Dramatic Weight Variation in Packaged Chicken Parts

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2013

Grabbing a package of chicken parts is usually a lot faster than standing in line at the meat counter to buy them individually. But that convenience may come at a cost.

Packaged chicken parts are convenient, but the same chicken parts inside aren’t required to be the same weight and their size can vary dramatically. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture permits leg quarters sold together to weigh between 8.5 and 24 ounces; in other words, one leg quarter in a package can weigh almost three times as much as another. Breasts can come from chickens that weigh between 3 and 5.5 pounds—a difference that can’t help but translate to the breasts themselves. Such a disparity can be a problem when you’re trying to get food to cook at the same rate. This lack of standardization showed up in our own shopping. We bought 26 packages of split breasts and leg quarters (representing five brands) from five different Boston-area supermarkets. When we weighed each piece and calculated the maximum weight variation within each package, the differences were startling: The largest pieces were twice the size of the smallest. Worse, some leg quarters came with attached backbone pieces that had to be cut off and discarded (which means throwing away money).

THE BOTTOM LINE: Whenever possible, buy chicken parts individually from a butcher, who can select similar-size pieces.

PASS ON PACKAGED PARTS: These leg quarters came in the same package, yet the one on the left weighs twice as much as the one on the right—a discrepancy that can lead to uneven cooking.