John Carlson: In Praise of Chicken Gizzards

Nothing’s prettier than a plump, tasty chicken gizzard. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonNothing’s prettier than a plump, tasty chicken gizzard. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Every now and then I get an overpowering urge to eat a food so deliciously down-home and wholesome, I just have to go out and chomp some.

By that, of course, I mean chicken gizzards.

No, no. Not livers. Can’t say I’ve ever been much of a chicken livers fan, though I know perfectly respectable people who love them, including some of America’s glitziest food junkies. But as with any dish, I always ask myself a simple question. Could I pull a chair up to a table and eat six or seven pounds of them in one sitting?

Livers? No way.

But gizzards? Mmmmmm. Not only could I eat six or seven pounds of gizzards at a sitting, if I then went and performed some extraordinary physical feat like, say, a sit-up, I could come back and eat a whole bunch more. This is because to us more common, lowly gourmands, chicken gizzards represent the stuff of life.

Even I will admit, though, that chicken gizzards taste a whole lot better if you don’t look up exactly what they are. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines them as “the muscular enlargement of the alimentary canal of birds that has unusually thick muscular walls and a tough horny lining for grinding the food, and when the crop is present, follows it and the proventriculus.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, though in deference to our more delicate, sexually uptight readers, I’d have probably scratched the word “horny” from the definition.

It’s when you start throwing out images of things like proventriculuses, however, that some folks lose their taste for gizzards. But if you’ve ever sat down with a styrofoam cup of gizzards, a pocketknife to slice open some packets of Texas Pete hot sauce, and a plastic fork to stab them with, you know what a treat they are. All that aforementioned musculature associated with gizzards becomes part of the joy of devouring them. You’ve got to use your teeth. That’s why you’ve never heard of anybody gumming a gizzard into submission. Biting through them creates a pleasantly firm level of contact I can only compare to the feel of a well-struck golf ball, not that I’ve felt that more than once or twice in my life.

Of course, the gizzards must be fresh.

Back when I was the food writer known hereabouts as the Chowhound, I ordered chicken gizzards in an otherwise decent restaurant that shall remain nameless. One bite and I’d have bet these gizzards had been in the freezer since the place opened in 1957. You’ve heard of petrified wood? It turned out these were petrified gizzards, prehistoric chicken parts of an age that could most accurately be determined by carbon dating.

Beats me what other places in Muncie serve chicken gizzards, if any. But I always head to Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken on Wheeling Avenue, arriving by noon to pluck ‘em at the peak of gizzard freshness. Having bought a small container and asked the friendly drive-thru person for extra hot sauce, I park my truck, crank up some George Jones or Merle Haggard on the CD player to set the mood, then commence eating.

I don’t know if Lee’s gizzards are deep fried or what, but they have a coating of breading that absorbs the hot sauce, thereby adding to their exquisiteness. And another thing. If they are good for your taste buds, they are also good for your personality, keeping you humble. Call it a simple food fact, but it’s hard to feel unreasonably uppity about yourself when you are moaning in ecstasy while eating chicken gizzards.

That’s not to say they aren’t hip, though. They are.

Back in the day, I used to work alongside a cool young person with whom, my being an uncool old person, I had virtually nothing in common. Yet, we had one thing. Love of chicken gizzards. With nothing but silence between us for hours on end, come lunchtime we would suddenly be moved to sing the praises of chicken gizzards and get all excited doing so. I’d talk about the ones I was planning to buy. Then she’d talk about how as a kid, her loving parents had cared enough to introduce her to the wonder of chicken gizzards.

And despite our differences, we both knew this to be true: Lordy, gizzards are good!


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.