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Chicken Buyer's Guide

How to buy the healthiest chicken at the grocery store.

What Labels Mean continued...

Kosher: Some people believe that kosher chickens are raised more humanely and are less likely to be contaminated. Kosher laws insist birds be slaughtered with a single cut to the neck using a special razor-sharp blade. The birds are not stunned, as is standard in most operations. However, one shouldn’t assume that all kosher chickens are treated humanely, say some animal-welfare groups. As for the relative food safety of kosher chicken, scientific results have been mixed.

Farm-Raised: The USDA defines a "farm" as any operation that sells at least $1,000 of agricultural commodities, so any producer raising that much chicken to sell is entitled to use this label. It says nothing about how the chickens were raised.

Healthy Choices

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, arguably the most versatile cut of chicken, are very low in fat, with only 1 to 2 grams of fat per serving. One 4- to 5-ounce breast yields a perfect 3-ounce cooked portion when you remove the tender—the virtually fat-free strip of rib meat typically found attached to the underside of a chicken breast. Don’t throw those tenders away—freeze them in an airtight container until you’ve gathered enough to make a meal. Tenders can also be purchased separately and are perfect for quick stir-fries, chicken satay or kid-friendly breaded "chicken fingers."

While you might dismiss dark meat, its slightly higher fat content makes the meat more forgiving of overcooking. There’s also a little more iron and almost twice the zinc—not bad for a small increase in calories (177 calories and 6 grams fat for 3 ounces of thigh versus 138 calories and 3 grams fat for breast). If you want to serve one thigh per person, buy them at the butcher counter; prepackaged thighs vary dramatically in size. Ask for one 6-ounce boneless, skinless thigh per person. Trim any excess fat (and skin if you didn’t buy them skinless) with kitchen shears.

Roasting a whole chicken can save you time and money. Make it a regular weekly ritual and you’ll be rewarded with a delicious supper plus healthful leftovers you can use to top lunchtime salads or fill soft-shell tacos. While store-bought rotisserie chicken is convenient and practical, each serving can have more than 4 times as much sodium as the average home-roasted one. Even the unseasoned varieties have been marinated or seasoned with salty flavoring agents. People with hypertension should think twice before choosing store-bought.

Storage Tips

Refrigerate or freeze chicken as soon as possible after purchase. If refrigerating chicken, be sure to cook it or freeze it by the "Use By" date on the package. If freezing chicken for longer than two weeks, wrap in heavy-duty foil, freezer paper or freezer bags to prevent freezer burn. Frozen chicken should be defrosted in the refrigerator, never at room temperature, to prevent bacterial growth.

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