Have you ever heard the saying ‘tough old bird?’
That is what my mom use to say when referring to my great grandmother. There was no disrespect there because she was tough. She was born in 1911, lived through the Great Depression, farmed her whole life, survived many illnesses and surgeries, outlived her husband, daughter, and her 5 siblings, and still lived to almost 90 years old. That takes courage to face all of those things, and I’d say that would deem someone as ‘tough.’
The saying itself came from the fact that as birds get older they get tougher. Which means you have to prepare them in a special way.
Which is what I’m bringing your way in this post. I want to discuss with you how to prepare and cook an older bird. Plus, I’d like to share a few recipes that might work well when using an older bird.
Let’s get started:
What’s So Special About An Old Bird?
An older bird has to be prepared a little differently than a younger bird.
You may not realize that the tender birds you eat from the store were actually just babies. Most of them are culled somewhere between 4 and 6 months. The reason is that they are still tender at that age.
However, as a bird gets older the meat begins to get tougher. So you have to keep that in mind if you are culling an older bird.
But I don’t want that to deter you from utilizing the meat if you cull an older bird. An example of why you might decide to cull an older bird is because she has stopped laying. When you live on a homestead, you can’t afford to feed something that isn’t giving back.
So you must cull that animal for financial purposes. Well, you certainly don’t want to waste the meat of an animal that has given so much to you over the years.
Which is why I think it is so important to know how to properly prepare an older bird because that is usually what you are going to have in the freezer unless you raise birds specifically for meat.
However, another instance when you might have to dispatch an older chicken is with a rooster. Some roosters just have bad attitudes and sometimes they don’t develop until later in life.
But if you have a rooster with an attitude, then you need to put that rooster in the freezer. I say this from experience. When roosters flog constantly you run the risk of a child being seriously injured. Their spurs are serious business.
And there is no reason to keep a mean bird around when there are so many roosters that have much better (and safer) dispositions. One flog in the wrong direction and someone could easily lose an eye.
So take my advice and learn how to cook an older bird so you don’t feel obligated to tolerate a hateful rooster.
How To Cook An Old Bird
When you cull an older chicken, you’ll process it the same as you would any other bird. The steps following the actual culling and dividing out of the bird is where the difference comes in. There are a few different options:
1. Brine the Bird
Placing any meat in a brine has a way of tenderizing the meat. We do this around Thanksgiving with our turkeys so that the meat is much more tender.
But how do you create a brine? And do you go with a wet or dry brine?
Well, you create a wet brine by adding salt, sugar, and water into a large pot and then placing the chicken in it. You’ll let it sit for anywhere from 12-24 hours. In addition to this mixture, you’ll want to add different spices like garlic and onions. You could even add some crushed red pepper for some spice or some oregano.
Basically, anything that you’d like to taste in this chicken would be a good addition. The secret to a wet brine is to make sure that you heat the water and anything else you place in it to a boil so that everything will dissolve. You want to especially do this for the sugar to dissolve.
However, after you complete this, you’ll have to let the brine cool completely before adding the chicken or you could end up with a foodborne illness. So keep safe food handling practices in mind.
If you’d prefer to go with a dry brine, you’ll add all of the same ingredients to the brine excluding the water. Then be sure to rub it all over the chicken and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours while it marinades.
Finally, you’ll want to rinse the chicken and pat it completely dry so you don’t end up with soggy skin. If you skinned your chicken, then making sure that it is dry shouldn’t matter so much. Then you’ll prepare the chicken however you desire.
Here is one of my favorite brines. I’m a huge fan of soaking anything in buttermilk. I think it gives it a little extra flavor while also making the meat that much more tender.
2. Put Some Pressure On It
If you think you have a tough bird then add a little pressure to it. You’ll be surprised how fast it will loosen up. What I’m referring to is using a pressure cooker.
However, I first learned this when I was processing rabbit. I was really concerned about processing an older meat rabbit. I was worried that the meat was just going to be inedible.
Then one of my friends suggested I just canned the rabbit. That the process of canning and the time it sits on the shelf would certainly help it become more tender.
So I took her advice and was stunned. The rabbit came out so tender looking but when we went to eat it, I found my new way of preferring to eat rabbit. It tastes so good!
Which leads me back to chicken, if you have a tough bird, then put her in a can. You can pressure cook the chicken if you want to eat the bird right away. The time in there should help tenderize the meat.
However, if you aren’t in a hurry to eat the chicken, then can it and allow the meat to tenderize through the canning process and the time spent sitting in its juices. It should be a wonderful tender meat that will hopefully make great chicken salad.
3. Low and Slow…Cooker
If you’d like to eat your older chicken today, or if you froze the bird, then don’t worry. You can throw the chicken into a slow cooker with some fresh vegetables and some stock. Place the cooker on low and let the bird cook all day.
Plus, I love this method because then absolutely nothing goes to waste. If you left the bird whole, you can eat the meat off of the bone, then throw the veggie scraps and bones back in the crock pot on low and let it cook over night. In about 12 hours you will have a delicious stock.
4. Put That Oven On Low
If you don’t have a slow cooker or if you just prefer using an oven, then place the older bird in a roasting pan. I usually rub the chicken down with oil and then salt and pepper it.
Next, you’ll want to add some vegetables to the pot and then cook the bird on around 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit all day long. Be sure to keep an eye on your chicken since different ovens perform differently. Use a thermometer to determine when the chicken is done.
Recipes To Use An Older Chicken
1. The Slow Cooker Whole Chicken
This whole chicken looks absolutely delicious. You can see all of the wonderful spices all over it. It makes your mouth water just by looking at it.
Plus, this recipe would be great for an older bird because it is cooked in a slow cooker. This will definitely allow the meat to tenderize. You could also presoak the chicken in a brine to give it an even better flavor and an extra chance to tenderize.
2. Crock Pot Chicken And Dumplins’
I love chicken and dumplins’. The fact that this recipe allows this wonderful dish to be created in a slow cooker makes it even that much better.
So if you love this comfort food as much as I do, then you’ll probably want to check this recipe out. Plus, it would be a great way to incorporate your older chickens into a recipe. Not only does it get to cook in creamy soups, but it also gets cooked low and slow in a crock pot.
3. Slow Cooker Chicken And Gravy
I also love chicken and gravy. There is something very comforting about this dish. The fact that it can be thrown in a crock pot and cook all day makes it that much better.
Plus, it is also a great way to incorporate your older birds into the mix as well. Since it is a dish that includes gravy and a slow cooker, it gives the meat a greater chance at tenderizing.
4. Slow Cooker Hawaiian Chicken
I love sliders. They are a great way to change things up at the dinner table without complicating things.
So if you are in the mood for something simple (it’s cooked in a slow cooker so you know it’s simple), something different, and something that will allow you to utilize your older chickens while also tenderizing them, then you’ll want to check out this recipe.
5. Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup
I guess you can guess I’m a huge chicken fan. I love it because you can fix it in so many different ways. But I also love chicken noodle soup. I think it is a great classic that has lots of different variations.
So this variation is one that I love because it looks very fresh. It includes a lot of different vegetables that can be grown in your own backyard. Plus, it is done in a slow cooker which means you can incorporate an older bird into this recipe. It gives the chicken the opportunity to cook low and slow which obviously helps tenderize the meat.
Well, there you have it guys. I hope this helps you in figuring out what to do with your chickens that have gotten too old to lay or maybe even your chicken friends that are just too old to endure another winter.
But I’d love to hear from you. How do you all prepare your tough older birds? Do you have a favorite recipe that you use for your older birds? Do you have a preferred cooking method?