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If you’ve ever spent time in the woods hunting for game or just taking a nice long hike, then you most likely already know that many people wear blaze orange to stay safe and be seen very easily. Unlike people, the chicken of the woods mushroom uses its bright orange colors to try to defer potential predators from eating it.

This popular mushroom is one that many amateur mycologists love to search for as its relatively easy to identify and can be seen from a long distance away. If you’re looking for more information on chicken of the woods, stay tuned and read on below to learn more about this mushroom and how you can find it.

 

What is Chicken of the Woods? 

Chicken of the woods is a polypore mushroom that typically appears across the continental United States from early June through early October. However, it’s important to note that this mushroom can occasionally show up as early as April and as late as November, depending on where your neck of the woods is. 

Chicken of the Woods has numerous different varieties and scientific names with the most prevalent two being the Yellow Pored Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus Sulphureus) and the White Pored Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus Cincinnatus). Just in case you’re curious, you can see examples of both mushrooms below.

The chicken of the woods mushroom is very popular among amateur mycologists as it is very easy to identify when compared to other mushrooms. By most people’s account, chicken of the woods is easily in the top 5 most sought after mushrooms in the United States.

The biggest question that you are most likely wondering however, is if you can eat chicken of the woods.

Are Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms Edible?

chicken of the woods on tree

Yes, but there’s a bit of a catch to how edible they really are. That’s because there are some occasions that you will not want to eat the Chicken of the Woods mushroom depending on where you find them and what condition they’re in when you harvest them. 

If they’re in the right condition and in the right place, congratulations, you’ve found a delicious wild edible mushroom that you’re sure to enjoy. Chicken of the Woods has a flavor profile and texture that tastes and feels so similar to chicken that many people are unable to tell the difference between the mushroom and the bird itself, unless you tell them your secret. 

Now that you know Chicken of the Woods is in fact edible, let’s talk about the times that you are going to want to avoid harvesting this blaze orange natural treat.

So, are Chicken of the Woods Poisonous?


There are some mushrooms like false morels that many people will eat but can be poisonous when consumed in too great of a quantity. However, this isn’t the case with Chicken of the Woods. Many people believe that this is the case however when people become sick from eating Chicken of the Woods, it’s normally for one of two reasons.
chicken of the foods on right side of tree

First, Chicken of the Woods found on cedar and locust trees should not be eaten as they’ve been known to cause stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea and painful stomach cramping in some cases. The severity of this can vary greatly between different individuals.

The second time that Chicken of the Woods should be avoided is when some of nature’s insect friends have already started enjoying a meal before you’ve had a chance to harvest them yourself. These mushrooms are known for becoming a meal and habitat for a variety of insects and worms. 

With that said, if you’re able to find these delightful treats, it’s important that you know how to properly consume them.

Can You Eat Chicken of the Woods Raw?

No, you should never eat this mushroom raw. This is for a few different reasons. First, the only known polypore that should be eaten raw is the Pheasant Back mushroom. This is because the enzymes in most polypore mushrooms will not break down properly during digestion without first being cooked. 

Second, as mentioned above, these mushrooms can often harbor insects, insect eggs and larva. So, while you may not see any insect activity on initial inspection, just imagine how it would feel to have larva crawling around after taking a bite.

So, since you can’t eat them raw, what’s the most common way to enjoy Chicken of the Woods?

Cooking Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms – A Beginner’s Guide

As is the case with many different mushroom species, there are a whole lot of different ways you can cook chicken of the Woods mushrooms. Everyone has their own unique favorite recipe based on their region, heritage and how they’ve enjoyed them in the past.

Chris has fixed thousands of batches of these mushrooms over the years and his preferred method that he claims is often the easiest for newcomers to the mushroom is to simply substitute the mushroom in place of actual chicken in a variety of different recipes with the simplest being a Chicken of the Woods alfredo. 

If you’d like to learn how to make Chris’ Chicken of the Woods Alfredo dish, take a minute to watch the video below.

More Delicious Ways to Prepare Chicken of the Woods

There are numerous other delicious recipes that you can incorporate these mushrooms into. Just a few you should consider that can be found for free online include:

If those recipes aren’t enough to keep your wild mushroom meals new and engaging, you can also find over 80 wild mushroom recipes including several more Chicken of the Woods recipes in Chris’ Mushroom Hunter’s Cookbook. 

There’s one key thing that you must do before you can ever worry about how you’re going to cook your mushrooms. That thing being the simple fact that you must first find a nice batch of them growing in the wild.

How to Find Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

To have the best luck hunting Chicken of the Woods, there are a few things that you need to consider before heading out into your local woods. First, you need to know when these delicious golden treats arrive. Second, you need to know where you should be looking to have the most success possible and finally, you need to make certain you’re harvesting the right kind of mushrooms.

Thankfully there aren’t too many other species in the woods that resemble Chickens, but more on that below. For now, let’s talk about when you can expect to find Chickens in your area.

Chicken of the Woods Season – When do they grow?

As mentioned earlier, Chicken of the Woods appears in most areas of the United States from early June through early October. However, they can come out earlier in certain areas and can also stick around for a bit longer in the south. 

In the deep southern areas of Florida and Louisiana, you can often find them growing during the winter from December through February. 

In the southern US, you can often find Chicken of the Woods starting in April, sporadically through the summer months and then a nice peak season in late October and early November. 

In the northern US, you can normally find them in May, sporadically through the summer, and then a peak season in September and early October. 

In the midwestern US, you can normally find them in April, sporadically through the summer, and then a peak season in September and early October. 

In the west and northwest, don’t expect to find them before August and they will often be in peak season through late September. Just remember not to gather them from cedar trees in the northwest as they often will grow on cedars but have been known to cause illness when eaten. 

Now that you know when you should be hunting these mushrooms in your area, let’s go over a general guide on where you may be able to find them.

Where do Chicken of the Woods Usually Grow?

Chicken of the Woods are parasitic and are found on dead or dying standing trees and can also be found on fallen trees and logs as well as at the base of living trees. While they can be found on a variety of tree species, there are a few trees where the mushroom is far more common. You can find more information on what trees to look for in the hunting tips below.

How to Identify Chicken of the Woods

Thankfully, this mushroom is considered one of the easier wild mushrooms to identify. This is primarily due to their bright colors and the fact that as polypore mushrooms, they DO NOT have gills on their bottom side. Instead of gills, you will find that they have pores on their underside. All species of this mushroom will leave a white spore print when collected. Also, these mushrooms normally grow in a shelf or rosette structure.

They will typically be orange on top and yellow or white on the bottom. There is also one species that grows solely in Florida that is orange on the bottom side. 

Below are several photographic examples of Chicken of the Woods that you can reference for positive identification. 

ALWAYS REMEMBER: If you’re unsure about any mushrooms identification, be certain to get it confirmed before consuming. The best way to do this is to first go on a guided mushroom foray. You can find guided forays in many areas locally, or sign up for one of our guided forays that Chris hosts all over the United States. If you’re already a member of the Morel Mushroom Hunting Club, you can text Chris directly for identification confirmation.

NOTE: The images below are in a slideshow. To see more images, please click the numbers below the slideshow.

Once you know how to successfully identify and cook Chicken of the Woods, you’re probably going to want to find as many as possible. Below are just a few great tips to help your harvest increase to an entirely new level. 

Hunting Tips to Find More Mushrooms

Below are just a few tips to help you increase your Chicken of the Woods yields time after time. 

  • Remember Where They Grow – Remember that Chicken of the Woods is always found growing on or at the base of dead or dying trees or on logs that have already fallen. You will never find them on the ground or in fields and other similar areas.
  • Remember Where You First Found Them – Chicken of the Woods will often return year after year. Also, if you find them in the spring, be sure to check back in the same place in the fall as they will often reappear once again. 
  • Get to Know Your Trees – Chicken of the Woods prefer dead or dying hardwood trees like oak, cherry or beech. While they can grow occasionally on ash and birch trees, they are most often found on oak. In the northwest, you can often find them growing on pine and fir, just be certain to avoid those growing on cedar. They can also be found on eucalyptus trees in California. 
  • Start Eating Slowly – While Chickens that are growing on locust and cedar are most commonly known for causing gastric distress, some people find that they are allergic to Chicken of the Woods and will experience symptoms of stomach upset, nausea, vomiting or swollen painful lips. Just start slowly until you’re certain you enjoy the taste and aren’t allergic to the mushroom.
  • Find Young Specimens – Chicken of the Woods become tough with age and have a better taste when harvested young. Look for smaller specimens for the best results. 

Once you start finding larger yields of Chicken of the Woods, it’s important that you know how to properly harvest them. Below is a quick video from Chris that will show you how to harvest Chicken of the Woods quickly and easily. 

What Hunting Equipment Should You Use to Harvest?

Some mushrooms, like morels, are best carried in mesh bags to allow for better spore distribution. Chicken of the Woods however, should be placed in a large basket or bucket bag to better transport the mushroom as one large rosette can weigh as much as 30 pounds. 

Additionally, it can be very challenging to harvest Chicken of the Woods with your hands. Because of this, you will need a large kitchen knife, a hunting knife, or a mushroom knife

This should be all you need aside from a comfortable pair of shoes to begin harvesting your own Chicken of the Woods mushrooms.

How to Clean Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

Once you have collected all the Chicken of the Woods you like, it’s time to get them home and prepare them for either cooking, as covered above, or storing. Either way, the first thing you’re going to need to do is to clean and cut your fresh harvest. 

To clean your Chicken of the Woods, just rinse them with cold water and NEVER soak them. This is because since they are a polypore mushroom, the pores in them will absorb the water, affecting taste and increasing preparation time significantly. You can use a brush to remove excess dirt, but Chicken of the Woods is normally a very clean mushroom already. 

After you have thoroughly cleaned them, it’s time to either store or cook them. For cooking tips, please see the recipe section above. For storage, you have a few options available.

What’s the Best Way to Store Chicken of the Woods?

While there are several different ways that you can store Chicken of the Woods, Chris recommends freezing them by slicing them into 1- or 2-inch strips and vacuum sealing them prior to freezing. Chris states this will allow your mushrooms to keep for up to 5 years and come out of the freezer tasting like you just picked them yesterday. There is no blanching or cooking necessary. 

Can You Freeze Chicken of the Woods? 

As mentioned above, not only can you freeze them, it’s the most recommended way to preserve the mushrooms. 

Can You Dry / Dehydrate Chicken of the Woods?

Yes, you can dry / dehydrate Chicken of the Woods, but there’s a bit of a catch to this method of preservation. Larger specimens should not be dried as they will often crumble and have a chalky texture when cooked which makes them almost non-edible. 

To successfully dry Chicken of the Woods, you must have very young, fresh specimens that are sliced very thinly and slowly dehydrated using a food dehydrator. Using this method, Chris has found that they do reconstitute well, especially when used in soups. 

Final Thoughts

We hope that you now have a far greater understanding about the Chicken of the Woods mushroom. Hopefully, you now feel confident going out to find your own. 

You should be able to not only identify them, but also clean, cook, preserve and share this wonderful golden treat from nature with those closest to you. 

Have You Ever Hunted Chicken of the Woods Before?

Have you had the opportunity to hunt or eat Chicken of the Woods? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Please take a moment to share your stories, photos and recipes in the comments area below and thanks for stopping by! 

Planning to Go on a Hunt?

Are you planning an upcoming hunt for Chicken of the Woods? If so, don’t forget to also be on the lookout for some other great mushrooms you may find along the way like:

  • Hen of the Woods
  • Lion’s Mane
  • Shrimp of the Woods
  • Giant Puffballs
  • Common Oysters and Golden Oysters
  • Shaggy Mane
  • Hedgehog
  • Lobster Mushrooms
  • Parasols

Always be certain that you know exactly what mushroom you’ve found before eating it. When in doubt, get confirmation from someone familiar with mushroom hunting. You can also check with others in your local area for guided mushroom hunts or sign up today for one of Chris’ guided edible mushroom forays where you can learn more about your own native edible mushroom species. 

Join the Club!

Are you ready to take your mushroom hunts to the next level? Are you tired of trying to find someone to help you identify the mushrooms you in the woods? If so, take a moment to sign up for the Morel Mushroom Hunting Club. By doing so, you can enjoy benefits like:

  • Mushroom Reports
  • Newsletters
  • Photos
  • Member Submitted Photos
  • Recipes
  • Mushroom Questions and Answers
  • Hunting Tips
  • Places to Hunt
  • Morel Species
  • Videos
  • Facebook Group
  • Identification Help: Text Chris directly with pics of your finds you need help identifying. Chris will respond within 24 hours!
  • … AND MORE! Check out the membership page for more information