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. There's no need to soak the mushrooms in salt water.
Chicken of the Woods Look Alikes
Despite the rumors there's no false chicken of the woods, surprisingly the mushroom most often 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.
But, it is possible for beginning foragers to confuse Laetiporus with Omphalotus. Also known as the jack-o-lantern, these are poisonous orange mushrooms that also grow in clusters on trees and stumps.
Thankfully you can easily tell the two apart as jack-o-lanterns have gills instead of pores. If you can tell the difference between an orange and an apple you'll be fine.
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.
Older Chicken of the Woods
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.
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.