Conventional vs. organic chicken

My budget pretty much limits me to regular, supermarket-brand chicken. I used to buy Perdue when it was on sale but in recent years have found it no longer has the flavor it used to, so no longer buy it. On rare occasions, I’ve gotten a whole chicken from a local poultry farm, for about $3/#, if memory serves. These are not organic, pastured, or free-range, but a large wire pen attached to the henhouse does allow them to scratch in the dirt, and presumably to catch a few insects. This chicken has been exceptionally flavorful.

The other day, I noticed a manager’s markdown on a Coleman organic roaster, so I bought it ($2/#). This is the first time I have bought organic meat. Figuring that a plain cooking method was needed if I was to validly compare it to the store brand conventional, I roasted it per my usual procedure. It’s just okay. I have had both excellent and mediocre store-brand birds, no two animals being necessarily identical. So it may be that another organic bird would be worth the higher price, but I am not inclined to repeat the experiment.

I know this will be read, and disputed, by folks who want to know the biography of the meat they buy. I wonder if that really guarantees good flavor every time.

It’s not necessarily about flavor. I don’t want to pay $7/lb for organic chicken either, but I also don’t want to eat the factory farmed $1.50/lb chicken because I find that industry off-putting in ways other than flavor. So I buy the local, no-antibiotic chicken that is priced in between the other options. And I don’t mind leftovers so even though I’m single I’ll sometimes buy the value pack of thighs and have stew for the week.

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I go out of my way to buy amish local chicken. It’s 3-4 a pound (usually $20 for a whole chicken). I usually buy a whole chicken, not parts. This tends to actually taste like chicken not just bland, white protein. I justify the price by using the whole thing (usually 2 chicken dinners for 2, a chicken stew type thing and some stock). It isn’t organic, it does taste much better then other chickens and I am worried about energy inputs in to food more than “health” claims so local trumps distant and organic.

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I look for no antibiotic chickens that ain’t pumped up with water and are air chilled. I once bought a whole organic chicken from Walmart that was so full of water. The meat had poor texture it was so bloated.

The antibiotic issue is a strong one for me. Resistance is a real problem from over prescribing and when you add the food chain to the equation it’s scary

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Organic does not automatically lead to flavor. If the organic chicken are raised in similar living conditions as non-organic factory-farmed chicken and the differences are mostly in the organic feed and antibiotics, the meat is going to taste similar.

True range birds that has the opportunities to eat bugs (e.g. pastured. or the example you cited) taste better. And they lead a more active life that minimizes the use of antibiotics anyway.

For a long time I ate a type of range chicken (Jidori) sold by a Japanese supermarket. Not organic, but the flavor compares favorably with top pastured organic chickens that are priced much higher. Unfortunately I moved away from the market.

Species and pastured-ness matter equally, in my experience.

Understood and I agree

But, practically, we can’t get that specific in many cases. Those options are not always available in local markets

Which species do you like?

Species would be chicken, turkey, duck, etc., no? I think in this context we are talking about breeds, not species.

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Yes. Breed was what I meant.

I find myself often using chicken parts for making soup for noodles, rather than eating them as the main protein itself. The only exception to this is wings or thighs for specific dishes I like to cook. No matter how environmentally conscious I haven’t been able to bring myself to regularly pay $20/bird either, so I mainly get one when it’s on sale. I would agree the difference isn’t overwhelming. I’ve also tried with heritage, super fancy turkey and didn’t find it to be dramatically different in taste.

I like the birds at Mayflower Poultry, which is a local poultry shop in the Boston area that sells anti-biotic and hormone free, but not necessarily pasture-raised. They’re a little more reasonably priced at about the $3/lb mark too. I like them not for better taste, so much preferring to have less injected birds in my diet.

Yes, I meant breed, not species. Couldn’t remember the right word at the time.

My favorite is a type in Pakistan called “Desi Murghi”. The closest translation I have found is “Old World Bird.” It’s a lot chewier, takes a bit longer to cook, but the flavor from its bones is pure gold. (Its eggs are also great.) It used to be highly-prized. In fact, when my parents were young, chicken was more expensive than any meat. However, now most people’s tastes have shifted to mass-produced chicken. Our last trip to Pakistan, it took a lot of effort to find Desi Murghi. On top of that, a lot of growers keep them in very small pens, so the eggs and meat don’t have the same flavor.

Locally, my father goes to a slaughterhouse in Pennsylvania to bring back a brown-feathered variety. I had written down the breed, but can’t find it right now. It has larger bones, so it’s great for our style of cooking. The flavor is more chicken-y, and the texture is more chewy. We take most of the skins off, yet still there are quite a few stubborn feathers we have to remove once we get home. Despite all this, it’s still worth the effort.

Few years back, I had a source for true Old World Birds – just like Desi Murghi – also in Pennsylvania, but they didn’t have enough demand anymore to continue raising that breed. Unfortunately, that farmer never could recall the exact breed. These breeds of chicken often have very deep, golden colored fat.

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They sound pretty similar to the ‘yellow feather chicken’ used in Chinese dishes. Bright yellow fat, less meat compared to typical 4-5 lb chicken, but more ‘chickeny’

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold