The Mistake Everyone Makes Buying Chicken At The Grocery Store

If you're on a budget, buying in bulk can really help you save money — and this principle extends to chicken. But if you're buying the wrong kind of chicken in bulk, you could be making a big mistake. Instead of spending extra money on the convenience of pre-cut chicken breasts or thighs — especially if you're choosing boneless and skinless — you'll want to buy a whole chicken for less. It's not nearly as difficult to cut up as it might seem (just invest in some good quality kitchen shears and learn the basics of breaking down a bird) and can save you a lot of money over time (via Business Insider).

Once you realize the number of meals you'll get out of a whole bird versus a few pre-cut pieces, you'll probably never go back to buying it pre-cut. But if you're worried about waste, you do have a couple of options.

This is the cheapest cut of chicken

If you take the leap and go for the whole bird, you can easily freeze whatever you aren't going to use right away and save it for another meal. If you don't have the freezer space and want some of the convenience you get from those pre-cut pieces, you'll want to buy leg quarters (that's the drumstick with bone-in thigh attached) instead. According to a report from The Kitchn in April 2018, this cut is actually the cheapest you'll find ($1.07 per pound, compared to $1.28 per pound for whole chicken), and gives you more meat for your money than even a boneless cut.

It all comes down to how much you plan to utilize all the parts of a whole chicken. No matter which you choose, you can use the bones and any extra skin to make delicious chicken stock. As for those more expensive boneless, skinless breasts and thighs? At $2.37 and $2.48 per pound respectively, you're breaking the bank and you're not even left with anything to repurpose for another meal.

What to look for when buying chicken at the grocery store

Not all chickens are created equal. If you're looking at birds in the grocery store, chances are you'll see a whole lot of enticing marketing words, from "free-range," to "hormone-free," to "natural," but some of these mean a lot less about quality than others. "Hormone-free," for instance, means nothing since the USDA prohibits the use of hormones in poultry anyway (via Bon Appétit). Similarly, the use of "natural" isn't regulated, and "cage-free" only means that the chicken got to walk around, not that it got to spend any time outside. For that, you'll want to look for an organic or free-range bird (via Eating Well). 

So, what words should you look for? Well, the best birds are going to come from trusted local sources, but if you're just looking for the best bang for you buck at the grocery store, "organic" and "free-range" (all organic chicken is by definition free-range) mean the chicken probably led a pretty healthy life, and "antibiotic-free" is also a good thing to look for (it means you won't be unintentionally ingesting chicken medicine). The most important term to look for when it comes to flavor, however, is "air-chilled." This means your chicken wasn't chilled in water, which adds water weight and dilutes the flavor of the meat. So always get an air-chilled bird if you can.

Why you should avoid skinless boneless chicken

If you're not the kind of chef who feels comfortable (or has the time) to cut up a whole chicken yourself, there are still smarter choices to make than those boneless, skinless cuts. Regardless of whom you ask, the way to go is bone-in, skin on. Why?

Well, for one thing, they're cheaper. While you might think the bone adds to the weight, making it cost about the same for the meat, you're wrong. Because the bones are so much less dense than the chicken meat, you get a lot more bang for your buck when you buy bone-in (via LifeHacker). But that's not the only reason. 

Inside the bone is the bone marrow, which is full of flavor (as is the skin, fat, and meat directly around the bone), so removing the bone means you'll end up missing out on all of that flavor, just like choosing to buy skinless means you're missing out on the texture and taste of the crispy, golden skin (via Bon Appétit). So, for a tastier and cheaper meal every time, give the boneless, skinless cuts a miss and opt for bone-in, skin-on cuts instead.