If you’ve been following along in our series on Help Handling the Whole Chicken, you know that our family has been buying whole chickens from a local farmer for a few years now – partly because it’s just cheaper than buying chicken breast at the grocery store!
So how did we eat whole chickens for several years if I didn’t touch them?
Today I’d like to introduce to you two fail-proof ways to cook a whole chicken.
If you’re squeamish about touching a whole chicken – or you’re in a phase of life where you just need a hassle-free method – I’ve got two fantastic recipes for you.
If you’re still looking for more info on cooking the perfect chicken every time, check out Craftsy. Their classes are awesome because the instructors are professionals and once you buy the course, you may view it at any time (no expiration!) and can pause and repeat to make sure you catch everything. I highly recommend checking it out! ~Katie
Meet My Best Friend: The Crock Pot
I stumbled across this method when my youngest was a newborn. I needed a simple way to cook a whole bird without grease splatters (which can sometimes happen when roasting in the oven).
If my sleep-deprived brain had to remember to clean the grease out of my oven after roasting a chicken — I wasn’t gonna make it…
Also, I wanted a method to cook chicken that allowed me to step away from the stove for a few hours or that would be safe with little hands – especially since we had a gas burner.
When I read Slow Cooker Revolution, I was stunned that I could ROAST a whole chicken in a crock pot. I knew I had stumbled on something big.
(America’s Test Kitchen is a fun cooking show that appears on PBS. And they do just what their name states – they test tons of recipes to come up with the yummiest way to serve a dish.)
Recipe #1: Roast In The Slow Cooker
America’s Test Kitchen advocates roasting a whole chicken in a slow cooker. Their secret is to lay the chicken BREAST SIDE DOWN so the breast meat can lay in the slow cooker juices, helping prevent the white meat from drying out.
Additionally, the fat and juices from the thighs and legs (dark meat) will drip down onto the breast, continually coating the meat with flavor and moisture.
Now before you go grab a crock pot, I should share that there are a few cons to roasting a chicken this method:
- You may not necessarily get the same crispy skin like you would in the oven. But it will still have a crispness to it. We’re not big fans of chicken skin, so that’s a non-issue for me.
- You have to remember to pull your whole chicken out of the freezer early enough that it can defrost before you cook it.
Because I never forget to pull my meat out of the freezer. *cough*
- 1 whole chicken (3-5 lbs)
- ½ c. water
- 2 bay leaves
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme and/or rosemary
- salt, pepper
- Pour water into the slow cooker.
- Place chicken into the slow cooker BREAST SIDE DOWN. This is crucial to ensure moist meat.
- Add bay leaves and fresh herbs.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover and turn to low for 4 hours.
- After 4 hours, check for doneness. Breast should register 165*F and thighs 170*F.
- Remove from chicken from crock and let rest for 15 minutes, tented with foil (ideally) or a large baking pan.
- Carve and serve.
2 Tools for Real Food Success:
It’s never easy to keep up with real food goals! If my meal isn’t planned ahead and/or I don’t have the right food on hand, it’s SO tempting to give up and grab convenience food!
I have to almost trick myself into getting it right sometimes…like this:
I love my raw milk farm, and they usually have beef for me too – but not all the cuts. And chicken is hard to come by. And pork is hit or miss.
I’m sure you’ve experienced the same sourcing frustrations!
That’s why I’m always grateful that there’s an online source of incredibly high quality meat that I can always count on. A box from Butcher Box is guaranteed to be grassfed/organic/pastured/free range = all the labels important to your family’s health!
If you live in an area (like my mom) where organic local farms are nowhere to be found or have trouble sourcing certain meats or cuts, Butcher Box has you covered.
(free shipping too!)
But if I forget to plan ahead, all that amazing meat just sits in the freezer! Enter Real Plans, an online meal planning software that is probably smarter than I am.
I can enter that cut of meat along with my food restrictions and find the perfect meal, then generate a shopping list, multiply it by 4 if we have company, and enter my own fav recipes too.
Real Plans takes the stress out of meal planning and puts the nourishing food BACK on your table. There’s a plan for every diet type:
Recipe #2: From Freezer to Table
The roasting recipe mentioned above is such a delicious and easy way to cook a chicken.
So moist. So yummy.
But, it only works if you remember to pull your chicken out of the freezer. Which apparently is a BIG PROBLEM for me. 🙂
If you find yourself forgetting to thaw your meat, then this is the recipe for you. Personally, we prefer to boil our chickens in the slow cooker – allowing us to take our chickens straight out of the freezer and cook them in the crock pot. We simply add water, vinegar, and salt and gently boil the meat overnight.
The best part? It also makes a ton of delicious broth simultaneously! WIN-WIN.
Addressing the Thaw vs. Frozen Controversy
But before I continue, I want to address some of the controversy out there. According to the FDA, you’re not supposed to cook frozen meat in a crock pot (or any other way, really). The fear is that the frozen meat can take so long to get from frozen to cooking temp, that harmful bacteria could grow.
Then again, other sites debunk this thought and say it’s safe. So who to believe?
I’m not going to tell you what to do. If someone in your family is immune-system compromised, you may want to rethink this method or consult your health practitioner.
We’ve been doing this method for the last 5 years, including hard seasons of life when our immune systems were compromised. Honestly? It was the only way I could get it done.
So, use your best judgment. I leave the decision up to you.
GOOD NEWS: You can still use this recipe!! Just thaw the chicken in your fridge and reduce the cooking time.
- 1 chicken, 3-5 lbs. (fresh or frozen - see blog post for disclaimer)
- 1 heaping Tbs. salt
- ⅓ c. apple cider vinegar
- cool water
- Place chicken in a large slow cooker.
- Add salt and vinegar.
- Cover with cool water.
- Replace lid and turn slow cooker to LOW.**
- If using a frozen chicken, cook 8-12 hours (or overnight) until chicken is thoroughly cooked.
- If using a fresh chicken, cook 4-8 hours until chicken is thoroughly cooked.
- Remove chicken from crock pot. Pick apart meat and serve.
- Strain broth for additional use.
A Few Tips about Boiling In the Slow Cooker
- Don’t forget to double check that you turned the crock pot on. I have cried real tears because I forgot to check the plug and let the food sit out all day. 🙁
- Don’t skimp on the salt. Using a healthy salt is very important, not only for flavor but for imparting essential nutrients.
- Don’t wrinkle your nose at using the apple cider vinegar. The vinegar acts as a meat tenderizer, while helping to extract important nutrients from the bones. It also gives a subtle flavor boost – a delicious undertone that is pleasantly surprising.
- Only use cold water to fill your crock pot. You don’t want to crack your ceramic pot, especially if you’re using a frozen chicken.
- If you’re looking for an easy routine, put a chicken in the crock pot before you go to bed. When you wake up in the morning, you’ll be ready to pluck off the meat!
Pros and Cons to Boiling a Chicken in a Slow Cooker
Let’s take a look at the downsides:
- No crispy skin. If this is a deal breaker, try Recipe #1.
- Takes some thinking ahead. If you’re doing this from a frozen chicken, dinner won’t be ready in 4 hours.
- And there’s that whole “frozen vs. thawed” controversy.
- Some people claim they don’t like the taste of boiled meat. Though I’ve converted every boiled-meat-hater with this recipe. 🙂
Now consider the many positives:
- Less mess than oven-roasting.
- Low-temp over a longer period (low and slow) is better for pastured meat.
- Your crock pot is already dirty and ready to use the bones to make more delicious broth. I know everyone says to toss in vegetable bits when making your broth. Yes, this is a frugal method. But sometimes it can muddy the flavor of your broth. We keep it simple and just use salt and vinegar. America’s Test Kitchen ran some taste-tests and found that sometimes adding vegetables can “muddy” the flavor of your broth (not in a bad way; just extra unessential flavor). I’ll take easy whenever I can get it!
- You don’t have to touch the raw chicken. HALLELUJAH!
- If you do the overnight method, you have food ready for lunch and dinner that day.
- You don’t have to worry about thawing room in the fridge (pending your thawing decisions).
- It’s easier to pick the meat off the bones of a boiled chicken than a roasted chicken – saving you valuable time and creating less waste.
- The dark meat is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay less greasy. My family doesn’t enjoy roasted dark meat. But when it is boiled, the dark meat takes on a milder flavor and isn’t so greasy.
I’ve Got Cooked Meat. Now What?
Depending on the size of your bird,you may get up to 6 cups of cooked chicken meat. If your family doesn’t inhale that all in one meal, you’re going to need to consider storage options:
- Freeze in ziplock bags. Lay on a cookie sheet so it freezes flat.Tip: Add some chicken broth so meat retains its moisture.
- Store in a mason jar in the fridge. Add some broth to keep the meat moist. Make sure to label with the date!
- Learn to pressure can your meat. To save freezer space, we now pressure can our chicken meat after it is cooked and store it on the shelf. It’s so nice to have meat on hand that doesn’t have to thaw!
When you’re done picking the meat off your chicken bones and skin, DON’T THROW THE GUNK AWAY! You can actually turn right around and make more broth. But you don’t have to do that the same day. Simply toss them in a bag into the freezer and pull out the bones when you’re ready.
And if you’re scratching your head trying to find ways to use cooked chicken meat, stay tuned to the last post in this series! We have recipes just for you!
Don’t forget to check out the other posts in this series:
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to Craftsy from which Kitchen Stewardship will earn a commission if you make a purchase.