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Chickens serve as one of the most common meats in the world, and are frequently prepared as food in a large number of ways. There is significant variation in cooking methods amongst cultures; historically common methods include roasting, baking, and frying. Today, chickens are also cooked by deep frying and prepared as fast food such as chicken nuggets. Modern varieties of chicken, such as the Cornish Cross, are bred specifically for meat production, with an emphasis placed on the ratio of feed to meat produced by the animal.
Chickens raised specifically for meat are called broilers. In the United States, broilers are typically butchered at a young age. Modern Cornish Cross hybrids, for example, are butchered as early as 8 weeks for fryers and 12 weeks for roasting birds. Typically, the muscle tissue (breast, legs, thigh, etc), livers, and gizzard are processed for food. Chicken feet are less commonly eaten. The head, internal organs such as the lungs and intestines, and feathers are typically discarded or ground into a protein meal for inclusion in other animal feeds.
Chicken eggs, produced by pullets and laying hens, are also very commonly eaten. The chicken egg is the most commonly eaten bird egg in the world. Hens may lay fertile or infertile eggs. Hens will continue to lay even if a rooster is not present, though these will not be viable. There is no difference in the nutritional value between a fertilized and unfertilized egg. As with meat chickens, modern breeding results in birds that can produce significantly more eggs, focusing on feed to egg conversion ratios. Modern egg chickens are typically derived from the early Leghorn varieties. When the egg is laid, the egg is soft, then hardening into a shell. This shell protects the eggs contents, making it a foodsource that is easily transported and stored. Nutritionally, the egg provides a rich source of protein and vitamins. Recent concerns over cholesterol, however, have caused many to question the inclusion of eggs in the diet.
Some chicken breeds are raised for both meat and egg production. Typically heavy breeds, these are primarily grown by small farmers or hobbyists. These include breeds such as the Wyandotte, Brahma, or Barred Rock.
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