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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Butchering Whole Chickens to Save Money and Calculating Costs

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Chicken I butchered and froze for later usage.
Yes, I know my freezer needs cleaning!
Lately I haven't been buying much chicken because the prices have been more than I'd been willing to pay. Occasionally I'd buy chicken wings, but even that was infrequent, because their prices, though lower than regular/whole chickens, were still higher than I'd like them to be.
Yesterday, though, I was in for a nice surprise. When I went to the grocery store, chickens were half the price I'd seen them until then- only $1.28 per pound. If I had more room in my freezer, I would have bought more, but I sufficed with buying 6 whole chickens.
Yesterday, I butchered and froze 2 of them, and today I did the other 4. (I really wanted to get a video of this, to teach people how to butcher chickens, because this usually is cheaper than buying chicken parts, but I got this done while Mike was busy, so he couldn't record me, and I don't trust Lee to take a video of me and for it to come out properly... so I'll have to make the video next time I do this.)

As I was chopping it up, I divided it into meal sized portions. For our family, I know how much of each type of chicken we generally eat in one meal. One thing I don't like about buying prepackaged chicken is that sometimes it is too much or too little for our family for a meal. If it's too much, and I defrosted it already, I usually end up just cooking the lot, and we eat more chicken than we would have otherwise, just so it doesn't get wasted... and since chicken is so expensive, we want to get the most out of it, and not eat it "just to finish it", but to eat it because we want to. And if a package is too small... well, then we end up defrosting and cooking two packages, which leaves us with even more extra cooked chicken, which is a waste, because eating something that is a special item/treat, just to finish it, isn't worth it. Making the perfect amount is the perfect frugal thing to do, in my opinion.


In our family, keep in mind that meat isn't the main dish- we use it as a side dish, and let veggies and carbs and even legumes be the fillers. Filling up on chicken can be awfully expensive- we use it for nutritional and emotional/mental purposes (you know, when you feel like you just need to eat meat, don't want to feel deprived), but for that, even smaller amounts of chicken is satisfactory.

When we eat bone-in chicken, the amount we serve for a meal is 2 thighs (for myself and Mike), two drumsticks (for Ike and Lee) and 1 chicken wing (for Anneliese). If the wings are big enough, a wing each will suffice for Ike and Lee, and if the drumsticks are big enough, one each would suffice for myself and Mike. (Sometimes I have to push to get Lee, Ike, and Anneliese to finish the amount of chicken we gave them, in case you're worried it isn't enough.) So I divided up the bone-in chicken parts into bags with 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, and 1 wing, or 2 thighs, and 2 large and 1 small wing, or 2 large drumsticks, and 2 large wings, and 1 small wing, and packaged them each separately for meals for my family. I got 6 such packages from my 4 chickens.

Chicken breast I find that when they are from normal sized birds, I can easily get 5 cutlets from each side of the breast (2 larger, adult sized cutlets, and 3 smaller ones). When I use chicken breast for stir fry, again, I chop up one side of a chicken breast for that meal. For smaller chickens, I will use two halves of a breast per meal. From my 4 chickens, I got 7 meal sized portions of chicken breast.

After cutting off the main parts, I was left with 4 chicken frames (the breastbones, necks, etc...) and a bunch of skin and fat. I put two frames in each package, and each of them will make a nice pot of chicken soup for my family. Once the bones are cooked, I remove the bones and add them back to the soup, or possibly to another dish, or even both, depending on how much meat is left on the bones. (At least) two more meals of chicken from the 4 chickens.

Altogether, this leaves me with 15 chicken meals for my family of 5 out of 4 chickens.

With the skin and fat, I made my own rendered chicken fat to use for cooking, adding healthy fats and chemical flavor boosting to lots of dishes.

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This is the rendered fat from all 6 chickens I bought, not just the 4 I did today. The two different colors is because the stuff on the bottom is cold and hardened from the fridge, and the stuff on top is still warm and liquid.
I also was left with a bunch of cracklings, basically high protein chicken skin chips, which are fun to munch on as a snack, while giving you a lot of nutrition.

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With the prices I paid for the chicken, the 4 birds ended up costing me 22 dollars.
Dividing that up into the 15 chicken meals I'll be getting from that, that ends up being on average $1.50 per chicken per meal for my family.
$1.50 isn't a bad price to pay for chicken for a meal in my area. In fact, it's very very good. (I know chicken in other areas can be much cheaper, but this is what is available here...)
However, $1.50 for chicken is still a lot, in my opinion, especially once you add in the rest of the ingredients for the meal, which is why we still will be eating mainly legumes as our protein source, with chicken only a few meals a week.

Cost comparison wise, though... Eggs locally are 32 cents a piece. One of my lazy suppers is to make omelets for my family (and find some leftovers for myself to eat, since eggs make me feel icky). For my family, we generally use 5-6 eggs for the meal, which adds up to $1.60-$1.90 on protein for those meals. And that's just for 4 people, not 5! Chicken meals, therefore, are cheaper than egg meals! What a discovery!!!

To stretch the chicken even further, I plan on collecting the bones from the chicken (after the thighs, drumsticks, and wings are eaten, yes, from people's plates) and the drippings left on the bottom of the pan after the chicken is cooked, and use it to make further pots of chicken broth.

Anyhow, it is obvious that every family eats different amounts of chicken at their meals, and everyone's prices for chickens are different... but I just posted this post to give you some food for thought.

(And just a reminder- if you want to know how much you're paying per pound of actual meat, for different types of meat, once you subtract the bones- here's a chart to help you figure that out.)

Do you usually buy whole chickens? Chicken parts? How much chicken does your family eat per meal? How often do you eat chicken? What do you do to keep your chicken meals frugal, or do you not particularly try to do so? Do you butcher your own chicken? How do the prices of whole chickens in your area compare to the prices of chicken parts?

Linking up to the Homestead Barn Hop

17 comments:

  1. thanks, Penny...would love to see a video or step by step of butchering the chicken and rendering fat. D =)

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    1. I will try my best to get that video made next time I buy a whole chicken! Sorry!

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  2. The thing is : I am vegetarian so I don't care that much about chicken price.
    BUT my partner is not vegetarian. And I discovered recently that my favourite tofu (organic smoked tofu) was actually three time higher in prince than (non organic) chicken tigh (price per kilo) in my area.
    So... I may be starting cooking him some meat to save some money... Does that makes sense ? :O

    I have to figure out how much tofu I use for one meal. And compare it to chicken.

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    1. Tofu is more expensive than chicken here also... non organic smoked, just the cheapo stuff...

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  3. Do you know how long the rendered chicken fat stays good for? Thanks for this by the way. I also buy whole chickens and make broth but threw the skin away... Not anymore!!

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    1. Rendered fat should stay good at least 2 weeks in the fridge, probably more. Glad to have taught you about rendering chicken fat!

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  4. Oh my goodness, 4 birds for $22? I buy from a farm, rather than the grocery store so I'm getting much better meat, and I purchase 1 large bird for $17! Canada.... *sigh*.

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    1. The difference between healthily raised chicken from a farm and factory farmed chickens... I wish I could afford to buy healthier chickens....

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    2. The taste of grocery store chicken is like cardboard in my mouth now... its amazing what a difference it is. I do use the bones and fats as much as possible... and one of those chicken carcasses produces about 3 x more (and tastier) broth than a grocery store chicken. I'm even now still sticker shocked by the price.

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  5. You didn't butcher the chickens, you cut them up. Butchering means to actually kill the chickens.

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    1. When you go to the butcher store, are they cutting up the meat into individual parts, or are they killing the cows/pigs/chicken? Butchering is not the same as slaughtering. Animals are killed at the slaughterhouse, and butchering is the cutting up process. I only recently learned the difference myself.

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  6. If I have leftover chicken or beef, I put it in some broth and put it in the freezer. I use this when I don't feel like going through all the process of cooking up meat. You can put the broth and meat in something like soup. but if you aren't making soup than heat up the meat in the broth in a pot until unfrozen and then take the meat from the broth and use it in any recipe that calls for cooked meat. I have tried freezing without the broth but the meat gets freezer burned quicker without it.

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  7. Oh my gosh, I completely thought you meant you were slaughtering chickens in your backyard. And was slightly horrified that you were planning to post videos!
    So funny.

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    1. It's actually not as bad as you'd think! (as long as Penni kept it on the discreet). I saw Joel Salatin do a chicken processing demo at Mother Earth News Fair last year. I thought for sure I was going to have to leave the audience because I have such a weak stomach. I managed to survive the entire thing unphased. In fact, I'm going back next year for the same demo! Partially because I love Joel. But mostly because it really helps to reiterate that connection with nature & where your food comes & showing gratitude for the gifts from God.

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  8. The price of chicken of whole chicken is not much cheaper than chicken in parts around here so I buy the chicken in parts and I also butcher the breast from the cage and neck to use for chicken soup. I put my chicken bones in a netbag in the soup and then use the bits of chicken still left on the bone for chicken patties.

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  9. Wow - I'm so impressed by how many meals you got from your four chickens!

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  10. I used to buy only breasts. Now I buy whole chickens. My mother never bought whole chickens; just frozen breasts - so all these years I was scared because I didn't know what to do with a whole dead chicken ;) Usually I just roast it whole or throw it in the crock pot whole. We usually eat the breasts for dinner on those nights & then pick the bones clean to freeze for meals that require bits & pieces (soup, salads, casseroles, etc) & then the carcass gets tossed back in the pot or crock to boil for broth. Never thought to render the fat tho & keep the crackling, tho I've heard it's ridiculously good!

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