In this article, you’ll discover how to find, identify, grow, and cook chicken of the woods mushrooms.
Video below: a gorgeous chicken of the woods mushroom growing on an old oak tree in a residential neighborhood in Mt. Pleasant, SC. This is a Laetiporus sulphureus, a chicken of the woods subspecies that grows above ground on the sides of standing trees/stumps. As you’ll learn about in this article, other chicken subspecies grow out of underground tree roots.
*Note: Above video showing chicken of the woods mushrooms may not display or play if you run ad-blocking software – sorry! Temporarily disable and refresh to view.
Chicken of the woods mushrooms – the mushroom with the taste and texture of actual chicken
Each summer in late July, we drive by one of our trusty chicken of the woods mushroom spots that has produced huge mushrooms at the same time each of the past 10+ summers.
Bingo! Peering at us from the base of a large, dying oak tree another large, orange/white-colored chicken of the woods will inevitably show up within the same general time period each summer.
In case you’ve never heard of them, chicken of the woods mushrooms are gourmet fungi with the same taste and texture as chicken. Yes, seriously!
Do chicken of the woods mushrooms really taste like chicken?
Yes, once cooked, tender young parts of chicken of the woods mushrooms really do taste shockingly similar to chicken (meat) and even have a chicken-like texture.
Sure, there are a bunch of unusual or exotic meats that people say “taste like chicken,” but there aren’t a lot of mushrooms that fall into that category. Just so you know we’re not full of it, we conducted a little experiment…
We served some breaded, fried chicken of the woods “chicken fingers” to a few friends and asked them to guess what they were eating…
Drum roll… they all thought they were eating really good chicken fingers—from a bird, not a mushroom. When we told them they were eating mushrooms, they couldn’t believe it.
We had to pull out our phone to show them pictures and descriptions to prove the point. (Don’t worry: our “chicken fingers” chicken of the woods recipe is below.)
So, next time someone tells you they “don’t like mushrooms,” ask them if they like chicken. If they say “yes,” then there is at least one mushroom out there they’ll probably like.
Next we’re going to detail: a) how to find & identify chicken of the woods, b) how to grow them, and c) how to cook them.
Part 1: How to find & identify chicken of the woods mushrooms
Now, let’s dive into how to find and identify chicken of the woods mushrooms…
Before we get any further, a quick warning: you should never eat a wild mushroom or plant unless you are 100% certain you’ve identified it correctly. There are plenty of mushrooms and plants that will kill you or make you very sick, and no meal is worth dying for.
(Please read our article Beginner’s Guide to Foraging: 12 Rules to Follow to make sure you’re foraging safely and responsibly.)
With that out of the way, let’s talk about how you can identify chicken of the woods mushrooms…
There are multiple subspecies of chicken of the woods mushrooms
According to mycologist Tom Volk, there are at least six different subspecies of mushrooms that can be found under the common name “chicken of the woods.”
These subspecies can be identified based upon:
- pore color (yellow, white, salmon)
- position on tree (on standing tree/log or emerging from the soil out of underground roots)
- growth form (overlapping shelves or rosettes)
- geographical location (West Coast, East of Great Plains, etc)
- tree species (oak, eucalyptus, etc)
ALL species of chicken of the woods are edible (*with one small caveat) and taste great, but some are better tasting than others. Caveat: some chicken of the woods species can grow on eucalyptus, yew, cedar, and other trees that contain compounds poisonous to humans – so only eat chicken of the woods growing on hardwood/deciduous trees to be safe.
Our trusty spot about one mile from our home produces Laetiporus cincinnatus, a chicken variety that is considered by many to have the best flavor and texture of them all – or at least be a tie with Laetiporus sulphureus.
How to identify chicken of the woods mushrooms: a 4-step checklist
While chicken of the woods is a relatively easy mushroom to identify, be mindful that you should always exercise extreme discretion when you’re new to foraging wild foods, mushrooms included. As mentioned above, there are plenty of poisonous mushroom varieties.
Here are four steps to identify a chicken of the woods mushroom:
1. Time of year:
Like plants, mushrooms fruit in specific seasons. Chicken of the woods mushrooms only fruit in the summer through early fall.
2. Tree type & growing area:
Chicken of the woods usually grow on oak trees, but we’ve also seen them on cherry, beech, poplar, and other hardwoods.
As mentioned above, there are some chicken species that can grow on eucalyptus, yew, cedar, and other trees that contain compounds poisonous to humans. It’s not advisable to eat chicken of the woods growing on any tree species other than hardwoods since the fungi uptake compounds from those tree species that could cause you GI distress or worse.
You’ll always find chicken of the woods growing on trees, stumps, or roots of dead or sick/dying trees. Some species grow out of the above-ground portions of the trees, and some grow out of the base or roots.
You’ll never find chicken of the woods out in an open field or growing on anything that is not a sick, dead, or dying tree.
3. Cap & pore surface characteristics:
a. Regardless of the subspecies, chicken of the woods mushrooms are always varying shades of orange/peach on the top (often streaked), and either light yellow or white on the underside/pore surface.
b. Chicken of the woods does NOT have gills on the underside. Instead they have tiny pores, where the spores are released.
c. Unlike the familiar cap & stem mushroom shape that we’re all used to from cartoons, chicken of the woods mushrooms do NOT have stems. Instead, they either form large composite brackets or individual shelves.
4. Spore print
Chicken of the woods mushrooms have a white spore print.
To take a spore print, place one of the mushroom brackets pore-side-down on a glass surface or plate. After a few hours, enough spores will have been released to see their color.
You can often get a spore print simply by looking on the ground or wood underneath where the mushroom is growing in the wild.
Chicken of the woods nutrition profile
According to a 2017 analysis published in the journal Pharmacogn 100 gm (dry weight) of chicken of the woods has the following nutritional breakdown:
- 15 gm protein
- 70.9 gm carbohydrates
- 2.1 gm fat
- 5.8 gm ash (“ash” refers to the total quantity of vitamins and minerals in a food substance)
- 5.8 gm fiber
*Note: This study analyzed Laetiporus sulphureus.
As the study details, chicken of the woods (and other mushrooms) make an excellent protein source, while providing a wide range of beneficial micronutrients as well.
Although each variety of mushroom has a unique nutrient profile, the New York Times points out that mushrooms in general:
“contain a modest amount of fiber and over a dozen minerals and vitamins, including copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc and a number of B vitamins such as folate. Mushrooms are also high in antioxidants like selenium and glutathione, or GSH, substances believed to protect cells from damage and reduce chronic disease and inflammation.
Some studies suggest mushrooms are the richest dietary source of another antioxidant called ergothioneine, or ERGO, which is also present in large amounts in red beans, oat bran and liver. ERGO and other antioxidants are primarily concentrated in the caps, not the stems.”
Part 2: How to grow your own chicken of the woods mushrooms
As we’ve written about in our article 6 gourmet & medicinal mushrooms you can easily grow in your garden, chicken of the woods is one of the top gourmet mushrooms we recommend people grow at home in their own “mushroom gardens.”
Here’s how to grow your own chicken of the woods mushrooms:
1. Plan ahead and only use freshly cut hardwood.
First, plan ahead. Do you have access to freshly cut hardwood logs or a newly cut hardwood tree stump? (Don’t use softwoods/conifers.) You’ll want to use wood that’s either just been felled or hasn’t been dead for more than a few weeks.
The longer a log or cut stump sits, the more likely that other fungal spores will have landed on it and begun to colonize it, which means more competition for your chicken of the woods spawn.
2. Get tools.
Here are all the tools you’ll need to inoculate your logs with chicken of the woods spawn:
- a multi-purpose 5/16″ drill bit to drill holes;
- beeswax or cheese wax to plug the holes once you’ve put spawn in (canning wax isn’t ideal because it becomes really brittle and will likely fall off);
- a hammer to tap the spawn dowels into place;
3. Order spawn.
You can buy chicken of the woods spawn plugs here. See instructions on Amazon to determine how many spawn plugs you need to buy based on the amount of wood/logs you have.
When in doubt, get more spawn plugs than you think you need. You can always store extra mushroom plugs in your fridge for up to a few months while you find more fresh logs.
4. Inoculate your logs.
Drill holes, insert & tap in spawn plugs, then cover each finished hole with melted wax. You can melt your wax on a stovetop in a cheap aluminum pie tin and apply it to the plugged hole using a paint brush.
You don’t want to inoculate mushroom logs during the middle of freezing temps. Ideally, you still have at least a month ahead with no freezing temps on the forecast to ensure your chicken of the woods colony gets a nice jump start.
5. Position your logs and wait.
Put your finished logs outdoors into a full shade spot and wait. If you don’t get rain once per week during the warm months, deeply water your logs with a sprayer to keep the chicken of the woods mycelium inside happy and growing.
How long does it take chicken of the woods logs to make mushrooms?
It may take 6 months or more for the first fruiting, depending on what month you started your logs (chicken of the woods won’t fruit until summer).
After that, you should get mushrooms each summer for 3-5 years depending on how large your logs are. Once the mushroom runs out of food (lignin in the wood), they’re done.
When you see small chicken of the woods mushrooms starting to fruit on your logs, prop the logs upright against a railing, wall or other structure. This allows them to grow larger unimpeded, and also keeps them from growing into the dirt.
It’s important that you keep the logs shaded and well-watered while they’re fruiting to ensure the largest, softest chicken of the woods mushrooms possible.
It’s up to you to determine when to cut them off of the log. We recommend not waiting more than a week. It’s a balance between size and tenderness.
How much are chicken of the woods mushrooms worth? How much do they cost?
Thinking about selling some of your chicken of the woods? Chefs/restaurants will buy gourmet mushrooms for anywhere between $12 – $25 per pound (or higher for unique species). Chickens fetch the higher end of that range, around $20 per pound.
If you happen to find them selling at a retail grocery store/co-op, you can probably expect to pay $25/lb or higher.
Part 3: How to cook & eat chicken of the woods mushrooms
Now that you have your chicken of the woods mushrooms, it’s time to eat!
Our favorite way to eat chicken of the woods is lightly fried into chicken fingers (see recipe below) and dipped into homemade honey mustard. They’re also excellent as a chicken substitute in Asian stir-fry, chicken parmesan, or any other recipe that calls for chicken.
Chicken of the woods remains firm and surprisingly meat-like when cooked, so no substitution math required. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of actual chicken meat, simply use 1 cup of chicken of the woods mushrooms instead.
Can you eat chicken of the woods raw?
As mushroom expert Paul Stamets details, it’s not a good idea to eat any mushroom raw.
For starters, cooking mushrooms breaks down the chitin in their cell walls, making their nutrients available and also making the mushroom more easily digestible. Cooking also kills any potential pathogens and breaks down heat-sensitive toxins in the mushroom.
Can you be allergic to chicken of the woods mushrooms?
Yes. People can be allergic to virtually anything, including chicken of the woods mushrooms.
The first time you eat chicken of the woods or any new food, only eat a small amount before going all-in… And make sure you cook it well first!
How long will chicken of the woods last?
We’ve had chicken of the woods last for over 4 weeks in ziplock bags in our refrigerator’s veggie drawer.
Can you freeze chicken of the woods?
If you find them growing under perfect conditions on a large tree or log, you can harvest huge quantities of chicken of the woods. If you have more than you can possibly eat or store in the fridge, chop your chicken into pieces that will fit in freezer bags, then stick them into the freezer.
They freeze quite well and freezing doesn’t seem to negatively impact their flavor or texture.
You can also dehydrate chicken of the woods, but we recommend freezing as the best long-term storage method to preserve the best flavor and texture.
Recipe: Fried chicken of the woods mushrooms “chicken fingers”
Now for our favorite chicken of the woods recipe…
Fried chicken of the woods mushrooms "chicken fingers"
You won't believe you're eating mushrooms instead of chicken with this simple fried chicken of the woods mushroom "chicken fingers" recipe! Enjoy them dipped in honey mustard or the topping/sauce of your choice.
- 1 cup flour organic all purpose for frying mix + 1/2 cup for dredging your mushrooms (explained in instructions) (you can also use a whole wheat flour such as organic white whole wheat)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine ground sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika + 1/2 teaspoon regular paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- dash of chili powder
- dash of fresh ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 large egg we use duck eggs
- 1/3 cup milk we use organic whole or raw milk
- enough organic sunflower oil or other frying oil to cover your mushrooms in whatever pan you're using we use a flat-bottomed wok
- 1 lb Chicken of the Woods cut into desired sized chuncks
Chop mushrooms into the desirable sized chunks. We quarter or half them into the size of traditional chicken fingers but you can make nugget-sized pieces instead.
Put 1/2 cup of flour in a medium sized bowl. This is your "dredging" bowl. You'll want to get a light dusting of flower on the entire outer surface of each mushroom before you dip them in the milk/egg mixture.
Add your egg and milk into another mixing bowl, and whisk together. You'll dip your dredged mushrooms into your egg/milk mixture before placing them in your frying mix.
Prepare your frying mix by putting all dry ingredients (flour, spices, etc) into a large bowl. Whisk them together until evenly blended. Once your mushrooms have been: 1) dredged, and 2) dipped in your egg/milk mixture, you'll drop them into the big bowl of dry ingredients and coat them evenly.
Once uniformly covered with fry mix, shake off any extra fry mix. We like to place them on a drying rack on top of a cookie sheet until we're ready to put them in the fryer (you can just use a plate if you'd prefer).
Heat your cooking oil. Each stovetop heats differently, but we turn ours to about 4.5. You'll know your oil is hot enough when you drop a bit of flour in and it starts sizzling.
Go ahead and get a drying/cooling sheet ready before you start frying your mushrooms. We like to use a cookie sheet with a drying rack on top.
Next start frying your mushrooms to golden-brown and crispy perfection, turning each piece over after a couple of minutes. It should only take about 4-5 minutes to cook each mushroom if the oil is in the ideal temperature range.
Allow them to cool for a few minutes, then serve with your favorite chicken finger dip! Our favorites include homemade Honey Mustard (made from honey from our neighbor's bees) or a good BBQ sauce.
Happy growing, foraging, and eating thanks to chicken of the woods mushrooms!
More fun fungi articles you might enjoy:
- How to identify and use chanterelle mushrooms
- 6 gourmet and medicinal mushrooms you can easily grow in your garden
- Where, when, and how to find morel mushrooms
- How to find and prepare maitake mushrooms
- Step by step: how to grow shiitake mushrooms
- A delicious indigo milkcap recipe
- How to find, ID, and eat hedgehog mushrooms