I love buying whole chickens. I feel like I’m getting away with something, when in reality, I’m eating more like people used to, for less money!
Whole chickens take more work, but they cost less per pound, use less packaging, and have lovely bones that make really good broth.
When your goal is to buy the most nutritious food for your family, buying a whole chicken is cost effective, and gives you much more nutrition for your money.
Some time and skill on your part is needed, but once you learn how to use a whole chicken, you won’t go back to buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts!
Saving Money with a Whole Chicken
Bear with me as I do some math…
Right now, Sprouts has organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $9 a pound. Legs are $4.50/lb, and a whole chicken is $3.50/lb. Organic bone broth is $5 for a quart.
A pound of raw whole chicken ends up making about a cup of cooked, chopped chicken. A pound of raw chicken breast make about 10 ounces of cooked chicken, and a cup of chicken is about 5 ounces. So a pound of breast gets you 2 cups chicken.
So 5 pounds of breast gets you 10 cups of chicken, while a 5 pound whole chicken gives you 5 cups. That $9 a pound nets twice the cooked chicken as the $3.50/lb whole chicken. Chicken breast costs 2.6 times the price of whole chicken.
In addition, buying boneless, skinless chicken breast means dry meat and no bones for nutritious broth later. If you really want chicken breast, cut up your own chicken and roast the carcass later.
The cheapest cuts of chicken are the legs, at $4.50/lb right now. A pound of legs gives you 6.5 oz of cooked meat. So each pound of legs nets almost a cup and a half of meat.
5 pounds of legs makes 6.5 cups of meat. That’s $22.50 for 6.5 cups of meat. To get 6.5 cups from a whole chicken, you need 6.5 pounds. That’s $22.75. So both are similarly priced, but the whole chicken would give much more variety.
When I make bone broth with my leftover chicken, I use a whole carcass and make about 2 quarts of broth. It costs $10 for 2 quarts of organic bone broth at Sprouts. So a 5 pound chicken now gives me an additional $10 worth of value. Now the price for a whole chicken is more like $1.50 a pound!
When I buy whole chickens at the farmers markets, I end up with so much gelatin in my bone broth that I gross my kids out by calling it “chicken jello”. Does the organic bone broth you buy have that kind of gelatin?
Local pasture raised chicken from your farmers market may or may not be the same price as Sprouts. It will be better for you and your farmer either way!
Roasting a Whole Chicken
The easiest way to cook a whole chicken is to roast it whole. That takes the most time, but it doesn’t require much effort on your part. Roasting it whole on the weekends, then planning to use it for quick weeknight meals can help.
Roasting a whole chicken is really easy. Open up the package, remove the giblets from the cavity, place the chicken on a pan (a sheet pan works if you don’t have a roasting pan), and set the oven to 450F. Rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Start the chicken at 450F for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350F and roast for 20 minutes per pound of chicken. The goal is 165F in the breast meat when it is done.
Now, Serious Eats has done some great math to explain the 165F requirement. Basically, at 165F no harmful bacteria can survive. If you are smart, you can cook to a lower temperature and keep your breast meat juicier.
There are many recipes and tricks to roasting a bird. You can dry brine in a day in advance. You can put vegetables, seasonings, or butter in the cavity. You can spread butter under the skin. Spatchcocking, or butterflying a chicken, will help the chicken cook faster and more evenly.
Once you learn the basics of roasting, you can play with techniques. A five pound chicken will take 15 minutes plus 20 minutes times 5 pounds, so nearly 2 hours of cooking time. But most of that time is completely hands off.
After your bird is done, you can carve it up by removing the legs, thighs and wings, then cutting the whole breast off and slicing it up.
Save the drippings from your chicken. If you don’t want to make gravy, you can save them for stock later. I like to use them in soup or add to the slow cooker when making bone broth.
Cutting up a Whole Chicken
Once cut up, you can freeze parts together for later, or cut up the meat as is for recipes. If you know your family would prefer three thighs and three legs for a meal, save them until you have the right amount.
Now you can cook pieces into different meals. Use the breast for a quick meal one night, and roast your dark meat for another night. Take the carcass (and save bones as you finish with them!) and make stock in your slow cooker another night.
When I cut up a chicken, I like to save pieces short term in cereal bags rather than using ziplocs. They might get freezer burnt faster, so I make sure I use them sooner.
Stretching a Whole Chicken
A whole chicken should make at least two meals for four people. It can make more if you are creative! To start, only serve half a roast chicken the night you roast it. Roast up vegetables with it for an easy meal where the oven does all the work.
Cut off half the dark meat and one breast. Slice the breast up so it looks like more. Serve it all with roast vegetables.
Once your chicken has cooled, perhaps the next day, slice off all the meat you can find. Use your fingers to get it all. Leftover carcass and bones go into a slow cooker to make bone broth. Chop up all the remaining chicken for easy meals later.
Leftover chopped chicken can be used in many ways. Stir fry, soups, casseroles, enchiladas, curries, and salads are all great options.
If you have roasted extra vegetables that first day, you can add them to soup later! You can also freeze your leftover chopped or shredded chicken for later.
If you are frugal, you can make meat-light recipes using your leftover roast chicken. A soup with bone broth, vegetables, and some chicken can be a delicious and healthy option.
You can do the same with larger cuts of pork and beef too! Cooking a lot at once, then saving the leftovers for other recipes and making broth out of bones is a great way to save money and make sure you use all your local meat.
Creating a stock of easy recipes to use leftover chicken is a great idea. It makes meal planning easier, and stops you from going out to eat. Your local pasture raised chicken is a bargain compared to prices for eating out!
After you make your bone broth and the bones are softer, try composting them. You can compost meat and bones in bokashi composters. After they have been thoroughly fermented, you can add them to regular compost without fears of animals or bacteria.
Buying your chickens whole really is a great way to save money while buying the best chicken out there. It saves on packaging and allows you to make your own nutritious broth. You cut down on food waste and can make multiple meals with just one chicken.
Cooking whole chickens means you can cook chicken breast that is juicy rather than dry. You can enjoy healthy fats from pasture raised chicken. Stretch your budget and your cooking skills by buying your chicken whole!