5 Tips for Selecting the Best Package of Chicken

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Armed with a list after planning dinner, you hit the grocery store to pick up the ingredients. Yet despite knowing the specific cut of chicken you need to grab, you’re still a little confused. Of all the packs of thighs and breasts stacked in the meat case, how do you select the best package for your dinner?

It’s a topic that crosses my mind almost every single time I buy chicken. Here are the tips that make deciding a whole lot easier.

1. Check the “best by” date.

It’s always good to be in the habit of giving the “best by” date a once-over — especially if you’re a meal planner. Since I grocery shop just once a week, I’ve learned to get in the habit of always checking the “best by” date on meat. Often I buy chicken that I won’t cook until days later, so it’s important to select a package that will hold up until I need it.

2. Select chicken with a pinkish hue.

Don’t rely on that “best by” date alone. It’s also helpful to take note of the chicken’s coloring, which will give you some insight into the freshness of the package. No matter what cut you’re buying, look for chicken that has a pink, fleshy-colored hue. As chicken spoils, its coloring fades from pink to dull gray. So, it’s best to skip over any packages containing chicken with even a hint of grayish coloring.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

3. For skin-on the pieces, make sure the skin covers each pieces.

If you’re planning on searing that package of skin-on chicken thighs or breasts, the one important thing you really want to examine in the package is, well, the amount of skin. Some stores will package thighs skin-side down, but I always like to look for ones with the chicken skin-side up. Anytime you’re going for crispy skin, look for a package that has an ample amount of skin that blankets each piece.

4. Buy based on number of pieces when the cuts will be served whole.

Perhaps the trickiest part of buying chicken is selecting a package based on the number of pieces or the weight of the package, since the two don’t always coincide with your needs. I think the most helpful way to decide is based on how you’ll cook and serve the meat.

If you’re cooking something like whole chicken breasts or bone-in thighs, where the pieces will be kept whole and everyone around the table will get a specific number of pieces, buy chicken based on the number of pieces in the package. This might not always jive with the weight listed in the ingredient list of your recipe, and that’s fine. The over/under is likely to be small enough that it won’t make a significant difference in cooking.

5. Buy based on weight when the meat will be cut before cooking.

On the other hand, if you’re making a recipe where the chicken will be shredded after cooking (like chicken tacos, shredded BBQ chicken, or soup), or where it will be cut into pieces before cooking (like chili, chicken curry, or stir-fries), select a package of chicken based on the weight. Since the meat won’t be served as whole pieces, the number of pieces in the package isn’t as important.