You have this week's upcoming meals carefully planned out, or maybe it's time to take a quick stop either at your local butcher, food market or grocery store and chicken is something you're looking for.
There is most usually a generous and sprawling section in these stores offering many different cuts, pieces, whole and even parts of the chicken that can often be intimidating. Which piece works best with what meal? How do I know if it's fresh? Where is this chicken coming from or being sourced from?
If you require some advice, tips, and tricks to get the most out of your meal planning and shopping, we are happy to help you decide how to choose good chicken for you and your family.
Learn What Good Chicken Looks Like
Many of us don't consider or don't even realize that good chicken also looks a certain way. Good chicken is supposed to have:
- Yellow tinted skin, no other color.
- Meat should be a light pinkish hue and natural-looking in both shape and cut.
- Should look plump and undamaged without dents or creases.
- Breasts should be very pale pink with very little fat.
- Dark meat should be dark pink with white fat.
Chicken should be odorless. You should not be able to smell anything outside or around the package, or when you get it home and open it. You should notice no smell what-so-ever with good chicken. If it smells, toss it immediately or do not buy it.
Carefully Read the Label
Reading the label on your chicken and understanding what the information can tell you will give you a surprising amount of information on the meat you're about to purchase. One excellent bit of information to look for on a chicken label is a halal stamp, regardless if you seek it out for religious reasons. Halal chickens are extremely fresh and always farmed humanely and responsibly. The other bit of crucial information is looking for the grass-fed label on chicken, rather than chicken that has lived eating corn or feed.
The more naturally raised, naturally fed, and naturally sustained a chicken is, the fresher, healthier, tastier, and better the meat is. Additional ingredients such as feed or something to process the chicken and get it to your store can result in some questionable cuts of meat.
It's always a good idea to give a good read through on the label of your chicken and any meat, before buying.
Fresh Means More Than That
Many labels claim their product is fresh. And while it may have been, many grocery stores have their chicken arrive frozen, then thaw it to be presented on shelves and many unwitting consumers take that once-frozen, thawed chicken home, and re-freeze it again. Freezing changes the entire flavor of fresh chicken and freezing it, then thawing it more than once makes a huge difference in taste.
Freezing can also change the texture of chicken meat. Make sure that you know whether or not the chicken has been pre-frozen and thawed before deciding to take it home to keep in your freezer. Chicken should only be frozen once to maintain succulent, tender, and tasty meat.
Free-Range Makes a Difference
Free-range is a popular choice among chefs all over the world and with good reason. Chicken that is labeled free-range according to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, are chickens that have been proven to the USDA to have free access to the outdoors. If you think about it in these terms: low stress and a good diet are healthy for us as humans, and the same goes for chickens.
Chickens kept in cramped, indoor cages without access to proper room or sunlight are often living under extreme stress and poor conditions. The more humanely raised and butchered the chicken, the more pristine their meat.
Many chefs insist that a free-range chicken simply tastes better overall.
Pasture-Raised is Not the Same
Don't confuse free-range for being the same as pasture-raised. Currently, the FDA does not regulate or have any regulations on chicken marked as pasture-raised. Be wary when you see any chicken touting this, as there is no real official definition of what this means. It's always best to make sure it is labeled free-range. "Farm-raised," is also unregulated and has no definition other than a chicken was raised on a farm. Which, technically, all chickens are.
We see meat labeled as hormone-free. In the case of all chicken and almost all pork, all of these types of meat, poultry included—should always be hormone-free, making this label redundant. The FDA has not approved the use of any hormones in raising any type of bird, or pigs, that will be used for food. This is most likely a marketing technique.
Antibiotics May Be Important
Antibiotics can be added to poultry, and you can choose to avoid them if you wish, many feel they should. "No Antibiotics added," can be placed on a label of chicken products so long as the farmer or producer can provide the proper documents proving this is true. There are yet to be stringent regulations set by the FDA about antibiotic use, so the decision to purchase or not purchase is wholly up to you at this time.
Check to see the wording on the label. Does it say certified organic, or simply organic? Certified organic means the chicken meat you are about to buy has met the qualifications the USDA set for organic products and thus, while simply labeling an item organic can mean many things but certified.
Certified organic can assist you in avoiding synthetic pesticides, sewage, genetic engineering, and many other issues while you can assist meat farms in sustainability and conservation.
Being certified organic, however, does involve a fee. You do pay more for certified organic chicken meat. The debate around whether the certified organic tastes better than the non-certified is a continued topic with some claiming it tastes better while others say there's no difference in taste.
A few more tips to ensure you know how to choose good chicken:
1. Chicken is graded. The USDA uses these for poultry: Grade A, B, and C. Look for grade A chicken meat. Grade A has no deformities, is well fleshed, has a generous layer of fat for good flavor, and there aren't issues such as feathers or hairs still attached to the skin.
- Don't skimp on dark meat either. Thighs, wings, legs are extremely flavorful and can make some of the most memorable chicken dishes.
- Don't be afraid to ask your butcher, local meat market or even your grocer any further questions you have about the chicken meat you are purchasing. They should be able to answer your questions about where the meat came from.
With all of this in mind, you should be fully prepared to make the perfect choice for your next cut of chicken for you or your family's next meal. Good food creates unforgettable memories of occasions, families, and friends. Wholey's is dedicated to helping you make the right choices with the highest quality service in the meat and food industry since 1912.