As with all types of livestock, chicken breed does indeed affect meat taste and texture.
In my book, Sheep Success, I showed several examples of very popular breeds of sheep whose flavor is often so inedible that it has turned off most prospective lamb buyers entirely. They won’t buy any lamb!
The same goes for beef and pork – some breeds have way more “beefy” flavor than others, and in Japan, where they take things like meat flavor very seriously, the uncrossed Berkshire alone out of the American imports is allowed to be labeled as prime-quality pork.
Experts’ opinions on the most delicious chicken breed
There have indeed been studies on the “most delicious” chicken breeds, but nothing recent. Modern commercial poultry growers can’t afford to consider taste, because the vast majority of buyers have repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to pay extra for better flavor in any type of meat. This doesn’t mean that such a market doesn’t exist – it’s just a “niche” that only the smaller farms can afford to cultivate.
Eminent poultry authority George Kennedy Geyelin, writing from England in 1865, observed that the French La Flêches’ weak constitutions suited them only to the most southerly states. He considered the game fowls (Old English Games and Cornish) and the Scottish breed known as the “Dumpies” or “Scotch Bakies” (in France as “Courtespattes”) as the most superior chicken breeds for the table in all respects.
The ancient Roman writer Columella (10 to 40 A.D.), in his detailed description of the then-favorite Roman chicken meat breed, so closely portrayed the modern Dorking chicken breed that it is quite generally supposed that this very old breed was introduced to Britain by Julius Ceasar. It is heavily fleshed with fine fibered and delicious meat, and fattens quickly, although is not quite as hardy as more common chicken breeds.
M.G. Kains (author of the famous book Five Acres & Independence) writing about 1909, considered the Wyandotte to be the best of the dual purpose chicken breeds for table qualities, but also praises the Houdans.
My own experience is that the hardy game-cock breeds are not only the best for greater quantity of white meat, but also have an excellent flavor. This can be said also of the Dorkings, but since neither of these poultry breeds chicken breeds lays a lot of eggs, reproduction is slow. I also think the Wyandotte is the best eating chicken of the dual purpose breeds, but their eggs are a bit smaller than other breeds like Rhode Island Reds.
Although the flighty little chicken breeds like Leghorns and Hamburgs are quite small, their white meat development is pretty good, most likely owing to flight-muscle development.
The really big chickens breeds, like the Jersey Giant, the Brahma chicken, and Cochin are eventually going to grow to be real “oven stuffers.” I’ve read of instances of these chicken breeds approaching nearly 20 lbs when caponized! They take a long time to grow through, and at first are practically all skin and bones. They consume a greater amount of feed per finished pound of gain, and remember, remember, flesh from older birds usually isn’t as fine-grained or as tender as young birds.
Which brings up another point. I know some folks discourage caponizing or castration, but it really is the gourmet meat raiser’s best tool. Caponized males never get as tough as hens or cocks, and they grow bigger than either.
Capons can make “mothers” for brooding young chicks and were at one time generally used this way in France. The capon was gotten drunk towards nightfall, with a half-glass of wine poured down his throat, and while asleep, some of the feathers were pulled from the breast. The little newly-hatched peeps were placed under them, and on awakening the next morning, the capons rapidly developed an affinity for them, due mostly to the fact that the denuded part is kept warm by the chicks. It is said that they made better mothers than hens.
It’s important for homesteaders and small chicken farmers to realize that chicken breed does indeed make a big difference in flavor and meat texture. It’s silly to raise your own meat if it’s only going to be as palatable as store-brought.
Originally published in 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.