When we go to the grocery store to buy chicken, many of us have a certain cut in mind. The legs, thighs, wings, or breasts. These pieces are more familiar and easier to manage for individuals and small families, and they’re quick to cook. But when you consider animal ethics, food waste, and your budget, buying and eating a whole chicken is actually the kindest—and smartest—choice.
If you buy a four-pack of chicken breasts, the pieces come from a variety of birds. So what happens to the rest of the animal? Are all cuts being sold, especially if they’re not as desirable? Our country relies so much on breasts in particular, many birds are raised with the goal of yielding larger pieces of breast meat; this is where some questionable farming processes come into play. This doesn’t mean you should never buy breast meat, it just means you should be mindful of quantity and quality. Not unlike the controversy over cultivation of animals solely for their fur, ivory, or other coveted features, the kindest and least-wasteful mindset is one that makes use of as many parts of the bird as possible.
Let’s focus on the concept of “whole foods.” It’s about eating food in its original form with all of its parts in tact, because our bodies can assimilate the nutrients when the whole animal or vegetable is consumed. So eating a combination of dark, light, and even organ meat is ideal for our health.
It may seem like a pound of chicken breasts or thighs is far more affordable than a whole chicken. But consider this: a pound of chicken will feed four people ¼ cup of meat each, and then it’s done. A whole chicken (3 to 3.5 pounds) can usually feed anywhere from four to six people. Even the leftover bones can be used to make a nutritious stock for sipping, or for another meal, like chicken soup.
Prefer organic? A recent cost comparison on the Fresh Direct food delivery website showed organic chicken breasts ranging from $10.99 to $12.99 per pound. Organic boneless thighs were advertised $8.69 per pound. And, surprisingly, the whole organic chicken was $5.59 per pound. That’s a significant savings!
Cooking a whole chicken can seem intimidating or time-consuming at first. But once you get the hang of it and learn some simple shortcuts, making it is easier than you imagined.
1. Oven Roasted: Roasting is the most common technique, and easy-peasy. Just rinse and pat dry. Season and roast in a preheated 400°F oven until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. This may take up to 1½ hours, so plan accordingly.
2. Pressure Cooker: A pressure cooker reduces the cooking time by a lot! Pop the whole chicken into your pressure cooker with some liquid or stock and fresh herbs. (Be sure to follow manufacturer’s instructions for specific details.) Once the pot comes to pressure, it only takes 20 to 25 minutes to cook the chicken. Crazy, right?
3. Slow Cooker: Slow cookers offer just that—a slow and steady cooking method. The best part? There are two: You don’t have to be home to monitor it. And it makes for a tender dish. Set your timer for about 8 hours on low and head to work. When you come home, dinner is ready and waiting. It’s like hiring a personal chef!
4. Piece Out: If you’re still intimidated by the whole bird or know you won’t be able to finish it all, ask your butcher to cut it into 8 pieces for you. That way, you can make a small portion and ration out the rest in your freezer.