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Why Pasture-Raised Chicken is Different (and How to Cook It!)

I’ll never forget the first time I pulled a whole roasted chicken from the oven. Juicy and golden, it was a beautiful sight. I almost didn’t want to eat it (but I’m glad I did)!

Whole chickens are one of the most popular items at the meat counter, and options span free-range to organic to pasture-raised and more. So what makes pasture-raised different?

Pasture Makes Perfect

Many of our whole chickens are pasture raised (and they have to be at Steps 4 and 5 of Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system.), but it’s not quite as simple as just opening the barn doors! These birds live on pasture, rangelands or wooded areas, and have shelter from the weather and predators, and there must be features in the environment – like bushes and shrubs – that encourage the birds to roam. It also takes the right bird (one that can thrive outdoors) and farmers who understand the birds and the land – and how they interact – to make a pastured-poultry system work well.

Pitman Family Farms

Meet David Pitman, from Pitman Family Farms, who raises hardy, slow-growing chickens called Rhode Island Reds. “They take 12 weeks to reach the market weight, while modern day meat birds typically take less than 6 weeks to reach the same weight,” David explains, “and they do great in the California climate — they love to run, forage, perch and play. In fact, they’re so agile it’s really hard to catch them!” You’ll find Pitman Family Farms chicken in our West Coast stores, but ask your local store butcher about the farmer who supplies pasture-raised chickens in your area.

Whole Chicken, Lots of Options

Whether you roast, fry, bake, grill or braise, a whole chicken presents a whole world of possibility. Here are ten of our favorite ways to cook a whole chicken.

Aside from being a delicious meal straight from the oven or the pot, whole chicken is a budget-minded favorite. When we asked customers to share tips for stretching their food budget, many mentioned roasting a whole chicken and turning it into several meals.

Here’re just a few ways to enjoy leftover chicken:

No matter how you cook it, serving chicken from Whole Foods Market® means chicken raised on a vegetarian diet with no animal by-products in their feed, no solutions or injections and no antibiotics, ever. Federal regulations don’t allow the use of added growth hormones in chicken, but we wouldn’t do that anyway. Also, all our chicken has been certified to the Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program. 

Do you buy and cook whole chickens? What’s your favorite use for leftover chicken Share your favorite recipes and tips in the comments below.

Appreciations to Frances Flower for her help with this post.

Blog Updated on 2/19/2015.

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35 comments

Comments

scot walters says …

Great piece. Just passed it on to my clients!

francis rodgers says …

Opened my WF wrapped chicken to take out and use the giblets. They were gone. Who took them out? What did they do with them? Sell them separately?

Elise Beron says …

After the salmon, which is delicious, we choose organic chicken. Cooking it so that it is not very fattening, and preserving its taste is our method. Thank you for good chicken.

Rhonda says …

Very informative. Thanks.

marie says …

While pasture-raised chicken is more flavorful, the meat is also tougher so it's best to brine it prior to cooking. I brine with everything from apple cider vinegar, to buttermilk, to keifer. The brine is an extra step but so worth it!

Curt says …

So you decide that letting the chickens live for 6 weeks longer before killing them is more humane? Of course it is hard to catch them, they want to live too! I hope that people will do their homework and consider going Vegan for the animals, the planet, and their health! www.tryveg.com

Diana says …

What do you feed the,?? Corn??? Grain?? GMO ????

Susan says …

I am very happy to hear the poultry-raising practices of a supplier for Whole Foods. A recent concern is the Washington. Post reported reduction of inspectors on poultry processing lines and associated increased reliance on chlorine and other chemicals to manage contaminants. Do you have information about processing practices for your poultry? Thank you!!

lucy says …

what do you feed them? I'm just curious because it seems almost all the corn and soybeans and alfalfa are produces with the help of monsanto et al and they call then GE (genetically engineered or to cut short GMO.

Morgan says …

Thanks for this! I've never bought a whole chicken before but it's one of my New Year's resolutions (yet to be fulfilled...) Any tips on how to break down a whole chicken?

A. Liott says …

This sounds great- I am curious, however, about what "vegetarian feed" is referring to. I have a soy allergy; is soy included in this "vegetarian feed"?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@FRANCIS - Check with your stores butcher to see what normally happens to the giblets. They will be happy to help you!

Matthew says …

I am a dark meat kind of guy so I usually have the white meat left over. I pick it all off of the bone, chop it up and poor on some BBQ sauce. You can serve as is or as a sandwich.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DIANA, @LUCY, @A.LIOTT - The vendors for the pasture-raised chicken will vary between each store. If you are wondering what type of "vegetarian fee" they are given, the meat dept. can check with that vendor directly. Due to the prevalence of the GMOs in the commodity grain market, and the limited availability of verified non-GMO feed, we cannot require the use of only non- GMO feed for animal products (including meat, dairy and farmed fish) sold in our stores. We encourage shoppers who are looking to avoid products from animals fed GMOs to choose organic meat and dairy products (since organic standards prohibit the intentional use of GMOs).

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MORGAN - The best resource would be to reach out to the butcher at your local store for their advice. They can probably even demonstrate how!

sirrena says …

I am curious as to how much if any sodium is in all or any of your meats at Harry's farmers market in Marietta. I like this store and its staff and just wanted to know for health reasons. Thank you so much in advance.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SIRRENA - Since our products vary between store locations, I would suggest reaching out to the butchers at the Marietta location so they can look in to this for you!

Laura says …

I enjoy cooking and have been learning since I was 8yrs old. Many years. For a whole cooked chicken, you can either roast it or brown and cook it in the pressure cooker with root vegetables for great flavor. Just sprinkle with salt, pepper, Spanish paprika, and herbs to flavor up the broth and bird. Leftover chicken and broth becomes different types of soup. One of my favorite homemade soups is Cream of Chicken with the root vegetables cut up in pieces. Use 1/2 broth, 1/2 cream or milk, make a medium white sauce (coats the back of a spoon). Add the chicken white and dark pieces off the bone and cut in 1 inch pieces and the cooked root vegetables (carrots, celery, onion, garlic, green pepper) cut in pieces back into the soup base. The broth adds such richness to the white sauce. Serve with buttered fresh bread slices and a salad. Yum.

Jim Bowles says …

Thank you for no GMO foods. I will always support your store because of the no GMO foods.

Karenna Weintraub says …

Are the organic chickens fed vegetarian feed that has NO soy? Even if they receive non-GMO feed it could potentially include non-GMO soy. I am allergic to soy and would like to know if WF sells chickens that are NOT raised on Soy feed?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KARENNA - If chicken is labeled as organic, this does not exclude soy from their diet. An organic label will regulate that the animals were fed a diet of organic grain, which could include soy. All organic products are regulated by the USDA and do not contain GMOs. Our products vary between store locations so check with your local store if they carry chicken from a vendor that is on a soy-free diet.

Sarah says …

This is great. I appreciate all of your efforts that allow me and my family to eat healthy. I know I can trust products I buy at WF's.

Orlando says …

I'm sad about my missing giblets too! Whole chicken but no giblets! :(

Tracie says …

just put my first chickens in freezer today, thanks for the recipes!!!

Sarah says …

What happened to the giblets? I buy the free range chicken and I am lucky if there is a neck, where is the liver, the heart, the gizzard? All these were once found in the giblets bag. Except the livers, they are not available to buy either. Is there a brand that contains these important ingredients?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SARAH - Our exact meat vendors will differ between stores. Have you had the chance to speak with the meat team at your local store directly? If not, check with them to see where the giblets went and if they can find some for you!

Anita says …

Before anymore negative comments please go to their website and find all the answers to your statements. Their chickens are on a vegetarian diet, no gmo's used at all and have been in business since 1954. No one forces us to eat chickens. I have choose to eat wholesome chicken. I love the idea that their chickens forage and come back to roost . How many Americans can really say they do not get gmo somewhere in their diet. Crafted beer anyone?

colleen whalen says …

Are these chickens fed soy? Soy that is not fermented is an endocrine disruptor. I am searching for pastured chicken that is NOT fed soy. Soy pumps up chickens to twice their normal size. Lots of certified organic animal protein is livestock fed organic soy. This is NOT healthy for ruminant livestock like cows, goats and lambs which need to eat grass. A chicken that is pastured and not fed soy is 40% smaller in size than soy fed chickens but so much healthier. Please post if these birds are soy free or soy fed please.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@COLLEEN - It will differ vendors whether the chickens are fed soy. I would suggest reaching out to your local store to see if they carry any soy free chicken options. Some stores will offer a soy free egg brand but this can vary as well.

Jaz Draper says …

Everyone who raises chickens for our own tables knows that chickens are NOT vegetarians. They happily munch on all sorts of bugs, mice, snakes, etc. in addiction to grass, weeds, vegetables (sure)! It's irresponsible to restrict them to a strict vegetarian diet. What is wrong with people?

JUNE HUCHINGSON says …

WHEN WILL YOU BE OFFERING CHICKENS AT THE STAGE # 5

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JUNE - Vendors will differ between stores so check with your local meat team to see if they have plans to carry Step 5.

Nikki Luttrell says …

My local (Cupertino) whole foods no longer carries the Sonoma Red pastured chickens. I like the Mary's pastured chickens just fine, but not quite as well as the Sonoma Red's. I miss the Sonoma Red's and the Sonoma Red pastured eggs, as well.

Arden says …

Hello, I am looking for pasture-raised whole chicken so wondering is it the special order of Whole foods market? or Can I easily purchase in Bellevue WA store?

Calista says …

Thank you for carrying a wide variety of chickens! How are the birds processed? I hope they aren't injected with any salt water and other chemicals like commercially grown and processed chickens are.