Back in the day, I used to pay $2.99/lb for Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts on the reg. Sometimes, if I was lucky, it was on sale for $1.99/lb. Chicken is expensive! And I wanted to get boneless, skinless breasts because white meat chicken is the leanest, healthiest white meat protein you can get, more or less.
And of course, because I was being health-conscious and money-conscious (or so I thought), that was all I wanted to pay for. Just the meat I was going to eat. No bones. No skin. Certainly no dark meat.
I would walk out of the store with a pack of breasts for 1 meal costing about $7-8 because the packs come with 3 or 4 portions. (Why they like to put 3 in there is beyond me. Odd numbers and cooking do not go well together!)
What I didn’t realize at the time is that just a few inches away were the whole fryers at $0.77/lb. I could get the whole bird – THE WHOLE BIRD – for the same price (or sometimes less) than I was about to pay for those boneless, skinless breasts.
And it’s not like the grocery store is hiding it. They put it big, bright, bold letters on the signs that the deals are there. I’ve just been raised to not roast full chickens and to not butcher full chickens because someone else has already done the work! I’ve been lucky and spoiled. 🙂
I realized that if I was willing to do the work for myself and butcher the chicken, I could have 2 portions of breast meat, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and 2 legs for the same price — and I could make stock with the carcass afterward to boot.
Now, this is not revolutionary thinking. It’s more like, “Well, duh.” But there are a whole lot of people, like me, who never grew up knowing what to do with a great big naked bird. We’re used to the muscles after they’ve been cut out. The thing in its natural (but thankfully pre-plucked) casing looks like something you would run away from screaming if you were pre-pubescent. They’re smelly and kinda gooey and gross when you first look at them. And the skin! It’s the kind of stuff of your nightmares, thanks to the creatives folks in cinema.. But you cannot be scared! Because dead birds cannot attack! Thus, you must put it in its rightful place. The oven. Or, a carving board, and soon on the other end of your knife!
These are the skills that keep you from being dependent on the butcher and will bring the cost of your meat down significantly, and they are explained, clearly here in fewer than 4 minutes.
And that’s just if you want to have it in pieces.
Here’s a link to the Top 200 User-Rated Recipes on All Recipes.com for Whole Chickens
I am personally a fan of whole roasting chickens in my crock pot, because there really is no easier recipe in the entire world. You really cannot screw it up, and it gives great value because it makes the chicken very tender and easy to shred. (Which is great when you’re making tacos or bbq sandwiches.)
You simply make 4 foil balls (to lift the chicken up from the very base of the crock pot), wash and dry the bird, season it on the outside however you want (a little salt & pepper is enough if you’re going for having just regular chicken to throw into recipes) and then set it to go for 1 hour on high. Then you let it go 8-10 hours on low. (or optionally 4-5 more hours on high, which is what I usually do, just leave it for 5 hours on high. That 5 hours includes the one at the beginning, for the record. I also like to add a little chicken broth at the bottom too so that there’s no chance that my chicken ends up tough.)
Then, once you have the cooked chicken, you can use that in tons of recipes too!
Here’s a link to the Top 200 Highest Rated Recipes Using Cooked Chicken on AllRecipes.com (Have I mentioned recently how much I love our internet-hive-mind regarding sharing recipes and knowledge and ratings of food? We have a pretty good collective palate!)
What do you do with the carcass? Make chicken stock! Bust that crockpot back out!
First make sure you have all of the meat off of the bones. You want to keep your meat for your other recipes.
Place the chicken carcass and any stray bones into your crock pot. For a bigger bird, you’re going to need a bigger crockpot. We usually get around a 5 pound bird, so our 4 1/2 quart crock works fine.
Go on and add any veggies you’d like – onions, celery, carrots, garlic, herbs. Using onion powder or garlic powder because they are less expensive works here, but fresh or frozen will always taste better, and usually you can get an onion for less than a buck and a bulb of garlic for less than $0.50 — so who are you cheatin there?
Cover the bones and vegetables with cold filtered water. Coldness actually matters here, because this allows the flavor and nutrients to be fully extracted from the bones, and filtered because you really oughtta filter your tap water if you live in Los Angeles. 🙂 If you’re in Memphis, clearly you can ignore that. (Your area’s water cleanliness may vary.)
Add 1 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the mix and allow to sit for about an hour. This helps bring some of the chickeny goodness out of the bones before we apply heat. If you leave a timer on here and are just cleanin up, time flies before you even know it.
Then just flip it to low and leave it for a day. Then let it cool down. If you’re impatient, like me, you can remove the big parts with tongs to the trash – that will actually help it cool faster, since bones are excellent at keeping heat in. Once it is at a safe temperature, strain your chicken stock using a colander, sieve or cheesecloth.
I personally swear by cheesecloth because if it’s not liquid, it’s not getting through cheesecloth. And that’s the way it should be with stock.
Store in quart canning jars and use in soups, stews, sauces and for cooking grains. Good stock will have a jelly-like consistency when it’s cold because it has gelatin-like stuff in it from the bones!
Hope this post helps you get the most out of your chicken, your money, and your time. <3, Rae