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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.

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.