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How-To

Choosing chicken—roasters vs. broiler-fryers

Fine Cooking Issue 34
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Photo: Scott Phillips
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When I go to the store to buy a chicken to roast for my small family, I end up with something labeled “broiler-fryer.” I’m not worried that I might be courting failure by roasting something designed for the broiler because I’ve discovered (after many wonderful dinners and a little research) that this label is merely a classification of age, and therefore an indication of tenderness and size, not a recommendation for how to cook it.

A broiler-fryer (at left in the photo) comes to market after six to eight weeks and weighs 3 to 4 lb., according to the ­National Chicken Council. The name reflects the fact that the young and tender meat is best cooked with high heat, making it the ideal bird to cut up or butterfly for the grill, broiler, sauté pan, or frying pan. The ­tender, mild-­tasting meat and relatively small parts make them a poor choice for a stew or a braise, where they would tend to dry out. Left whole, a broiler-fryer makes a fine roast chicken, although the yield is a bit less than a larger bird—a 4-pound chicken barely serves four, while a 7-pound roaster can serve eight.

A roaster (at right in the photo) or roasting chicken is older—three to five months— and weighs 5 to 7 lb., according to the National Chicken Council. A roaster has a thicker layer of fat, which helps baste the bird as it roasts. The meatier parts are also fine cut up for stews or braises. But a roaster isn’t as good for grilling, broiling, or frying since the larger, thicker pieces will overcook (or burn) on the outside before cooking through. Also, its slightly tougher, more flavorful meat benefits from the slower cooking of roasting, braising, and ­stewing.

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