How tall is a chicken before and after it’s processed? The former is an interesting question for the sake of conversation, but the latter could have a real effect on your cooking plans. Let’s take a closer look.
How Tall is a Chicken?
Live chickens measure between 10 to 26 inches on average. Roosters are taller than hens, and may reach up to 3 feet in height, depending on the breed. The average hen measures 14 to 20 inches tall, but there may be smaller and larger specimens available. The chicken’s neck is about 5 inches long on average, so you can expect a dressed bird to be shorter.
Why It Matters
The height of a chicken plays an important role in the cooking process, whether you realize it or not.
After all, if the chicken is too large to fit on your grill or smoker, it won’t cook properly. That’s true especially if you need to close the lid while the chicken is cooking—and that’s often the case, even if the bird was spatchcocked beforehand.
This poses less of an issue if you’re using an indoor oven, but even then, you’ll need to make sure you have a pan or skillet large enough to fit the entire chicken. I’ve run into this problem once or twice myself.
How Tall is a Chicken on Average?
The answer depends on whether the bird in question is male or female. Roosters are slightly larger than hens, and that applies to their height as well as their weight.
Roosters are about 20 to 26 inches tall prior to butchering. Hens, meanwhile, typically measure 14 to 20 inches tall during their lifespans. You can expect some breeds to be much larger than others, hence the discrepancy.
Similar guidelines apply when it comes to weight. The average rooster weighs 13 to 15 pounds, while hens are close behind at 10 to 12 pounds. Again, these numbers represent their total weight while they’re still alive—a dressed chicken will weigh much less.
How Tall is a Dressed Chicken?
The term “dressed,” when applied to poultry, can be confusing. You might be picturing a bird that’s wearing a funny hat, or perhaps even a vest. But a dressed bird is actually a bird that’s been slaughtered, plucked, and prepared for cooking.
Since the chicken will still have its legs attached (if not the feet), it won’t be much shorter than it was when it was alive. The bulk of the weight loss will be due to the fact that it no longer has any feathers or internal organs.
However, the chicken’s neck will be removed as well. As the neck usually measures about 4 to 6 inches long, you can expect a dressed bird to measure 8 to 20 inches.
Again, the total height—or length—depends on breed as well as gender. Cornish game hens, for example, are small enough to be served one per person. By the time they make it to the butcher counter, they might measure just a few inches long.
Fryers vs. Roasters
You’ve probably seen chickens labeled as fryers, broilers, and roasters. What do these terms mean, and what’s the difference between them?
First of all, the terms refer to the recommended cooking technique. Since the flesh of younger birds is leaner and more tender, these chickens can cook more quickly over high heat than older ones.
The terms broiler and fryer are usually used interchangeably. Both can describe chickens that were slaughtered at around 7 weeks of age. These weigh in at 2-1/2 to 4-1/2 pounds on average.
Roasters, meanwhile, are older, so the meat benefits from a longer and slower cooking application. They’re between 8 to 12 weeks old at the time of slaughter, and are slightly larger as a result—about 5 to 8 pounds.
About Beer Can Chicken
Unless you have a very small unit, there’s a good chance your grill will provide enough space to accommodate a whole chicken. Beer can chicken, on the other hand, might present more of a challenge.
To make beer can chicken, you insert a half-full can of beer into the chicken’s body cavity, then position the bird on the grill as if it’s standing up. The steam from the beer is meant to provide flavor and moisture to the meat as it cooks.
There’s no need to stick to beer, either. If you’re not a beer drinker, or you’d rather not waste a perfectly good brew that way, you can use a can of cola or root beer instead. In fact, many grillers swear by these methods.
While the jury is out on whether this technique really makes a difference, one thing is for certain: You won’t be able to close the lid of the grill or smoker if the chicken is too tall. And if you can’t close the lid, the chicken won’t cook properly.
The takeaway? Make sure your grill’s lid provides enough space to accommodate the chicken you’ve bought. If the bird won’t fit inside the unit while it’s “standing up,” you’ll have to rethink your plans.
How To Make Beer Can Chicken
- 1 whole chicken (preferably a fryer or broiler, but a roaster could also work)
- 1 can beer of your choice
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 5-6 cloves raw garlic
- 3-4 sprigs fresh herbs (such as sage, rosemary, thyme, or a combination)
1. Preheat the grill. Aim for a cooking temperature of 350 degrees, or 325 if your unit tends to run hot.
2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and remove any giblets or packages that might be inside the cavity. Season the inside of the bird with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Insert the lemon and herbs into the chicken’s body cavity.
4. Empty half the beer from the can—feel free to do this by drinking it.
5. Place the garlic cloves in the beer can, then insert the open beer into the body cavity of the chicken.
Pro Tip: There are stands available that are designed to stabilize the bird while making beer can chicken. If you plan to do this on a regular basis, these are worth a look.
6. Rub the chicken with olive oil, or add a layer of cooking spray. Season with plenty of kosher salt and black pepper.
7. Carefully set the bird over the indirect-heat portion of the grill so that the legs are positioned over the cooking grate. Close the lid.
8. Let the bird cook for 1-1/2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the breast registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Make sure the grill or smoker temperature is holding steady at 325-350 degrees for the duration.
9. When the chicken has finished cooking, take it off the heat and set it on a rimmed baking sheet. Tent loosely with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
10. Carefully remove the beer can (and stand, if using). Carve and serve the chicken while it’s still warm.
Though chickens will lose some of their height when they’re butchered, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with how tall they are. Otherwise, you might find yourself stuck with a chicken that’s too big for your grill or smoker.