less than 8 months old and weighing 3 1/2 to 5 pounds
  • Stewing Chickens: Chickens (usually hens) over 10 months old and weighing 5 to 7 pounds
  • Capons: Castrated males that weigh 6 to 8 pounds
  • Cock/Rooster: Male chickens over 10 months old weighing 6 to 8 pounds

Broilers, Fryers & Roasters

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

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

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.

Cocks & Roosters

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?

Updated from post originally published April 2008.

(Image credits: Leela Cyd)

7 Comments