Free-range eggs conjure up images of chickens ranging on a farm, happily grazing and picking out grubs from the ground. When chickens are happy, then their eggs are better as well. Free-range was how chickens were ranged since time immemorial until the 1920s when vitamins A and D were discovered and allowed chickens to be confined and production ramped up to a commercial level. The increased demand in healthier food and the demand for the more humane treatment of laying hens led to the resurgence of having chickens raised “free-range”.
Free Range Egg Trivia
- The term “free-range” is not strictly monitored by the USDA. To be labeled “free-range” an animal must have access to an outside area. That’s it, just access, it doesn’t mean that the animal is actually ranging.
- Free-range doesn’t mean that the hen wasn’t fed with GMO feed or wasn’t given antibiotics, it just means that the hens have access to the outside.
- Chickens are omnivores, this is why real free-range chickens have darker colored and creamier tasting yolks due to all of the grub and other tasty bugs they consume.
- Chickens may sometimes lay yolkless eggs when something disturbs her reproductive cycle when she’s laying an egg. These yolkless eggs are much smaller in size than regular eggs and are called “fairy eggs”.
Free Range Egg Buying Guide
Since the term “free-range” is regulated by the USDA, one might assume that free-range chickens are ranging around on their own. But this is actually not the case with large commercial egg producers with very crafty lawyers. Since the USDA guidelines only specify that free-range chickens need “continuous access to the outdoors during their productions cycle, which may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material” this doesn’t really mean that the chickens avail of the freedom that’s given to them. This will usually mean having a small entrance and exit in the laying facility, but being crowded and saturated with animals, the chickens will rarely exit the facility.
The guidelines don’t specify how much space is required or if the chickens are required to be outside. There isn’t even a guideline on how much space is allocated to the chickens to be considered free-range.
On top of the free-range eggs label, there must be a couple of other labels that come with it. And these are what we recommend that you look for when purchasing free-range eggs.
- “Certified Humane” – This is the bare minimum that you should be looking for when purchasing free-range eggs. Having the certified humane tag ensures that the chickens actually have more than enough space to move around and have better chances of the chickens actually ranging.
- “Pasture Raised” – While this isn’t a regulated term, pasture-raised in tandem with Certified Humane guarantees that each chicken has 108 square feet of personal space to roam around and actually be ranged.
Free Range Egg Production & Farming in Texas
When it comes to real free-range eggs and pasture-raised chicken eggs, only one large company has the certification and designation as Certified Humane. This company is Vital Farms, which is based out of Austin, Texas. This company works with hundreds of small farms and egg producers around Texas and the United States to bring true free-range eggs to homes and markets all around the state and the country.
For locally-produced eggs, you don’t need any fancy markings to know that these are real free-range eggs. Eggs in local specialty stores and farmers’ markets are guaranteed to be raised free-range since that’s the way chickens are raised in small farms (and less effort than caging them up if just producing eggs on a small scale).
If you’re not convinced that local farmsteads are producing true free-range eggs, you can always give them a visit. Not only can you check up on the real living conditions of the chickens, but you can grab some locally grown produce there as well.
Free-range eggs, being a product that’s seen as “natural” and higher-ticket, are usually packed in biodegradable egg cartons by sixes and the dozen.
Enjoying Free Range Eggs
Free-range eggs are the same as chicken eggs in all aspects, meaning they are consumed as regular eggs are consumed. There are hundreds of ways to enjoy free-range eggs but our favorite way to eat is any preparation that keeps the yolks runny so we can enjoy the richness of the yolk.
Store free-range eggs as you would regular eggs. Just remember that if they came refrigerated, then you should store them in the refrigerator. If they came at room temperature then store them at room temperature.
Tip: To check eggs for freshness before cooking, place them in a bowl of cold water. If the egg floats, get rid of it as it is no longer fresh.
How to Cook Emoji Eggs:
For those that don’t know what emoji eggs are, these are sunny side up eggs that are cartoonishly perfect. This means that there are no bubbles on the surface, it’s perfectly smooth and it looks like something that was sent from a cellphone. They taste just like any other sunny side up egg, except much, much smoother.
Heat up the pan on the lowest possible heat setting of your stove. Smear the butter all over the surface of the pan to coat it. There shouldn’t be any sizzling at this point. If it sizzles, then it’s already too hot.
Add the egg to the pan and continue to cook for four to five minutes at the lowest heat.
Remove from heat and serve!
Tip: Take a picture with the egg to complete its emoji-ness!