Why Chicken Soup Isn't Made By Simply Boiling A Whole Chicken

Whether you're at home sick or stuck on the couch on a rainy day, there is something inherently comforting about chicken soup. The warm aroma, the tender veggies. Maybe it's got homey noodles or soothing rice in it. Either way, that steaming bowl is enough to make you smile. And while there are dozens of ways you can vary the recipe, the base remains the same, you need good quality chicken broth.

While it's possible to make a simple chicken soup with pre-made rotisserie chicken, you might argue that the best flavor and nutritional value come from making your own stock. This way you control what goes in and what you're putting into your bowl and body.

One of the easiest ways to make your own broth is by boiling a chicken carcass, but did you know that you can also make a rich chicken bone broth by boiling a whole raw chicken (per Bon Appétit)? You absolutely can, but there are a few caveats.

Chicken 101

While it might seem like you could simply toss a whole chicken into a pot of simmering water with veggies and have it dissolve into a soup after a while, the honest-to-goodness truth is that you have to finesse a whole chicken a bit to turn it into a rich and delicious soup.

First, it's important to understand that different parts of the chicken cook for different amounts of time. So if you want all the meat to be tender, then you need to know your chicken cooking basics. According to the Chicken Farmers of Canada, different parts of the chicken cook at different times. Boneless chicken breasts roast between 35 and 45 minutes to come up to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, while bone-in chicken legs roast for about 40 to 55 minutes to come up to temperature. 

In fact, Chatelaine notes that this is because of fat content and density. However, the breast muscle fibers are far more delicate than that of the legs, so if you're simmering a chicken long enough to cook the legs, the breasts will have overcooked and dried out (per Bon Appétit). By the same token, if you cook the breasts to perfection then the legs will be undercooked. Keep in mind, it's never a good idea to eat undercooked chicken, as you risk food-borne illness, so what's a soup cook to do?

Finessing the chicken

Now, if you want to make a chicken soup by cooking an entire chicken you'll want to do a little bit of butchering part way through your cooking process, according to the experts at Bon Appétit.

Since the cooked internal temperature for chicken breasts is 165 degrees (per the Chicken Farmers of Canada), Bon Appetit suggests you pull the chicken out of the water when the breasts have come up to 155 degrees Fahrenheit, which is in between 20 and 25 minutes. Pull the breasts off the bone and set the meat aside. Eventually, you'll shred it and add it back into the pot. Next, the rest of the carcass (legs, thighs, and wings) goes back into the stock and simmers for the rest of its cook time, which is about 40 minutes. At that point, the meat is cooked through, and the stock is made.

The rest of the meat is taken off the bone and shredded and will eventually be added to the stock with the shredded breast meat and veggies to make a rich chicken soup. Now you know the trick to make a rich, healthy chicken soup from a whole chicken without drying out the meat. Next time you're under the weather or stuck inside due to bad weather, you can make a perfectly soothing satisfying batch of chicken soup from scratch.