Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus

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With their bright orange color and meaty texture, chicken of the woods mushrooms are one of the most exciting edible mushrooms out there, and if you catch them at the right time they can be some of the best mushrooms you’ll ever eat. They’re a perfect wild mushroom for beginners, and something to look forward to every year.

chicken of the woods chicken mushroom laetiporus sulphureus

About

Chicken of the Woods mushrooms (Laetiporus sulphureus) are a parasitic fungi that decays dead trees and causes a brown heart rot in living trees, making it both a parasitic and saprobic mushroom.

The fruiting body appears as a fan-shaped mushroom growing in large brackets on stumps, fallen logs, and the base of dead trees. They’re widespread across North America, but also enjoyed around the world.

Chicken of the woods at everwood farm 4 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
The chicken of the forest.

Famous as the mushroom that tastes like chicken, they’re a great mushroom meat substitute in many dishes, making them perfect for using in vegetarian and vegan mushroom recipes. Some people like to treat them like crab or lobster.

They can grow to a massive size. In 2009 the Guinness Book of World Records listed a chicken mushroom found in United Kingdom weighing over 100 pounds.

An orange mushroom growing at the base of a tree.
White chickens are sometimes confused for an orange hen of the woods.

Chicken of the Woods Species

As of this writing, there should be 7 species in North America. New varieties are identified around the world regularly, and there’s at least 14 species identified in the world to date including L. xinjiangensis from China, L. cremeiporus, from Japan, and L. caribensis from the Carribean.

East Coast and Great Lakes

Laetiporus sulphureus is the type species, and are the best example of what a chicken mushroom will look like. It has yellow pores and grows on dead and dying hardwoods, especially oak, but can also grow on poplar, willow and locust.

Chicken of the woods 16 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Chicken of the woods 2022 6 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Chicken of the woods 26 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
L. sulphureus.

Laetiporus cincinnatus or white-pored chickens often grow from the roots of oak trees in a basal rosette shape, but can grow directly from trees as well. Many foragers prefer their texture and bug resistance over yellow varieties. Unlike other chickens, it causes root or butt rot instead of heart rot. It has a peachy-orange color, and cream to white spores.

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Chicken of the woods mushroom or laetiporus cincinnatus
Chicken mushroom laetiporus cincinnatus
White pore surface of a Laetiporus cincinnatus
L. cincinnatus.

Laetiporus huroniensis is newer addition to the genus. L. huroniensis has pale yellow pores and grows on old-growth conifers in the northeastern U.S. and Upper Midwest. It’s bright orange color is similar to L. sulphureus.

Laetiporus persicinus, or the white Chicken of the woods. L. persicinus is the only species to grow on hardwood and softwood. It has a white to pink-salmon cap that darkens to brown with age with white pores. It’s found in the southeastern United States, Australia, Asia, and South America the Caribbean.

West Coast

Laetiporus conifericola. A recently named species with a range from California to Alaska. It’s preference for conifer trees like hemlock, spruce and fir set it apart from others in the genus. The caps are the classic bright orange to peach, and and has yellow pores.

Chicken of the woods 4 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
L. conifercola.

Laetiporus gilbertsonii Grows on eucalyptus or oak and is found in the Southwest as well as the west coast. Some avoid it as it can cause allergic reactions for those sensitive to it. A cousin (L.gilbertsonii var. pallidus) has white pores and grows along the Gulf Coast.

Laetiporus gilbertsonii. Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
L. Gilbertsonii.

Where to Find Chicken of the Woods

You can find sulphur shelf mushrooms anywhere a tree has been infected. In the Midwest, chicken of the woods season begins in late Spring, continuing through Fall. Each host tree has its own “clock” and they’ll fruit at different times.

Chicken of the Woods 1 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus

In Minnesota and Wisconsin I find them growing on red and white oak, but also cherry or beech are possible. On the west coast and up into Canada they grow on Coniferous trees.

chicken of the woods minnesota

Harvesting Chicken of the Woods (Video)

Finding chicken mushrooms is easy. Finding them at the perfect stage for eating is not. Young mushrooms harvested before the shelves form are the most tender.

baby chicken of the woods Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
chicken of the woods minnesota
Chicken of the Woods 2 1 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Stages of growth: perfect, middle aged, and too old.

To harvest, cut the tender portions of chicken mushroom off with a sharp knife. The mushrooms get tough and woody quickly as they grow, and the excitement of finding one can fool you into bringing home a tough, woody mushroom. If you find a large mushroom, trim off dirt from the base.

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Chicken fried chicken of the woods Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus

Mushroom Bugs

Fungus gnat larvae (Sciaridae and others) will infest the mushroom quickly. Some species are more prone to them than others. As you cut, inspect the mushroom for tunneling, keep cutting until you can’t see any bug holes.

Chicken of the woods 5 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Very fresh, young mushrooms may bleed yellow juice when cut

Store fresh chicken of the woods in a Zip Loc bag with a paper towel and they can last for a week in the fridge. Larvae are harmless, but they’ll make your mushrooms go bad faster.

Chicken of the woods 2 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Chicken of the woods Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Mushrooms covered with flies will contain maggots/larvae.

Chicken of the Woods Look Alikes

There are no real look alikes, and there’s no false chicken of the woods. The mushroom most commonly confused with chickens are hen of the woods. The difference is easy to see: chicken mushrooms are orange or yellow and hen of the woods are brown.

Chicken of the woods vs hen of the woods 1 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Chicken of the Woods vs Hen of The Woods

Cooking Chicken of The Woods

Chickens can be substituted for chicken in any recipe, as well as other mushrooms after cutting into bite-sized pieces. They can be sauteed, breaded and fried, pickled, and cooked just about any way you could imagine.

Cooking Tips

  • Always cook thoroughly, at least 5-10 minutes.
  • Often only outer 1-2 inches of mushroom is edible.
  • Very young mushrooms are the best, and the whole mushroom can be tender.
  • Young mushrooms can be cooked in thick slices for mushroom steaks.
  • Young chicken mushrooms can have a lemony taste, and pair well a little acid.
  • To show off the mushrooms, saute them and put them on top of a dish.

Young mushrooms can be cooked in large pieces, older mushrooms must be trimmed. See below for examples.

Young Mushrooms

Perfect chicken of the woods 22 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
chicken of the woods steaks 3 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
chicken of the woods steaks 2 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Young mushrooms may not need trimming.

Older Mushrooms

White Chicken of the woods 6 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Chicken of the woods 2 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
White Chicken of the woods 12 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus
Only use the tender edges of older mushrooms. Save woody parts for stock.

Allergic Reactions to Chicken of The Woods

Chicken of the woods are edible, but some people have an allergic reaction no matter what species is eaten. Vomiting, nausea and diarrhea are the usual symptoms, but individual sensitivity varies. Another possible reaction is a numbing sensation in the lips after eating chicken of the woods.

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Always eat a small amount of food that’s new to you. Start by eating a small serving or 1-2 ounces of cooked mushroom.

How to Preserve Chicken of the Wood

The mushrooms can be dehydrated, pickled, or frozen. Pickling is a good option that keeps the fresh texture of mushrooms. Use my Pickled Chicken of the Woods recipe.

pickled chicken of the woods

You can dry chicken of the woods but they become very tough. Use dehydrated chicken mushrooms for soup or roasted chicken or hen mushroom stock. You can also use them to make mushroom powder, but it isn’t as good as mushrooms that are more tender.

Roasted Chicken of the woods stock 9 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus

How to Freeze Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

Freezing is the best way to preserve these mushrooms. To freeze chicken of the woods, cook until wilted in butter and season with salt, portion into Zip Loc bags. Put the ziploc bags into a vacuum bag and then vacuum seal. Frozen mushrooms will keep for at least 6 months and often longer. You can also freeze them after making Wild Mushroom Duxelles.

Frozen chicken of the woods Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: The Laetiporus

Chicken of the Woods Recipes

I have lots of recipes on this site beyond what’s shown below. See the link after the recipes to go to the archive.

Chicken Fried Chicken of the Woods

Crispy, golden brown mushrooms everyone will love are a fan favorite on this site.

Chicken Fried Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

Wild Chicken Mushroom Thai Red Curry

Mushrooms simmered in rich coconut milk sauce with kaffir lime and spices. Many different mushrooms can be used.

chicken of the woods or sulphur shelf thai red curry

Sicilian Chicken of the Woods

In Italy the mushrooms are known as fungo de carrubo and grow from carob trees. They’re traditionally simmered in a spicy tomato sauce, served with grilled bread.

Italian chicken of the woods mushroomrecipe

More Chicken of the Woods Recipes

FAQ

References

USDA: A new species of Laetiporus (Basidiomycota, Polyporales) from the Caribbean basin

MycoKeys: Phylogeny and taxonomy of Laetiporus (Basidiomycota, Polyporales) with descriptions of two new species from western China

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>