Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Best Way to Buy a Chicken

I am constantly trying to figure out how to stretch my "food dollar".  Honestly, it's not going very far these days.    It's even harder when you try to cook real, whole foods while sticking to a budget.  Some things are much more expensive then the "broken food" substitutes.  Raw milk cost 40% more than pasteurized.  Butter is like 250% more than margarine.  (Of course, the cost difference is nothing compared to the quality difference, which is why you should try to always use whole foods, even if they are more expensive.  They are far more nutritionally dense.)  

But, once in a while, a whole food shines through in the darkness and proves cheaper than the broken food.  Such is the case with the Whole Chicken.  

I'm sure you've seen this strange thing that actually resembles an animal in the grocery store and wondered what it was.  It resembles the turkey we eat at Thanksgiving.  But, it's smaller.  Yes, it is a chicken.  A whole chicken.  If you are lucky, there are even organ meats and giblets inside the cavity.  And, yes, you have to pull those bad boys out with your bare hands.  

The whole chicken is possibly the cheapest way to buy chicken.  A whole chicken is usually about $5 if you buy a regular one from the grocery store.  A pastured one will be more like $10.  If buying the whole chicken freaks you out, you can buy a cut-up whole chicken for only a little more.  Chicken breasts are going to cost twice the cost of a whole chicken per pound, at least.  Plus, they are far less nutritious than meat found in other parts of the chicken. 

Not only is the whole chicken inexpensive, it is also the most nutritious way to buy a chicken.  You have those organ meats included, if you'd like to eat them.  In addition to the meat, you have skin and bone, both very nutritious. 

It is also the most useful way to buy a chicken.  You can do so many things with a whole chicken.  You can roast it, grill it, fry it, slow cook it, make chicken stock, and I'm sure a many of other things.  

The most cost-effective way I've found to use a chicken is to make stock, then use the meat in another recipe.  Tonight, I used a $5 chicken to make about 3 quarts of stock and two meals worth of chicken.  Bone broth (chicken stock, among others) is ridiculously nutritious.  You really "milk" the entire chicken for all its nutrients. Specifically, it's rich in calcium.  Races that are especially sensitive to dairy traditionally consume large amounts of bone broth (particularly Asian cultures) as their source for dietary calcium.  

So, for $5, I can make a nutritionally rich base for soups and have two meals worth of meat.  Can't do much better than that! Plus, we're entering into soup season. 

To read more about chicken stock, bone broth, and to find out how to make your own, check out the Weston A. Price website.

1 comment:

  1. While you have a point about the stock...I've actually done the math on this issue and came out with a different result.

    I tested a 4lb whole young chicken (aka the fryer), and slow cooked it. I carefully picked all the meat off, and ended up with 1.25lbs of meat. That works out to a ratio of 1lb for every 3.2lbs of precooked weight.

    For boneless skinless chicken breasts, the ratio worked out to 1lb for every 1.33lbs of precooked weight.

    For chicken leg and thigh quarters (which you can still use to make stock from), the ratio worked out to be 1lb for every 1.9lbs of precooked weight.

    So you multiply the ratio amount by the price to get the price per cooked lb.

    Whole chicken: price x 3.2
    Boneless Breasts: price x 1.33
    Chicken leg and thigh quarters: price x 1.9

    I can consistently get the leg quarters for 79c a lb, and breasts for 1.99/lb, and without taking the stock into account, both work out to be vastly cheaper per cooked lb of meat than the whole fryers.

    I slow cooked all 3 for this projected btw, and the meat on poultry is known to have a 25% reduction when cooked, so that accounts for some of the lost weight in addition to the bones and skin.

    The leg quarters will still make a decent stock, and work out vastly cheaper over all, plus they are easier to freeze, store, and defrost than whole chickens are.