“Finally,” the farmer says to the flock, feeling a mix of emotion. “You have grown for 5 months and are ready for processing.” She is solemn but proud. She thinks of the freezer to be carefully packed with the meat. She remembers the birds as chicks and when they first walked on the grass at 4 weeks. They were free to run and flap their wings and, eventually, crow and wake everyone up. But mostly she thinks about how she’ll only need salt and pepper to prepare the chicken for the grill this weekend.
In order to give the heritage breeds a fair chance, we cooked two heritage birds in two ways: one was quartered and cooked “steak style”, in a heavy cast iron pan over medium high heat with salt and pepper. The other was roasted with aluminum foil blocking the cavity (read about how we cook chickens in our chicken user manual here). We’ve cooked hundreds of cornish cross chickens in a variety of ways over the years, but for the purpose of comparison we will focus on our home raised cornish cross prepared by pan and by oven just like the heritage breeds.
So here it is, the big one:
Do heritage breed chickens TASTE better than cornish cross?
Yes, yes they do. They have more flavor and it is not unpleasant like we were worried it might be. This makes them excellent for standard preparations like roasting, searing, and grilling. They will excel in liquid cooking, where the flavor will really take action (click here for our Rooster Tomato Sauce Recipe for an example of this). With more days pecking around, the meat’s flavor grows more and more interesting. I would think that an older rooster, maybe a year or two old, would have more intense flavor. Someday we will find that out and let you know. But yes, there was no question that the heritage breed meat had more, better flavor. Score one for the heritage breed.
Do heritage breed chickens have better TEXTURE than cornish cross?
No. We aren’t here to lie, and the truth is that cornish cross has far better texture. In fact, we strongly prefer the texture of cornish cross meat. I suspect this is largely due to age; our cornish cross chickens are typically harvested at 7 or 8 weeks, and the meat is still quite tender and soft. The heritage breeds, on the other hand, had more time to develop their muscles and grow tall. I predict that a heritage breed harvested at 8 weeks will also have tender meat, it just won’t have much to make it worth processing so young.
This is not to say that heritage breed chicken had terrible texture. It was firmer and more complex. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Are heritage breed chickens harder to COOK than cornish cross?
Cooking either breed of chicken is about the same. The main difference is the amount of meat on bone. Cornish cross chickens pack much more meat into each cut and this means two things when you cook the less familiar heritage breed:
- They will take much less time to cook
- They are more prone to overcooking
To avoid these issues, use a meat thermometer and don’t walk away from the grill!
What was the experience of eating a heritage breed like?
The entire time we enjoyed our heritage meat, we were conscious of the experience raising it. The chickens lived the life a chicken should have, wandering around, eating bugs, flying around and jumping. There were no guilty thoughts of lazy birds bred to be meat machines. I thought about how this chicken was about as close as we can get to the chickens our great grandparents grew up eating, before intense breeding practices came into play. I felt connected even more so than with the other chickens we’ve raised for meat. It was an experience worth having, and we’ll raise heritage breeds again.
Need an idea for a chicken recipe that works great with heritage breed meat? Click here to try our Rooster Tomato Sauce, it is like a love potion.