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Poultry In America
The United States is the leading world producer and exporter of poultry products,
three-quarters of which represent chicken meat in various forms, the rest a combination of
eggs and turkey. The 2004 market was worth $29 billion. By weight, the production
represents 35 billion pounds of broiler chicken meat, 610 million pounds of turkey meat, and
70 billion eggs. According to the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, the average American
consumes just short of 60 pounds of chicken a year, double the level of just 20 years ago, and
greater than either pork or beef. Americans like turkey in many forms (nearly 18 pounds per
person per year, the highest level in the world), but chicken reigns supreme among edible
birds. Duck is widely available, but generally considered a luxury food.
While Minnesota ranks number one among American states in turkey production, the winner
in the chicken department is Georgia. Poultry makes up more than half the state’s total
agricultural income and employs over 100,000 people. California heads the list in organic
poultry production, accounting for about half the nation’s production.
Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Gold Kist are giants, controlling over 50% of the U.S.
poultry market. Perdue Farms, Sanderson Farms, Wayne Farms, Mountaire Farms, Foster
Farms, OK Foods, and Peco Foods round out the top ten poultry companies.
At the time of this writing the U.S. poultry industry had not been affected by worldwide
concerns about the spread of avian flu. American factory-type production methods, criticized
though they may be by animal rights and labor groups, are generally not conducive to the
spread of such viruses, though of course American birds are by no means immune.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a Food Safety and Inspection
Service that inspects all poultry produced in the United States. The safety inspection must be
completed before the poultry can be graded for quality. A safety inspection stamp is awarded
which must appear on the product’s packaging.
Because harmful bacteria can be present on poultry despite the best safety inspection
procedures, the USDA also requires a product label giving instructions for safe handling and
proper cooking of the poultry.
Once the safety inspection has been completed, the USDA, under another system and using
different stamps, grades the poultry in terms of quality. Grade A poultry is the only one of
the three quality grades that is usually seen at a retail store. Grades B and C are largely used
for further processing. The grading system applies not only to chicken and turkey, but also to
duck, goose, guinea hen and pigeon. The desirable food pigeons, aged less than one year, are
called “squab.” The best ducks are young “ducklings”.
Chicken and turkey meat commonly sold in the United States is classified generally as
“white” meat, from the breast or wings, or “dark” meat, from the thighs or drumsticks (legs).
Young chickens suitable for broiling, roasting, frying or barbecuing are labeled as “young
chicken,” “Rock Cornish game hen,” “broilers,” “fryers,” “roasters,” or “capons.” Older
birds, more suitable for stewing and soups, may be labeled as “mature chicken,” “hen,”
“fowl,” “stewing chicken,” or “baking chicken.”
In food markets, raw chickens are available whole, cut in pieces, in breast fillets, or in narrow
strips cut from breast filets called “tenders.”
Major American chicken-based restaurant chains include KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken),
Chick-fil-A, Boston Market, Bojangle’s, Church’s, El Pollo Loco, Golden Fried, Popeye’s,
Wingstop, and California Chicken Grill.
Of course chicken is prepared in almost any conceivable way in restaurants of all kinds, but
several distinct and popular types of American chicken include:
Turkey, in addition to being associated with the American feast Thanksgiving, is often served
sliced for sandwiches. Fried turkey legs are a popular snack at amusement parks and fairs.
Turkeys are most frequently baked, though real turkey devotees often claim that deep fried
turkey, which requires a special high capacity frying device, yields the tastiest results. Turkey
burgers are widely available in restaurants and food stores, and are somewhat more popular
than chicken burgers.
- Fried chicken: chicken pieces coated in a spiced batter and deep fried. Almost always
considered “fast-food.” Associated with the American south but consumed all over the
country. Available eat in or “to go” at restaurants, or at food markets (warm and ready-to-eat,
- Pan-Fried chicken: chicken pieces coated in spiced flour, breadcrumbs, or batter, often
with an initial coat of beaten egg. May be fast-food, but may also be gourmet; an Atlanta
restaurant soaks its chicken pieces in brine for 24 hours, then in buttermilk for another 24
hours, before lovingly pan frying. Associated with the American south.
- Broiled chicken: frequently broiled in some kind of rotisserie device that turns the bird
constantly for an even charring of the skin. The skin of the chicken is usually rubbed with
flavorings and spices: lemon herb, Italian garlic, barbecue flavoring. Available nationwide
whole or in pieces at restaurants and also hot at food markets.
- Barbecued chicken: the subject of debate, but according to purists a chicken rubbed with
or marinated in spices or sauce and slow cooked using indirect relatively low heat or smoke.
Associated with the American south, but available all over the country. Served with barbecue
- Grilled chicken: chicken pieces or breast filets, sometimes marinated, usually spiced in
some way, quickly grilled over a direct flame, often showing parallel or cross-hatched grill
marks, and served with barbecue sauce.
- Chicken wings also called “Buffalo” chicken wings (after the city in western New York
State where they first gained popularity): chicken wings, heavily spiced, often so spicy hot as
to earn sobriquets like “atomic,” “nuclear,” or “Chernobyl,” deep fried with or without
breading, with or without bones, and traditionally served with celery sticks and a blue cheese
sauce. A festive food suitable for parties, often consumed with beer, and associated with
American “bar food.”
- Chicken fingers, also called chicken tenders: strips of boneless chicken breast meat,
spiced, breaded and deep fried. Enjoyed as casual snacks or “bar food.”
- Chicken-fried chicken: a large, boneless chicken filet, pounded flat, spiced, battered and
deep fried. A derivative of “chicken-fried steak,” a term which simply means a pounded steak
filet fried like chicken. Both food items are associated with the American south and with
Texas in particular.
- Chicken pot pie: a thick stew of chicken pieces and vegetables baked in a flaky pastry
- Chicken soup: a rich soup consisting of chicken, vegetables, and seasonings frequently
made with the addition of either noodles or rice. Since chicken soup is said to be health
giving and is served to people with colds and other illnesses to help them get well, in popular
culture the term “chicken soup” acts as a metaphor for anything healing; a number of self-
help “chicken soup” guides to various aspects of life have become national bestsellers.
- Chicken fajitas: strips of boneless chicken, quick grilled with sliced onions and bell
peppers, served on a hot grill platter with common Mexican-American condiments like
guacamole (mashed avocado) pico de gallo (chopped tomato and onion), sour cream, shredded
cheddar cheese, and served with flour tortillas. Despite the Mexican name, chicken (and beef
or shrimp) fajitas are available in many American dinner restaurants.
- Delicatessen chicken salad: chopped white meat chicken mixed with diced onion and
mayonnaise, served in a sandwich or in a scoop in a salad platter; a partner of tuna salad.
- Restaurant chicken salad: generally refers to the common practice in dinner restaurants of
offering salads of various types with slices or chunks of grilled boneless chicken filet on top
or mixed in. The chicken may be marinated or variously flavored. Applebee’s, the country
largest chain dinner restaurant, offers, for example, Apple Walnut Chicken Salad, Grilled
Italian Caesar Salad, Oriental Chicken Salad (with almonds and rice noodles), and Santa Fe
Chicken Salad (with guacamole and tortilla strips).
- Chicken burgers, variously flavored, usually served on a soft bun as an alternate to
A “turducken” is a specialty dish, associated with the American south and the Louisiana
Cajun country in particular, that consists of a boned chicken stuffed into a boned duck which
is in turn stuffed into a turkey.
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