Chicken classifications often baffle consumers -- and understandably so. Even though the words on labels can easily be interpreted as cooking recommendations, their primary purpose is to indicate the age and weight of the bird at the time of slaughter. A small, whole chicken labeled "fryer-broiler" is fine for roasting, and a larger chicken labeled "roaster" can be cut up and cooked any way you like.
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Fryer vs. Roaster: USDA Classifications
On January 1, 2014, new regulations governing chicken classifications, set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, came into effect. These differ from the older regulations in place since the 1970s by reducing the age of birds at time of slaughter. Fryer chickens, also known as broilers and fryer-broilers, must be younger than 10 weeks and weigh less than 5 pounds. Under the old rules, roasters could be 3 to 5 months old. Now, they can be 8 to 12 weeks old at time of slaughter but ready-to-cook weight must be 5 pounds or more.
Under old USDA classifications, a greater potential difference existed between the taste and texture of fryer and roaster meat. Fryer meat, the source of most pre-packaged chicken parts, such as breasts and thighs, is tender, lending itself to quick, high-temperature cooking techniques such as broiling, frying or grilling. Since the change in regulations, roasters aren't necessarily tougher, but they are larger and therefore a better choice for slower cooking techniques at lower temperatures.