How to Use a Whole Chicken

How to Use a Whole Chicken

Originally published July 1, 2020. Updated February 18, 2023.

 Thank you again to everyone who came to the farm last weekend to pick up whole chickens! We wanted to share more about our chickens and some ideas for preparing them.

Why buy whole chicken?

Some time ago, years before we moved back to the farm, my husband and I committed to buying our meat from sources whose practices align with our values. For chicken—a heavily consolidated industry in the United States—we decided the best route for us was to buy whole chickens from local farmers, which gave us the transparency we wanted with a lower price than individual cuts. 

We had to make some adjustments to our cooking and meal planning to use whole chickens, rather than buying prepackaged chicken breast or thighs from the store. But with some small changes, we love using whole chickens. They’re versatile, great for everything from a fancy dinner to weekend meal prep. We can get several delicious meals out of one chicken. And, we’re officially obsessed with homemade broth!

Now that we’re on the farm, we’re so glad my mom is using her many years of experience raising meat chickens to make pastured poultry part of West Fork Farmstead’s offerings. We raise a Freedom Ranger cross chicken, which we’ve chosen based on years of experience and research. Freedom Rangers are well-suited to raising on pasture and thrive foraging on our daily rotation of fresh grass. We love the juicy, tender meat that results. 

How do you store whole chicken?

Keep your chicken frozen until you are ready to thaw and use it. A frozen whole chicken will keep its quality for a long time (12+ months, if properly stored). 

When we’re ready to cook a frozen whole chicken, I always thaw it in the fridge first. I take the chicken out of the freezer 24-36 hours in advance, put it in a glass or metal pan, and thaw it on the lowest level of the fridge to avoid leakage onto lower shelves.

How do you prepare a whole chicken?

How I cook my chicken depends on how I want to use it:

When I want to do meal prep and use the chicken in multiple dishes, I like to throw it in an Instant Pot or crockpot.

In the Instant Pot, I put the trivet in, add ½-¾ cup water or broth, and cook on high pressure for 5-6 minutes per pound. Don’t worry about making sure it is 100% cooked at this stage if it will cook more in other dishes. Release the pressure naturally and let the chicken cool. Cut it up, shred it, or dice it to use in your favorite recipes or freeze in smaller portions for later use. 

A few of my favorites right now--all of which are better if you make and use homemade broth:

If I want chicken to be the star of the meal, I roast or grill it. Some of my favorite recipes include Easy Roast Chicken, Roast Chicken with Schmaltzy Cabbage, and Whole Grilled Chicken with Peaches and Basil Vinaigrette. With our family of four, we usually have leftovers; I remove the meat from the bone and shred or chop it to use later in soup, enchiladas, or on salads. And I always save those bones to make homemade stock!

Sometimes, I also cut a whole chicken up into pieces to make a sheet pan meal, fried chicken, or to portion it out for use in multiple meals.

However you use it, whole chickens are a delicious, versatile way to get healthy proteins on your table for any occasion. 

What are you doing with your whole chickens? Share your ideas and photos with us on Instagram and Facebook: @westforkfarmstead.

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