The Essential Guide to
Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods, also known as COW, is one of the most common mushroom foraging finds in the United States. It makes for an excellent first edible mushroom for a foraging beginner and is an incredible meat alternative.

Chicken of the Woods is almost exclusively found in the wild, as it’s difficult to cultivate. This makes it a valuable delicacy that’s usually hard to find for purchase.

With a little care and attention, Chicken of the Woods is an excellent and delicious addition to any dish, and today we’ll show you how!

Chicken of the Woods identification

The three primary Chicken of the Woods mushroom variants, Laetiporus Sulphureus, Laetiporus Cincinnatus, and Laetiporus Conifericola are all relatively easy to spot and identify. The latter, Laeitporus Conifericola, only grows on dead and dying conifers and should not be eaten. Some foragers prefer the two former over the Conifericola variety. Any Chickens growing on any hardwood species, such as Oak, are great to eat!

All Laetiporus mushrooms are what is known as bracket fungi, meaning they are uniformly made up of a series of semi circular fan shaped growths with a wavy edge to the cap.

The color of the chicken of the woods ranges from a bright sulphureous yellow, which is where it gets its other name, the sulphur cap, from, down to a deep orange with peach colored edges.

Chicken of the Woods mushrooms don’t have gills. Instead, the underside of the cap, also known as the fertile surface, is covered with tiny pores. The texture of the Chicken of the Woods is soft and thick when young and brittle and crumbly when old. The ideal time to consume this mushroom is when it is younger and more vibrant in appearance and texture.

A young, tender Chicken of the Woods flushing at the base of a hardwood tree. Notice the whiter/pinkish shade of this particular species. (Laetiporus cincinnatus)
A young Chicken of the Woods growing on a dying tree. Notice the yellow underside. (Laetiporus sulphureus)

Chicken of the Woods look-alikes

There are two primary look-alikes for the Chicken of the Woods, including: 

Velvet-Top Fungus

The mushroom most commonly confused with the Chicken of the Woods is the Velvet-Top Fungus, as some of the younger Velvet-Top mushrooms turn a pale yellow. 

While the Velvet-Top is not poisonous, it is unpleasant to eat.

The best way to tell a Velvet-Top from a Chicken of the Woods is that the Velvet-Top will go noticeably brown towards the center of the cap, while the Chicken of the Woods will remain uniformly yellow or orange.

An inedible Velvet-Top mushroom that is commonly confused with Chicken of the Woods.

Jack-O-Lantern mushroom

Despite the similarities in coloring, the poisonous Jack-O-Lantern mushroom is actually quite easy to tell apart from the Chicken of the Woods. 

Firstly, the Jack-O-Lantern has a clearly circular shape, instead of the fan shape of the Chicken of the Woods. 

Secondly, the Chicken of the Woods does not have gills and the Jack-O-Lantern does.

In addition to not picking one of these common look-alikes for the Chicken of the Wood, it is best to avoid Chicken of the Woods growing on coniferous trees and Eucalyptus trees. 

This is because the mushroom absorbs some of the chemical properties of the tree, which can lead to stomach upsets when consumed.

A toxic Jack O Lantern mushroom growing at the base of a hardwood.

Where to find Chicken of the Woods

One of the great benefits of the Chicken of the Woods is that it is so wide spread and easy to find. Laetiporus mushrooms can be found in North America, Canada, Europe and some parts of Asia. 

They are most commonly seen during their fruiting season during fall, but can be found anywhere between June to December.

The most common habitat for Chicken of the Woods mushrooms is on standing or fallen oak trees, but they can be found growing on nearly any dead or dying hardwood tree. Again, any COW found on dead or dying conifers should be left alone due to the potential risk of gastric upset.

What does Chicken of the Woods taste like?

Young Chicken of the Woods mushrooms have a distinctly meat-like texture and mild meaty flavor that is somewhat similar to chicken or white crab meat. 

The mushroom is occasionally accused of having an acrid taste, but this is usually down to inexperienced foragers eating old mushrooms that are well past their prime.

Fresh Chicken of the Woods is an absolute delight, though (and favorite of Foraged co-founder Jack)!

Where to buy Chicken of the Woods?

Foraged Market is the perfect place to buy Chicken of the Woods mushrooms. Basically the Etsy of mushrooms, Foraged connects mushroom and wild food lovers with small-scale farmers, foragers, and food artisans.

Our certified foragers and boutique producers are the best place to find Chicken of the Woods for sale at the best Chicken of the Woods price.

Cooking Chicken of the Woods

All varieties of Chicken of the Woods need to be cooked before eating. 

While the COW available on Foraged are always of the highest quality, here are some tips for preparing and cooking COW you’ve foraged yourself:

We recommend you thoroughly check them for insects before eating them. 

Because of their thick and fleshy caps, grubs have been known to burrow into them without leaving much sign that they are there. Slicing them into thin strips before cooking and examining them for little tunnels is the best way to check.

You also want to prioritize young firm mushrooms over the more brittle, older ones. Because of its flavor and texture, Chicken of the Woods makes for an excellent vegan alternative to actual chicken.

Recipes with Chickens of the Woods Mushrooms

If you’re wondering how to cook Chickens of the Woods mushrooms, we’ve gathered together three of the best Chickens of the Woods recipes, so you can get the best from this versatile and tasty fungus. 

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