Chicken School

Understanding Your Choices

We strive to provide Canadian consumers with many choices for the type of chicken they buy, but at the grocery store these choices can sometimes be overwhelming. We unpack that all here.

Chicken is every cook’s best friend, for one simple reason: versatility. Whether you crave exotic flavours or simply want to experience the smell and taste of home-cooked comfort food, there’s a recipe for you. At the grocery store, we strive to provide as much choice as possible for Canadian consumers, from a whole chicken to make the most of a budget, to boneless, skinless chicken breasts for those who need to get a healthy meal on the table quickly. We also provide a number of choices for consumers, everything from organic to free-range, kosher to Halal. As with any choice, the most important part is understanding all the options. So let’s talk about a few of the options you’ll see at the grocery store or butcher shop.

Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are one of the most popular options at the grocery store because they require little work to prepare, are low in fat, and can be prepared in a variety of ways. They are perfect for a quick dinner, or when you’re adding chicken to a complicated dish. While definitely a timesaver, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are typically the most expensive way to buy chicken.

Bone-in Chicken Breasts

Bone-in chicken breasts are slightly less expensive than the boneless variety but they only take a few minutes to prepare. You can buy bone-in chicken breasts, either with skin on or off, and while getting rid of the skin certainly cuts down on the fat, you can still keep some of the flavour that comes from the skin by removing the skin after cooking. For a simple method of deboning a chicken breast, check out the videos located in our technique section.

Chicken Thighs

White meat is by far the most popular type of chicken sold in the country but because chicken thighs contain much more moisture, they can withstand longer cooking times. This makes them a great option for grilling or stewing. You can buy them bone-in or boneless but because they don’t have the star status of the chicken breast, they’re usually quite a bit less expensive, and can be bought in large packs. If you’ve been avoiding dark meat because of nutritional concerns, take a look at our white meat vs. dark meat nutritional showdown where we compare the two head-to-head – you might be surprised by the results.

Wings

Have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes with this quick, simple and economical wing recipe that will please the whole family. Fresh pre-cut chicken wings can be purchased at your local grocery store.

Drumsticks

Kids love drumsticks, and just like wings, if you have a house full of people who love dark meat on the bone, buying your chicken packaged this way is ideal. It’s slightly more expensive than buying a whole bird, but the prep is done for you, and it reduces waste.

Whole Chickens

Bar none, the least expensive way to purchase chicken is to buy it whole. You can either choose to prepare the whole bird by roasting or cooking on a rotisserie, or cut it into pieces and cooking it. You can debone the meat or leave the bone in for presentation. As an added bonus, the leftover carcass and bones can be used to make home-made stock that we guarantee will taste better than anything you can get off the shelves.

Free Range

Free range birds must have access to the outdoors. However, since there is no legal definition of free range in Canada, this can vary from farm to farm. Be wary of “fresh” free range chicken in stores when it’s -30 degrees outside, it may have been frozen product defrosted for sale and should not be re-frozen.

Free Run

Free run is different than free range in that chickens do not necessarily need to be raised outside but they are required to be able to move around freely within the barn. Though there is no legal definition of this, all chickens raised for meat in Canada are considered free run.

Grain Fed

Since all chicken in Canada is given a feed that consists of at over 88% grain, this term is typically just used for marketing. Chicken labeled as “grain fed” is stating the obvious, though some brands boast special types of grain, such as vegetarian grain.

Halal

With respect to food, Islamic laws are very specific and Muslims seek to eat foods defined as “Halal,” which is defined by Muslims as “that which is allowed.” Essentially, “Halal” means permitted by God, or “Allah,” the Law-Giver. Muslims are taught that the animals must be well-rested and handled in a way that minimizes suffering. Many stores offer Halal choices in stores – although some regions may have limited availability. Check with your local store for more information. More information on Halal meat and Halal standards can be sought by contacting the Islamic Society of North America at www.isnacanada.com.

Hormone Free and / or Steroid Free

Though it is rare, some marketers still classify their chicken as “hormone-free.” This is little more than a marketing tactic, since the use of hormones in raising poultry has been banned since the 1960s in Canada.

Kosher

Kosher products refer to the content and production requirements, not necessarily to any specific cuisine. In Hebrew, kosher means “fit” or “proper,” indicating that the food products meet the dietary requirements of Jewish law. The Jewish dietary laws are collectively known as the laws of kashruth and deal with what foods may be eaten together and how those foods are to be prepared.
During the processing stage, salt and water are used to prepare the chicken for market. The guidelines for kosher certification are strict and the product must still pass through government inspection in order to be sold in stores or shipped to restaurants. Kosher products are sold across the country and are widely available. For more information, you can visit the Kashruth Council of Canada at www.cor.ca.

Organic Chicken

Chicken that is sold as “organic” is raised to a specific standard as laid out by the Canadian General Standards Board, in addition to the standards set by a reputable organic certification board. Since these boards vary from province to province, there are slight differences in the rules for organic farming in different areas of the country, but in general, organic chicken must be raised with at certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics and any supplements, such as vitamins, must be approved by a certification body.

Raised Without Antibiotics

Raised without antibiotics on the label means that the chicken was not treated in any way with antibiotics. For more information on the use of antibiotics in raising chicken, visit chickenfarmers.ca.

Vegetarian Grain Fed

Vegetarian grain fed, on the other hand, means that the feed given to the flock contains no animal by-products, which are often added to feed as a protein source. In these cases, the feed contains only vegetable protein such as soy, which can alter the flavour and colour of the meat. While chickens are omnivores, chickens can be raised on vegetarian feed, as long as an appropriate protein level is achieved.

Download our Wheel of Chicken.