Why Ina Garten Always Picks The Smallest Chicken From The Supermarket

If you're a fan of the TV show "Barefoot Contessa," you probably already know that when Ina Garten has to settle for store-bought ingredients, she has high standards. Her preferred butter is neither salted nor unsalted; instead, she told Food Network, her go-to is white truffle flavored. The cookbook author told Bon Appétit the only oatmeal brand she likes is imported from Ireland. And when it comes to chicken, unsurprisingly, Garten has a preference for that, too.

In an episode of "Cook Like a Pro," Garten shared that when shopping for chicken, she sticks to ones that are no more than five pounds. As someone who always seems to be hosting dinner parties, you'd think that Ina Garten would opt for a bird that's big enough to serve a crowd, but she prefers smaller ones because their meat is more tender and a lot easier to roast. Her famous engagement chicken recipe just wouldn't be the same if it were made with a bigger bird.

Are smaller chickens really more tender?

Heavier pigs may produce more tender pork, but the opposite is true for chickens — Ina Garten was right. As chickens age, they get larger, and their meat gets tougher and fattier. A chicken can technically be both young and large, but when that's the case, it's usually because it's a commercially raised chicken that's been bred to grow at a faster rate. These chickens, also called broiler chickens, produce more meat, but that meat (referred to as "woody chicken" according to the National Chicken Council) tends to be on the tougher side. Researchers told Today that faster-than-normal growth causes stress on the bird's body and likely leads to protein breakdown in its muscles.

The meat of a large chicken is still edible, but as Garten said, but on top of potentially being woody, it'll also present more difficulties when roasting. Bigger chickens take longer to cook all the way through and cook less evenly. Marinades don't penetrate the tough meat as well so chances are it'll be less flavorful. Starting out with a small chicken instead will make the cooking process a lot easier for you.

How to pick out the most tender chicken

If you're shopping for a whole chicken, all you have to do, per Ina Garten's advice, is look for the ones that weigh five pounds or less. However, if you're buying chicken that's already been sectioned, it might be harder to determine which ones will be the most tender. The most obvious approach is to pick out the thighs, drumsticks, or breasts that are visually smaller, but there are other indicators of tender chicken that you can look out for too.

Narrow it down by checking the label first. Organic chickens are normally smaller and therefore less likely to be woody. Woody chicken is also whiter in color, so look for chicken with pinker meat. Finally, woody chicken is tough even in its raw state, so try giving the chicken a poke through the package if you're not sure. The more tender the meat, the more plump it'll be. If it's hard to the touch, it may not do justice to your favorite Ina Garten recipe.

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