What Gives Our Chicken and Turkey Meats Superior Flavor

We hear many compliments about our chicken and turkey meats. But the one that we hear the most is how good they taste. We all know that chickens and turkeys raised on pasture taste better than conventionally raised poultry raised in large chicken houses. The grass and other plants in the pasture are an important part of the flavor, but it was not until this past month that I found out something else that we are doing that significantly contributes to the flavor and health benefits of our chicken that is different than most other pasture-raised chickens.

Last month, Cathy and I and some of our children had the privilege of attending the Mother Earth News Fair at the Seven Springs Resort in Pennsylvania. One of the seminars that I attended was given by a professional butcher who understood the importance of grassfed meats and the science behind it. One of the things that he said was that muscles that have more activity are the meats that have the most flavor. Muscles that have had very little activity, such as beef tenderloin, are the most tender but also have the least amount of flavor.

He said that fat is what gives meat flavor. Muscles that are exercised more have small amounts of fat dispersed throughout the meat because the muscles need the fat stores for energy as they work. It is those small deposits of fat that gives those meats more flavor. Here in America, people have prized tender meats over flavorful meat. Tender meats are achieved by confinement rearing that limits the exercise of the animal or poultry. The result is that conventionally produced chicken, beef and other meats are usually lacking in flavor.

The thing that we are doing that is different than most pastured poultry producers that we allow our chickens to run. Most pastured poultry producers use the “Salatin pull pen” or “chicken tractor” method. It is a method in which 50 to 75 chickens are placed in a small 10 foot by 12 foot bottomless pen on pasture. The chickens probably get less exercise than what chickens do that are raised in large chicken houses because they are limited by the small confining space. I say that from my observations from working on a large confinement poultry operation when I was in college and from when we tried the “pull pen” method. In the large chicken houses, because they are not confined to a small 10′ by 12′ area, the meat birds can move about more.

Not only does the exercise give our chickens more flavor, but the fat that gives it flavor is a good fat. The fat is in a meat that has been able to get omega-3’s from the grass and store those omega-3’s in the fat. The exercise gives the chicken meat a more firm texture, but it is still tender and a good eating experience.

One of the keys to flavorful meats is animals that have been able to get plenty of exercise. In buying meat, ask the farmer how they raise the meat. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend among grassfed producers to move toward confinement on pasture such as mob grazing of beef. In mob grazing, a large number of animals are confined in a small paddock, such as 1/4 acre, on the pasture until all the grass is eaten or trampled into the ground. They are then moved to another small paddock. The cattle are moved three or more times a day, but they are confined in a small space 24/7. Mob grazing is supposed to do great things for the soil, but in my opinion, it is not humane to the animals.


Mob grazing 1000 head of cattle. There is approximately 1.2 million pounds of weight in cattle grazing this strip. http://mobgrazing.blogspot.com/2011_08_01_archive.html
Not all mob grazing is this intensive but the animals do have to be bunched in a “mob” with the equivalent of  200,000 plus pounds of animals per acre so that they consume most of the grass in a short period of time.

Butter Baked Chicken

6 leg quarters
1/2 cup butter, melted
Season salt
Onion powder
Garlic powder

Sprinkle the underside of each leg quarter with season salt, onion powder and garlic powder. Place skin side up in pan. Pour butter over leg quarters. Sprinkle with season salt, onion powder and garlic powder. Bake, uncovered, in 350 degree oven 1 1/2 hours.

Option: For Butter Chicken Lyonaise, slice potatoes and place in pan before putting the chicken in the pan. Top the sliced potatoes with onion slices. Sprinkle with salt. Top with chicken and proceed with the Butter Baked Chicken recipe.

International Poultry Producers Expo

In January, Cathy and I (Myron) attended the International Poultry Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a huge event with 28,000 attendees from all around the world. The Poultry Expo was located in two very large buildings and it took us an entire day to look at the exhibits in each building. Most of the expo was geared to the big poultry growers and processors, but not all of it. For us it was a very profitable trip. We were able to find some good products and suppliers as well as other helpful information to be able to provide you with even better eggs and chicken.

After we left to return to our motel, our first day at the Expo, we got caught in the snow storm that paralyzed Atlanta. Fortunately, our side of the highway was not blocked and we were able to make it back to the motel. At 9:00 pm there were still 99 school buses stuck in traffic. Some school children spent the entire night on their school buses! The second day we were not able to attend the Expo because the highway was still blocked with tractor trailers.


The International Poultry Expo, Atlanta, Georgia


This is a cage system for laying hens. Each cage is divided into about 4 cages which hold about 4 or 5 hens. This cage system is only four levels high.


This was a picture at the Expo showing the cage layer system with hens in it. It is how most grocery store, restaurant, and fast food eggs are produced. These cages are stacked five high. Each cage is only wide enough for 4 hens to be side by side. This is the way most hens live their entire life and shows part of the reason why we feel it is so important to provide our hens with a better living environment. As I look at this picture some of the descriptions that come to my mind are: “jail birds”, prison labor, and mechanical egg laying machines, as well as inhumane, heartless, and greedy.


The organic and pasture based farming movements are making an impact on society, and the big pharmaceutical companies are getting concerned. Two large poultry and animal pharmaceutical supply companies have launched a campaign to combat our influence with this fancy, expensive tractor trailer rig that they had at the Expo. Inside is a theater where they show movies knocking organic and pasture based farming, claiming that in order to feed the world we must use large confinement animal facilities (and of course their drugs and antibiotics).


Read the egg label carefully. It is not misspelled. We saw these eggs at a booth promoting pasteurizing eggs (similar to pasteurizing milk). Egg companies know that consumers want eggs that come from chickens on grass, not from chickens stuffed in small cages. They often design their egg cartons, like this one, in a deceptive way to give the impression that their chickens are happy hens that roam in the outdoors on grass.

Pulled Chicken

This recipe is a form of BBQ chicken, but has a unique flavor because of the orange juice and lots of cayenne pepper sauce. Yes, 1/3 cup is the right amount of hot sauce. Cayenne pepper sauce is a milder variety of hot sauce that adds tang and flavor, not just heat. If your chicken is large, just double the amount of sauce you prepare. This recipe is delicious served with mashed potatoes.

2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut into quarters
1/3 cup cayenne pepper sauce*
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

In a 5-quart Dutch oven or sauce pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and green pepper and cook until tender and browned, about 20 minutes. When vegetables are tender, add chicken quarters, cayenne pepper sauce, orange juice, brown sugar, ketchup, and vinegar. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 1 hour or until chicken is very tender.

With a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to large plate, cool slightly. Skim fat from sauce in Dutch oven. Remove meat from bones; discard bones and skin. With two forks, pull meat into large shreds. Return meat to Dutch oven. Cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat until heated through.

From Good Housekeeping Best Chicken Dishes.