The Best Way to Cook an Old Chicken (Hint: in an electric pressure cooker!)

How to cook an old Chicken | Stewing Hen | Instant Pot Chicken Soup Bone Broth | Whole-Fed Homestead

For many homesteaders and farmers, chickens are more than backyard pets- they are meat and eggs to feed the family, or possibly a source of income. The reality of farming is that if a chicken isn’t producing or earning her keep, then she’s got to go.

They’re business, not something you name and let sit on your lap (oops!).

Or maybe you got stuck with a mean, nasty rooster. I’ve heard some horror stories! Being chased across your own yard by a flying ball of beak and spurs isn’t how anyone likes to spend their day…

One of the main goals of our homesteading venture is food production. And although I love animals, our main purpose behind having chickens and ducks is to raise them for eggs and meat. Somehow this is both the best and worst part of homesteading. I hate taking a life. It never gets easy… but as someone who has chosen to eat meat, I believe it is also my responsibility to be able to butcher and process that meat.

Knowing what went into raising a chicken, and honoring its life and sacrifice to nourish us, means we don’t waste a single morsel, including tough old bird meat (and the bones!). They don’t call them “stewing hens” for nothing. Because they take all day to cook and you can still end up with rubbery meat.

That is unless you pressure cook them! This is the magical answer for turning old hens into tender chicken dinner.

But I hate pressure cooking… honestly, it scares me and I’m not willing to walk more than a few steps away from the kitchen while I’ve got one on the stove, which ties me up for longer than I have to spare. Until I discovered the Instant Pot– an electric pressure cooker with a billion built-in safety features and a “set it and forget it” attitude. A pressure cooker that you can treat more like a slow cooker.

The perfect way to cook an old chicken, or ANY chicken for that matter!

If you raise your own meat birds, if you recycle your old laying hens every couple of years, or if you simply want a quick and easy way to cook chicken, even old birds- that makes them perfectly tender PLUS gives you incredible bone broth at the same time… then get yourself an Instant Pot.

And really, it’s so much more than a old-chicken cooker… It will turn the toughest (and therefore cheapest!) cuts of beef into fork-tender, juicy meat; it can cook a roast from frozen to fall-apart in a matter of a couple hours; and it is the ONLY way to make nourishing bone broth, as far as I am concerned. It makes applesauce in 10 minutes, cooks a baked potato in 15, and bakes a whole squash in 20 minutes.

Creamy chicken soup- How to Cook an old Chicken | Whole-Fed Homestead

The Instant Pot has become a new countertop staple for me. And I’m not being paid by the company to tell you this- I just love this machine. It has changed the way I cook, in the best possible way. And not having to heat the kitchen in the warm months, but still being able to make fall-apart pulled pork shoulder or perfectly cooked chicken is priceless.

How to Cook an Old Chicken in the Instant Pot

Overview: we want to cook the chicken until it is tender but not rubbery or mushy- this happens in a lot less time than it takes to make good broth. After we take the chicken off the bones, we return the bones and other bits to the pot with some aromatics for flavor and make the most incredible bone broth. Everything is cooked perfectly, and with very little effort.

Cut the chicken into quarters, or better yet break it down into the eight standard pieces: (2 of each) breasts, thighs, wings, drumsticks. (We cut up old hens before freezing them, so they are ready to go right out of the package after thawed). This doesn’t have to be perfect, or even pretty.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and whatever other herbs or spices you’d like. Arrange the chicken in the bottom of the metal pot and then pour in 2 cups of water. DO NOT FORGET THE WATER. Make sure your contents doesn’t exceed the max fill line- which you shouldn’t even be close to with one chicken…

How to Cook an old Chicken | Whole-Fed Homestead

Follow the instructions for securing the lid and making sure the venting system is correct. I always use the manual mode when using the Instant Pot… probably because I’m bossy and I like control, ha! Ahem, anyways… for an older, tough chicken, I find that 30 minutes seems to be the perfect amount of time for tenderizing the meat, but not turning it into mush. Set the Instant Pot for 30 minutes and go about your business.

Once the pot has finished cooking and depressurized, use a tongs to remove the chicken pieces into a glass or metal bowl (leave whatever liquid is left in the pot). When the chicken has cooled slightly, pick all the meat off the bones and return just the bones and skin to the pot. I find that the cartilage at the ends of the bones tends to come off with the meat and sort-of hide in it- make sure these parts get back into the pot too! Pick through the meat- any tendons, skin, or other piece you wouldn’t want to eat should go back into the pot!

To the pot add: 1 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 5 cups of water, 1/2 of a yellow onion, 2 celery stalks, 1 carrot (cut each of these veggies into a few pieces).
Add a couple chicken feet, if you’ve got them!

Place the cover back on the Instant Pot and use the manual mode again, setting it for 90 minutes. To get the most out of my chicken bones, I find that going through two 90-minute cycles gives the richest broth with the most healing (and flavorful properties). So as soon as the first 90 minutes is up and the pot beeps at you that it is done, press cancel and then set for 90 minutes again (no need to wait for it to depressurize between sessions).

(If you’re in a hurry, one 90 or 120-minute session is perfectly fine.)

When the second cooking is done and the pot has depressurized, unplug the pot and allow the broth to cool slightly. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass or metal bowl.

This amount of time will also make the bones disintegrate when you squeeze them… you can actually eat them this way, feed them to the animals or the garden. Hardly a single morsel of that chicken is wasted!

The Instant Pot has one other feature that I love- after it finishes cooking, it depressurizes and then automatically goes into “keep warm” mode for 10 hours. I will often start cooking my bone broth in the evening and try to have it finish about the time I am going to bed. Then it stays hot until the next morning when I turn it off, let it cool, and strain it.

You’ll never waste an old chicken or mean rooster again!

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Comments

  1. Sarah says

    I tried this with my CSA chicken, and can’t say the results are better than with my old slow cooker. Certainly no disintegrating bones.

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Disintegrating bones happens after you return the bones to the pot and go through two 90 minute cooking cycles for broth. Not just after cooking the meat.

  2. Jason says

    I tried this with and indeterminately old layer and after 30 min she was still pretty tough. I put her back in for another 15 and then she was rather stringy. Even the dark meat was difficult to separate from the bone. Any other thoughts as to what I can try? I have 2 more birds already butchered and prob another 6 to do. I need to find a way to make these girls palatable!!!

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Hi Jason- was it a huge chicken? Maybe it needed even a little more time. Maybe try pressure cooking one for 60 minutes and see what happens. I’ve never had a problem with it not falling right off the bone. You did remember to add the water, right?

      One thing I didn’t make clear in the post, which I will edit for, is that we don’t eat this chicken like a roasted chicken. It really is best in a preparation like soup, or casserole, chicken salad, bbq chopped chicken, etc… in something that you chop it up in small pieces for. Hope that helps!

  3. Debbie Starr says

    I’ve tried this with a 3 year old hen…yes, we seem to get attached to our orpingtons! Anyway, the first 30 minutes and while it was cooked, it wasn’t easy to get off the bone. I’ve got a freezer full of these, so will try cooking longer. Maybe
    on “med” pressure for an hour.

    • crystal@wholefedhomestead says

      Hi Debbie- I guess every chicken is a little different! I would maybe try 40-45 minutes under high pressure next time. The goal is to get it just tender and not go too far over into mush-territory. -Crystal

  4. D says

    Thanks for your recipe! I got a beautiful old bird from a local farm in upstate NY, Heather Ridge. My intuition told me the Instant Pot would be the way to go, so I started googling, and found my way to your site.

    Other sites I saw mentioned letting the bird “rest” in the fridge for a few days to let her tendons relax”–so I did that. Then I brined her for about 24 hours.

    From there I followed your recipe, and my meat was falling off the bone. I mixed the meat with some Pulled Chicken sauce I made, inspired by Paleo Mama and Nom Nom Paleo–the Internet has it’s bright side!

    It was delish, and now my bone broth is cooking away…his Hen has been properly honored!

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