Since my parents' meat processing plant burnt down (read about it here) and I've started staying home, I've been buying whole chickens at the grocery instead of just buying chicken breasts. It is much cheaper and I get so much use out of one chicken! For my area, it is in the $6 range for a whole chicken. I have started to look for a local farmer that raises meat chickens so that I can know what is being fed to the chicken I'm eating and so that I can support my local agriculture. I don't know what that will do to the price, but as long as it is an obscene amount more, I think it is important to eat local when possible. We vote with our dollars on what we want produced, and I think that putting money back in to local agriculture is important.
However, I have had missteps since starting to use the whole chicken. There are definitely things you need to consider before buying a whole chicken. The first thing you need to consider is that it is meat and meat does not keep unfrozen for very long. You need to make sure that when you are meal planning that you plan to use the chicken quickly, like in a day or two after buying it. You must also make sure you have a plan for the WHOLE chicken. I mean, unless you have a larger family than mine, you won't be able to eat the whole thing in one meal. You also need to realize that this takes more time than just buying the pieces, especially the first time you break the chicken down.
Here is what I try to do when I buy a whole chicken.
1. Break the chicken down.
This takes a little time, and it will take a while longer the first time or two that you do it. Eventually you will get the hang of it. I used this post to help me when I'm breaking the bird down. I do wish there were more pictures, but you will get the hang of it after a few tries and if you need more help, I'm sure you can google a video on how to do it.
2. Plan a meal that uses the bone-in pieces of the chicken for that first night.
I REALLY like fried chicken, so I usually plan to have fried chicken the night that I break the chicken down. I cook all the bone-in pieces and I even cook the tenders (part of the breast) for L, because it makes me nervous still to have her gnawing on bone. I'm afraid she isn't discerning enough to not eat part of the chicken that she shouldn't when I'm not looking.
3. Plan a meal to use the breast of the chicken a day or two after breaking the chicken down.
The first time I broke a chicken down, I used part of it for fried chicken and then waited 3 or 4 days before planning to use the rest. It went bad. Now, what I've started to do is to go ahead and cook the chicken breast the same night. I have a small crock pot. I stick the breast in it with whatever seasoning I need to for the next recipe and cook it on low for a few hours until it is done. Just this last time, I planned a recipe that needed chunks of chicken mixed with pasta for a casserole. I've also made chicken tacos and just stored the meat for later. Doing this also makes for a quicker dinner later in the week.
4. Make your own chicken stock.
Place the back of the chicken and any skin or fat you trimmed off of the breast pieces into a crock pot. Fill with water until it is about 1 inch from the top of the crock pot. Add 1 onion and about a cup of cup up carrots. Cook for 24 hours on low. Using a slotted spoon, remove all of the bones, skin, carrots and onions. Then, using a strainer, add the chicken stock to freezable containers and freeze. Now you have chicken stock for soups with absolutely no added preservatives or salt!
Bonus: Tips for Great Fried Chicken
- Make sure your oil is HOT. You want it to start crisping as soon as you put the chicken in the pot.
- Dip you chicken in egg before coating it in flour.
- Use self-rising flour instead of all-purpose.