Courtesy of Jon V.
Chicken economics…. Chickenomics? Anyways, I recently came to the realization that I’ve been wasting money all these years. My meals during the week consist of a lot of grilled chicken breasts…. All the grilled chicken breasts. One day I went to the grocery store to refill my chicken cache and they were out of breast meat. What they did have was fryer chickens for $2.50. Heck yes! So I bought them all.
Then I got home. With 6 whole chickens….. that’s a lot of chicken. I could roast one!…. That’d last me about a week. What was I gonna do with all this chicken?! Google suggested I break down the chicken. Awesome! How do I do that? Google again. I happened upon this chef, Jacob Burton, carving up a raw chicken in less than 60 seconds. Here’s the link. Watch it, you’ll thank me.
Anyways, butchered up my chickens like a pro. And for 15 dollars I came away with a lot of chicken. It got me wondering if I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. So I did a little research.
According to the US Dept of Labor on average boneless chicken breast are about $3.27 a pound and legs (thigh and drumstick) are about $1.51. I had to do some digging to find wings. The National Chicken Council(yep, that’s a thing apparently) informed me that wings are about $1.78 a pound. Compare this to the price of a whole chicken, at about $1.46 a pound and it’s looking like I might be onto something
“But what about the weight of the bones and skin included in the price for the whole chicken?”, an astute reader might query. So I weighed out and averaged the yield from three fryer chickens. The carcass only accounted for about .9 lbs. 1.25 lbs was breast meat, 1 lb was leg and the remaining .35 lbs was wing. So for every 3.5 lbs whole chicken you’d get 2.6 lbs of meat. Not a bad deal.
Almost finished with the math, stay with me now. Gonna bring it home! So if we adjust the price per pound of a whole chicken taking into account the carcass weight. You’re looking at about $1.97 per pound. That $1.30 less per pound than if you were to buy just breast meat and $0.49 less per pound than if you were to buy the individual chicken pieces in the same proportion they are found on the bird. The average American eats 92.1 pounds a year (National Chicken Council again). So you’re looking at a savings of $45-$121/year per person. That number is a national average consumption, so weirdo outliers who don’t eat chicken are skewing the numbers to be small. If you’re a regular chicken eater you’re consumption can reach 2 or 3 times the calculated average.
So I think you’re starting to see the point. Lemme leave you with some of the other benefits you’ll notice when you become your own chicken butcher:

  1. You’ll be forced to start eating something other than breast meat. I didn’t start cooking with dark meat, other than the occasional wing or dozen, until recently. There really is so much more to the chicken. Many “wet cooking” methods favor the juicy collagen rich dark meat in the drumsticks and thighs. You also get a lot stronger flavor from these chicken parts. If you’re breaking down your own chicken, those parts will start to buildup quick so look up your favorite chef’s braised chicken thigh recipes, or maybe see how flavorful chicken soup is with dark meat.
  2. Don’t throw out that carcass! While it may not look too appetizing the chicken carcass is a valuable commodity. So before you throw it out consider breaking out a stockpot or pressure cooker and making your own homemade stock. Making stock is a simple process and it’s a good way to recycle your chicken carcass as well as any vegetable scraps you were gonna toss. There are different variations but the basics are chicken, bones, mirepoix (a mixture of onion, carrots and celery), peppercorns, and herbs. The veggies will be soaking in simmering water for a while so I roughly cut them up. My favorite method is to throw all the ingredients in a pressure cooker. Cook for about an hour at pressure. Remove from the heat and let the pressure dissipate on the highest setting. This usually takes about 2 hours. Then strain, throw in the refrigerator overnight so the fat solidifies. Remove the fat and then store for about 3 days in the fridge or a month in the freezer. If you want you can reserve the fat for cooking. It’s a great cooking medium for starches, like potatoes, rice, or chicken toast. If you want to get really fancy you can use it to confit some of those chicken parts you just butchered. You come out with a vastly superior chicken broth, full of chicken flavor.
  3. Self-sufficiency is awesome! Everyone needs a marketable skill in the zombie apocalypse/post-nuclear fallout/insert disaster here. You could be the guy/gal who knows how to butcher a chicken in 60 seconds…… Think about it.

Jon is an aspiring food scientist living in Germany. When he’s not cooking, reading about cooking, or thinking about cooking, he serves as an Officer in the US Air Force. With a BS in Biochemical Engineering, and an MS in Complementary Alternative Medicine, he hopes to continue his studies in the spring working towards an MS in Food Studies.

Kimberly connected with Jon through the Research Chef Association Forum. Join us.