With their bright orange color and meaty texture, chicken of the woods mushrooms are one of the most exciting edible mushrooms out there, and if you catch them at the right time they can be some of the best mushrooms you'll ever eat. They're a perfect wild mushroom for beginners, and something to look forward to every year.
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms (Laetiporus sulphureus) are a parasitic fungi that decays dead trees and causes a brown heart rot in living trees, making it both a parasitic and saprobic mushroom.
The fruiting body appears as a fan-shaped mushroom growing in large brackets on stumps, fallen logs, and the base of dead trees. They're widespread across North America, but also enjoyed around the world.
Famous as the mushroom that tastes like chicken, they're a great mushroom meat substitute in many dishes, making them perfect for using in vegetarian and vegan mushroom recipes. Some people like to treat them like crab or lobster.
They can grow to a massive size. In 2009 the Guinness Book of World Records listed a chicken mushroom found in United Kingdom weighing over 100 pounds.
Table of contents
Chicken of the Woods Species
As of this writing, there should be 7 species in North America. New varieties are identified around the world regularly, and there's at least 14 species identified in the world to date including L. xinjiangensis from China, L. cremeiporus, from Japan, and L. caribensis from the Carribean.
East Coast and Great Lakes
Laetiporus sulphureus is the type species, and are the best example of what a chicken mushroom will look like. It has yellow pores and grows on dead and dying hardwoods, especially oak, but can also grow on poplar, willow and locust.
Laetiporus cincinnatus or white-pored chickens often grow from the roots of oak trees in a basal rosette shape, but can grow directly from trees as well. Many foragers prefer their texture and bug resistance over yellow varieties. Unlike other chickens, it causes root or butt rot instead of heart rot. It has a peachy-orange color, and cream to white spores.
Laetiporus huroniensis is newer addition to the genus. L. huroniensis has pale yellow pores and grows on old-growth conifers in the northeastern U.S. and Upper Midwest. It's bright orange color is similar to L. sulphureus.
Laetiporus persicinus, or the white Chicken of the woods. L. persicinus is the only species to grow on hardwood and softwood. It has a white to pink-salmon cap that darkens to brown with age with white pores. It's found in the southeastern United States, Australia, Asia, and South America the Caribbean.
Laetiporus conifericola. A recently named species with a range from California to Alaska. It's preference for conifer trees like hemlock, spruce and fir set it apart from others in the genus. The caps are the classic bright orange to peach, and and has yellow pores.
Laetiporus gilbertsonii Grows on eucalyptus or oak and is found in the Southwest as well as the west coast. Some avoid it as it can cause allergic reactions for those sensitive to it. A cousin (L.gilbertsonii var. pallidus) has white pores and grows along the Gulf Coast.
Where to Find Chicken of the Woods
You can find sulphur shelf mushrooms anywhere a tree has been infected. In the Midwest, chicken of the woods season begins in late Spring, continuing through Fall. Each host tree has its own "clock" and they'll fruit at different times.
In Minnesota and Wisconsin I find them growing on red and white oak, but also cherry or beech are possible. On the west coast and up into Canada they grow on Coniferous trees.
Harvesting Chicken of the Woods (Video)
Finding chicken mushrooms is easy. Finding them at the perfect stage for eating is not. Young mushrooms harvested before the shelves form are the most tender.
To harvest, cut the tender portions of chicken mushroom off with a sharp knife. The mushrooms get tough and woody quickly as they grow, and the excitement of finding one can fool you into bringing home a tough, woody mushroom. If you find a large mushroom, trim off dirt from the base.
Fungus gnat larvae (Sciaridae and others) will infest the mushroom quickly. Some species are more prone to them than others. As you cut, inspect the mushroom for tunneling, keep cutting until you can't see any bug holes.
Store fresh chicken of the woods in a Zip Loc bag with a paper towel and they can last for a week in the fridge. Larvae are harmless, but they'll make your mushrooms go bad faster.
Chicken of the Woods Look Alikes
There are no real look alikes, and there's no false chicken of the woods. The mushroom most commonly confused with chickens are hen of the woods. The difference is easy to see: chicken mushrooms are orange or yellow and hen of the woods are brown.
Cooking Chicken of The Woods
Chickens can be substituted for chicken in any recipe, as well as other mushrooms after cutting into bite-sized pieces. They can be sauteed, breaded and fried, pickled, and cooked just about any way you could imagine.
- Always cook thoroughly, at least 5-10 minutes.
- Often only outer 1-2 inches of mushroom is edible.
- Very young mushrooms are the best, and the whole mushroom can be tender.
- Young mushrooms can be cooked in thick slices for mushroom steaks.
- Young chicken mushrooms can have a lemony taste, and pair well a little acid.
- To show off the mushrooms, saute them and put them on top of a dish.
Young mushrooms can be cooked in large pieces, older mushrooms must be trimmed. See below for examples.
Allergic Reactions to Chicken of The Woods
Chicken of the woods are edible, but some people have an allergic reaction no matter what species is eaten. Vomiting, nausea and diarrhea are the usual symptoms, but individual sensitivity varies. Another possible reaction is a numbing sensation in the lips after eating chicken of the woods.
Always eat a small amount of food that's new to you. Start by eating a small serving or 1-2 ounces of cooked mushroom.
How to Preserve Chicken of the Wood
The mushrooms can be dehydrated, pickled, or frozen. Pickling is a good option that keeps the fresh texture of mushrooms. Use my Pickled Chicken of the Woods recipe.
You can dry chicken of the woods but they become very tough. Use dehydrated chicken mushrooms for soup or roasted chicken or hen mushroom stock. You can also use them to make mushroom powder, but it isn't as good as mushrooms that are more tender.
How to Freeze Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms
Freezing is the best way to preserve these mushrooms. To freeze chicken of the woods, cook until wilted in butter and season with salt, portion into Zip Loc bags. Put the ziploc bags into a vacuum bag and then vacuum seal. Frozen mushrooms will keep for at least 6 months and often longer. You can also freeze them after making Wild Mushroom Duxelles.
Chicken of the Woods Recipes
I have lots of recipes on this site beyond what's shown below. See the link after the recipes to go to the archive.
Chicken Fried Chicken of the Woods
Crispy, golden brown mushrooms everyone will love are a fan favorite on this site.
Wild Chicken Mushroom Thai Red Curry
Mushrooms simmered in rich coconut milk sauce with kaffir lime and spices. Many different mushrooms can be used.
Sicilian Chicken of the Woods
In Italy the mushrooms are known as fungo de carrubo and grow from carob trees. They're traditionally simmered in a spicy tomato sauce, served with grilled bread.
More Chicken of the Woods Recipes
Yes, with caution. It's often recommended not to eat chicken of the woods growing on coniferous trees as they seem to be more prone to causing allergic reactions. My friends in Oregon avoid Laetiporus gilbertsonii growing on Eucalyptus, but, I have a friends in Alaska who harvest and eat chicken mushrooms growing on spruce and others.
It has been cultivated but it's for advanced mushroom growers. I tried using chicken mushroom spawn with no success.
You can buy the mushrooms occasionally at farmers markets but they're also sold commercially in season. The price of chicken of the woods is $10-20 / lb.
USDA: A new species of Laetiporus (Basidiomycota, Polyporales) from the Caribbean basin
MycoKeys: Phylogeny and taxonomy of Laetiporus (Basidiomycota, Polyporales) with descriptions of two new species from western China
Sounds yummy. I couldn't find your recipe for pickled Chicken of the Woods.
Hi! The recipe is up there, I double checked the links. search for pickled chicken of the woods in the search bar at the top of the homepage, If you have trouble I can copy paste it as well for you, if you like.
Ignorant question here: how do you eat the pickled chicken? Just can't "picture" the flavor...
Hi Jacob. Pickling is the best way to preserve chickens, hens, and chanterelles. The flavor is the same, but in a "pickle" form, meaning that it will be a bit sharp and vinegar-y. You can eat them cold out of the jar with a nice beer, or with a plate of cured meat and cheese. One of my favorite ways to enjoy them is to heat them up with a bit of chicken stock, cook it down a bit, whisk in some butter until the sauce is creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, then use it to garnish a piece of fish. Freezing mushrooms tends to destroy their texture a bit, pickling is, really the best way to go for the species I've mentioned if you want to preserve them. You can flavor the pickling liquid any way you want, but a little bit of herb, (not rosemary, it's too strong) and maybe a clove of garlic in the mix is the best imho. Thanks for your interest. A
Can you somehow encourage growth or "plant" them in your own space or property?
I have friends that have done it. What they did, was find a downed log on someone's property that makes chickens, drag it out of the woods and put it on a truck, then put the log in your backyard. Commercial cultivation hasn't been successful on a large scale-maybe in the future.
My family is big on mushroom hunting. Pickling, drying, frying, you name it. My uncle has actually written books about it, but I'm lost on chicken of the woods and what to do with this big beauty sitting in front of me that my neighbor picked. Web sites say I can't dry them, and that's what I'm used to doing. I'm lost! Help?
Indeed, chicken of the woods are not good for drying. My favorite way to preserve them is to pickle them, I have a recipe in this website under the chicken of the woods tab, located under "polypores". Freezing is not a great thing to do either, since they will become watery and stringy, not very appetizing at all. However, chickens could be made into duxelles and frozen, that would be great. From there the duxelles could be pulled out of the freezer and added to a sauce or gravy, that would be awesome. Plenty to do with them, Make sure to inspect thoroughly for bugs though, especially if it has been sitting for a while. I only use the soft, outer trim of the leaves. The inner portion is too tough to be good, especially in older specimens. Thanks for your interest. A
How long can you keep the chicken mushroom in the frig before eating it or pickeling it?
Just make sure it hasn't gone bad or is wilted/slimy. A week in the fridge should be fine.
After pickling can they still be fried in batter and butter? Just found a big mess of chicken of the woods morel hunting in MO. Thanks
Absolutely, thats what I do at the restaurant. Pickling a mushroom is the best way to preserve it's texture.
I like chicken of the woods but I don't Have any recipe on how to cook it .
Can you help!
I think I've found these in the woods near me but how do you know for certain? I don't want to get sick!
Buy a guide book. Do research. It's not rocket science.
I used to think the best way to eat a chicken of the woods mushroom was to pickle them. Pickling helps break down the chitin that gives them the tough, mealy texture. But I recently spotted a chicken of the woods as it was just forming. We've had very cold and wet weather and I allowed the mushroom to mature for 2 days. I sauteed on low heat with butter and the texture and flavor were excellent. It reminded me of a lion's mane mushroom but with a bit of lemon and the sent of wild rose flowers. Really, really great.
Young chickens are some seriously good eating.
Thanks for writing this! I recently foraged and enjoyed some moderately young (and uninfested) chicken of the woods (sulphureus).
I set aside the tough "center" pieces in the freezer until I had a chance to make broth. I added leek greens and a tiny amount of salt, brought it to a boil, then simmered for 30-40m. The broth is a pale orange, smells lovely, and holds some nice aspects of the mushroom's taste. Have you ever tried this?
Less is more with ingredients in mushroom broths. I have some chicken rinds from this year leftover, I’ll have to try.
So, I purchased chicken of the woods from the farmers market last year. The guy told me to soak them in very salty water before I cook them. I did. I had no idea that this was to draw out the insect larvae. I was so disgusted! Truth be told, though, I had spent so much money that I still ate it. ????♀️ I was very disturbed by the thought of the insects, but I fought through it telling myself that they all came out. The taste and texture was amazing! As a vegan, it is a wonderful chicken substitute. I have some property and I would like to learn to forage for mushrooms, myself. I'm very concerned about finding infested mushrooms, though. Will they only come up through the base of the cluster? Is this a sure fire way to determine if there are bugs? I will definitely soak them either way, to be sure.
Hi Jo. After seeing the larvae, you are now initiated into the mushroom lover's club. The good thing is....there won't always be larvae. Mushrooms, just like anything else in this world, are part of a food chain. The key to getting mushrooms with no bugs in them is just getting them while they're young, but it can be hard to tell if they're in there. To be extra cautious, you can cut only the young growing tip from the chickens, instead of cutting the whole clump, as that part is typically the last to be "inhabited". Some of the greatest meals of my life have been with young, tender chickens.
I like to can my hen of the woods but never tyrd chicken the hens stay fresh and dont get rubbery when canned
awesome article, thank you! I'm new to mushroom game and just found chicken of the woods, im 100% positive they are. They aren't as bright as when i first saw them but couldn't pick until a week or so later bc I was working. If they are a slightly darker color are they still edible? They are not slimy or black at all just a bit darker then most pics im seeing.. thank you!
A week is a long time, in chicken of the woods time. Some mushrooms will be ok outside for a week, like chanterelles, but not chickens. If you want to try a little bit, the outer 1/2 inch or so of the shelves *might* be ok, or it might be tough. If it's tough, or if it's got larvae in it, go back next year, or go find another fresh one--try going 2-3 days after a good rainstorm.
Do you have any idea how quickly (hours, days, weeks) it takes a chicken to go from emerging, to reaching decent harvesting size?
Go back and check in 2-3 days.
I just had my first experience here in Northern California, found on a big Oak log. I decided to go with chix nuggets! Simple breading with Panko and flour. Soo good! Excited to try other recipes.
I am new to mushroom foraging, and my daughter has requested to have chicken of the woods for her birthday in a few weeks. I am in Southern IL area and wondering if there are specific types to look for in this region or trees they typically grow on? Is summer a good time to hunt for these?
Summer is the best time to hunt for these. Go to woods with oak trees.
Heres what I do with the "Tough" part of the CotW...I try of course to find the youngness, but sometimes when you find them mainly the outer tips are still yummy. When I take if from the tree, I cut whole shelf of it off... Then, I thin slice the side closest to the tree . The knife has to go through with some element of ease. The, in a cast Iron skillet, I put a combo of olive oil and butter and have the pan pretty hot but not browning the butter...Add the thin slices of mushroom and sprinkle a bit of garlic salt and Alder Smoked Salt (Frontier) flip 'em and give them a minute or two....YUM! Like BACON! Crisp and flavorful and DELICIOUS!