Chicken, as with all poultry, is classed by the age of the bird. As the chicken matures and ages, the flavors become more pronounced and the meat becomes tougher. The youngest birds may be prepared in any cooking method, while the older and larger chickens typically require longer, slower, and moist-cooking methods to render the meat tender.
For safe cooking, the USDA recommends the internal temperature reach at least 165 degrees F, for all pieces and forms available, including whole, in pieces, and ground chicken.
There are seven classes of chicken: Rock Cornish game hen, Rock Cornish fryer, broiler/fryer, capon, hen/stewing chicken, cock/rooster roaster. Unless specifically stated, each class can be of either sex.
- Cornish Game Hen or Rock Cornish Game Hen – Young, immature chickens under 2 lbs., usually less than 5 weeks of age. These are generally bought and prepared as one bird per person and served whole. Cornish game hens are from Cornish chickens and Rock Cornish game hens are from cross breeding different species.
- Broiler or Fryer – A young chicken of either sex, usually less than 10 weeks of age. It will have smooth-textured skin and flexible breastbone cartilage. This has tender meat that is great for any cooking method. A broiler is slightly smaller (1 1/2 to 2 lbs.) than a fryer (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 lbs.).
- Roasting Chicken or Roaster – A chicken that is slightly older (3 to 5 months old, but typically less than 12 weeks) and can be of either sex. The meat is tender, but the breastbone cartilage is somewhat less flexible than that of a broiler or fryer. While its name implies a specific cooking method, it can also be cooked by other methods, such as pan frying and grilling. A roaster is up to 5 lbs. in weight.
- Capon – Surgically ‘unsexed’ male chicken (castrated), and under 8 months of age with smooth and pliable skin. A capon is known for its large breast and good flavor.
- Stewing Hen – Mature hen (female chicken) over 10 months in age. This baking chicken is tougher and best left to longer and slower cooking methods.
- Cock or Rooster – Adult male chicken (over 10 months in age). This chicken has tough and darkened meat and is best left to longer and slower cooking methods. It has coarse skin, toughened and dark meat, and a nonflexible breastbone tip.