Cooking Moist and Tender Pastured Poultry

Pastured Chicken in Brine

 Nutritionally, a pastured chicken is far superior to traditionally raised chicken. Chickens that are running around on pasture eating insects, worms, and forage have a great taste, but they also have muscle tone. And chickens with muscle tone are not tender. With a lot of trial and error, I have learned the secret to cooking a tender chicken. The answer is simple. Brining the chicken results in moist and tender meat. There are numerous scientific explanations available on the internet as to why this works. Whatever. I’m interested in how. To every gallon of water, I stir in 1 cup of sea salt. I find that a gallon of water is generally just enough to cover an average size chicken. Sometimes I add onion or bay leaves to the water. Sometimes I don’t. I don’t find that it makes a huge difference. I add the chicken to the brine and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. I then remove the chicken and pat it dry. I season according to the recipe I am using but I omit the salt in the recipe.

Before I learned this secret I was slow cooking the bird in order to tenderize it. Every meal tasted like chicken soup. I like chicken soup. When I’m eating chicken soup. But not every time I eat chicken. I find that I can now cook chicken a variety of ways with success. For roasting, it is generally best to cover your roasting pan. The dark meat lends itself beautifully to braising and the boneless breasts are wonderful for stir fry. Or I may cut the chicken into pieces and grill it or roast it covered in homemade barbecue sauce.

Let me know if you try this method and what you think. And if you have any tips, let me know. I’m always open to new ways of cooking pastured poultry.

Update: A reader, Diana, commented and provided some extremely helpful information that is worth adding directly to this post:

We raise free-range, pastured poultry, and yes, they have more muscle tone. BUT they are still extremely tender. Not tough at all. One thing most people don’t know is that the chicken needs to “rest” in cold, but not freezing conditions, for 1-2 days before freezing. Many processors boast that their birds get frozen immediately after processing, and customers get the impression that this is a safer, better product. All it does is make for a tough bird that needs brining. The chemicals responsible for rigormortis have to break down a little before being frozen. That said, we usually roast ours whole. No brining, just some olive oil or butter, herbs, usually some lemon. Trick is to start with a HOT oven, (425) for 15-20 minutes, then push it down to 350 for the remaining 45 minutes. Thermometer in breast has to read 165, at least. THEN, let bird rest again for 10 minutes before carving, to keep more of the juice inside the meat.

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Comments

    • says

      Hi Deb! Yes, I think brining the turkey breast would help to keep it moist and tender. I think it yells “roast me” don’t you? I probably would not cover it in this case. If the packaging does not say “pastured” I doubt that it is and so it would probably not be tough to begin with. How about some butter under the skin? Yum.

  1. deb says

    Thanks – yes, I figured roasting would be best, but wasn’t sure about brining. I’ve never done it. What happens to the sugar in the brining process? Is it like kombucha?

    • says

      I don’t really know the answer to your question. Some say that very little of it is absorbed. I have tried it without the sugar and I did not feel that it was as moist and tender. Not all recipes use the sugar, so you can give it a try. I do understand that it helps the bird to brown.

  2. Diana says

    We raise free-range, pastured poultry, and yes, they have more muscle tone. BUT they are still extremely tender. Not tough at all. One thing most people don’t know is that the chicken needs to “rest” in cold, but not freezing conditions, for 1-2 days before freezing. Many processors boast that their birds get frozen immediately after processing, and customers get the impression that this is a safer, better product. All it does is make for a tough bird that needs brining. The chemicals responsible for rigormortis have to break down a little before being frozen. That said, we usually roast ours whole. No brining, just some olive oil or butter, herbs, usually some lemon. Trick is to start with a HOT oven, (425) for 15-20 minutes, then push it down to 350 for the remaining 45 minutes. Thermometer in breast has to read 165, at least. THEN, let bird rest again for 10 minutes before carving, to keep more of the juice inside the meat.

    • says

      This is the most helpful information I have received in a long time. Thank you!!!!! The birds we buy from a local farmer are not frozen when we purchase them, so we will just refrigerate for two days before freezing them. Sure wish the farmer had informed us.

      • Diana says

        Glad to be helpful! Just ask your farmer when the birds were processed. It’s likely they were 1 or 2 days before you bought them, unless you pick up on farm on slaughter day… If it’s been at least 24 hours, okay to go ahead and freeze.

          • Diana says

            Well, there may be such a thing as a tough bird, (I don’t know why that would happen except for old age or no resting time, but there may be other reasons) so it’s a good thing to find out if it’s rested.

        • Amy says

          What if they are already frozen when you buy from the farmer? Also, are your cooking instructions above for roasting around a 4lb. chicken….or is there an alloted time per pound (such as 20 minutes per lb)? We also like to cook just chicken parts such as legs and thighs and the legs are always tough! :( How do you suggest baking them. I’ve really given up on buying pastured chicken….too many wasted meals and disappointments. :(

  3. says

    Last summer I bought a (too?) large frozen pastured chicken from a local grower. It cost me $26.00 which just made me mad. That stupid thing was so tough I couldn’t even get my teeth into the flesh of the drumstick. Holy cats! I ended up making broth from it. That’s all it was good for. I felt like a fool for paying that much money for an inedible chicken.

    Thank you for this post. Maybe I will try again with a smaller chicken and some different techniques.

    • says

      It sure is frustrating when we pay more to eat healthy and it ends up ruined. I do think the brining will help. Did you see Diana’s comment above? If you have the opportunity to buy fresh poultry just refrigerate it for a day or two. Sure wish the processes did that for us before freezing.

  4. Laura says

    Hi Susan! We are finally on board and have started purchasing pastured poultry from a local farmer. Just like you, we pick them up on slaughter day and from reading through this post, I now see that it is important to let them sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days before freezing. For those that I do have in the freezer, do you thaw them before brining or let them thaw in the brine?

    • susanv says

      Hi Laura! That’s great that you have been able to purchase pastured poultry. I thaw my frozen chicken right in the brine, but that is not necessary. Either way is fine. We just received a few chickens this past weekend and I did refrigerate them for 2 days before freezing, but haven’t cooked any of them yet. I plan to cook them w/o brining just to see how it works out. I’ll let you know.

  5. Amy says

    Is the brine recipe, simply salt and water? I know someone mentioned “sugar” but I didn’t see any mentioned. I see a lot of brine recipes with sugar, but we don’t use refined sugars and even then we keep them at a minimum. Does the bird absorb the sugar in the brining process? If so, I’m out! :(

    • Susan says

      Amy, I used to put sugar in the brine because that’s how I learned. But I’ve been brining for quite a while now without the sugar and the chickens are great, so I removed sugar from the recipe.

  6. shannon says

    My question is how to prepare an older bird. We have dual purpose birds. The females we use for eggs but when they are too old to lay or start eating eggs we butcher them. We have tried a number of ways to prepare them but the end result is always a tough, rubbery textured meat. Is there anything we could to, like try a brine, or something before preparing the bird?

    • Susan Vinskofski says

      Hi Shannon, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any experience with older birds. I think it would be worth trying the brine I recommend.

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