Free-Range, Organic + More: We Help You Decode Those Chicken Labels
Know what these all mean!
We’ve seen it. We didn’t get it all either. So we looked into all these labels to find out what you should know when shopping for chicken at the supermarket and your local butcher shop.
Simply put, these chickens were raised on a farm that doesn’t cage its chickens, allowing the animals the “freedom” to roam around as naturally as possible within the confines of the area. Note that this does not automatically equate to a more sanitary and better living environment nor does this mean the chickens were fed feed different from those raised as caged chickens.
This can mean a number of things, and while vague, the most probable definition is that the chicken was not scientifically modified in any way. This means the chicken was not injected with any hormones or steroids, usually to induce a more muscular (aka meaty) chicken. The resulting chicken grows “naturally” or as nature intended without any outside interference in its development and growth. This label may also mean that, in the processing of the chicken for the market, no preservatives were used and no artificial ingredients were added. Read any fine print to determine its exact meaning.
According to the National Organic Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), anything labeled “organic” must meet all three criteria to be labeled as such: it should be naturally raised, meaning organic chickens must be raised without the use of hormones, steroids, or even antibiotics; free ranged; and fed organically-certified feed without any animal proteins present. It’s important to note that organic chicken can also labeled as free-range chickens (according to the criteria it must meet), but not all free-range chickens are organic.
Fresh (or Chilled)
Chickens labeled as “fresh” are those stored in refrigerated containers or areas and kept chilled at a specific temperature until sold. To remain labeled as “fresh”, the storage temperature of these chickens should be maintained at 26F or -3C and never below.
Chickens labeled as “frozen” have been stored at temperatures below 26F. This is the temperature at which point the chicken begins to firm up (water in the meat starts to turn to ice and becomes hard to the touch), and such chickens are then classified as no longer “fresh” but “frozen”.
Chickens come in a range of weights, and the heaviest of them all weight in around 2 1/2 kg. to as much as 3 kg. each.
A young chicken, slaughtered when not more than a month old, yielding a small but tender-fleshed bird. One spring chicken usually serves one to two.
Fried Chicken Cut
The most basic of chicken cuts, these are the traditional eight serving pieces, two of each are found on a whole chicken: two breasts, two wings, two legs, and two thighs. The chicken breast halves may or may not be halved further according to your preference. The backbone with neck is usually set aside for the soup packet.
Other labels you need to know about:
These parts are usually identified as the quarter of the chicken containing the thigh and leg parts, but can also mean any of the four quarters of a whole chicken, instead of the traditional eight fabricated pieces.
The basic chicken pieces usually cut into smaller serving sizes. Half a chicken breast would be cut in half as would the legs, thighs, and wings (may or may not be left whole), resulting in about 14-16 serving pieces from a whole chicken.
These chicken pieces are usually the bonier parts, meaning legs, thighs, backs, and wings.
Made from the chicken wings, the meat of these wing pieces are rolled back into itself to expose the bone, resulting in the bone end being the “lollipop stick” and the other, the meaty ball, the “lollipop”. Perfect for finger food.
Also known as chicken fingers, these chicken tenderloins are removed from filleted chicken breasts and usually contains a white strip (the tendon) running through its length.
This bundle usually contains the normally discarded backbones and necks of the chicken and is best suited for creating and flavoring soup stocks.
This large restaurant-style cut is composed of a filleted chicken breast half with the first joint of the wing still attached. This is also known as the chicken supreme.