When it comes to buying chicken and getting a good deal for your money, the price tag doesn't tell the whole story. Yes, it tells us dollar-per-pound cost, but if you consider price alone you miss one important thing: the bones. While bone-in options can be particularly economical and flavorful, a smaller percentage of the package you paid for is actually edible (stock-making aside).
Do you know which cut of chicken actually gives you the most meat for your money?
Best Bang for Your Buck: Chicken Leg Quarters
Are you surprised? To be honest, I was at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it made perfect sense. Before delving into this I expected a whole chicken to deliver the most meat for its price. I mean, it's a whole chicken!
But those ultra-flavorful, budget-friendly whole chicken legs (drumstick with bone-in thigh attached) were a clear winner at an adjusted price — more on that below — of about $1.36 per pound versus the $1.65 per pound for a whole chicken. Bone-in thighs were priced slightly higher.
Yes, a whole chicken also comes with the advantage of turning all those bones into stock, but if we're simply considering the meat, whole legs deliver the best value.
Why the Legs Are the Best Value
To determine which cut of chicken gives you the most meat for your money I first looked through the current national average retail prices (as of early April) for all types of chicken, individual parts and whole birds, bone-in and boneless. These figures are publicly available from the USDA.
I also took into account the average edible portion of bone-in cuts of chicken. This percentage will vary from bird to bird. Barring small amounts of fat, boneless cuts of chicken are considered 100 percent edible.
How Much of a Chicken Part Is Edible?
- 65 to 70% of a whole chicken is edible.
- 70 to 75% of a whole chicken leg is edible.
- 70 to 75% of a bone-in chicken thigh is edible.
- 70 to 75% of a bone-in chicken drumstick is edible.
- 75 to 80% of a bone-in chicken breast is edible.
With that in mind I calculated the adjusted price for each cut. In other words, the price that truly reflects the price of the meat you're buying. To calculate the price, I divided the average price of each cut by its percentage of edible meat, using the low end of the range.
Average Retail Price Per Pound ÷Edible Percentage = Adjusted Price
Adjusted Prices for Chicken per Pound
- Whole chicken leg (leg quarter): $1.36
- Whole chicken: $1.65
- Chicken drumsticks: $1.84
- Bone-in chicken thighs: $1.90
- Split (bone-in) chicken breast: $2.11
- Boneless, skinless chicken thighs: $2.40
- Boneless chicken breast: $2.96
The math doesn't lie! There's a clear winner here.
Cooking with Chicken Legs
Chicken legs can be used whole or cut to separate the thighs and drumsticks. It's easy enough to do at home, although it is one of the many things your grocery store butcher can do for you.
Like most budget-friendly cuts of meat, chicken legs are tougher and contain more fat than ultra-lean breasts. But this is just one more factor that works in your favor. Chicken legs aren't just a great value — they also deliver a ton of flavor. They can be cooked on the stovetop, in the oven, or in a pressure cooker, or even grilled in any recipe that calls for drumsticks or thighs. Just be sure you use your thermometer to test for doneness!