Buying Chicken At The Grocery Store

There’s an entire wall of chicken at the grocery store, with so many different labels on these chickens, from organic air-chilled, to free-range, to cage-free. What does all that stuff mean?

The truth is there is a big difference between the chicken you want to buy and the chicken you don’t, so let’s break it down so you know what to look for and what to avoid.

Marketing Gimmicks:

Some of the stickers and slogans you see on chicken packages are just marketing gimmicks. For example:

  • Cage-Free: It’s illegal to raise chickens for consumption in cages - so every chicken you see at the grocery store is cage-free. The only caged chickens can be for eggs - so this is meaningless!
  • No Hormones Added: Again, it’s been illegal since the 1970’s to add hormones to chicken. Literally every chicken at the store has no hormones added, but they put stuff like this on the label to give you the warm and fuzzies.

What To Avoid:

We’ve all seen the generic chicken with no labels - this is the cheapest chicken you’re going to get, but it’s also the lowest quality.

These are the chickens packed into hen houses: these scary, dark warehouses that have no windows, with up to 40,000 chickens, with totally inhumane conditions. If it doesn’t say “100% vegetarian fed” on the package, it means the chickens were fed a diet of animal by-product (basically sewage) and really bad stuff.

There has been a disturbing trend over the last several decades to breed chickens to be ginormous, like Incredible Hulks of the chicken world. Since the 1970’s the size of whole roaster chickens has gone up by three times - because producers want huge chicken breasts and lots of thigh meat. The problem is the chickens can’t support all the extra weight. They’re in these warehouse dungeons, unable to move around, sedentary. Not only is this incredibly cruel and inhumane to the animals, but the chicken meat itself has no texture or flavor.

“The truth is there is a big difference between the chicken you want to buy and the chicken you don’t.”

What To Buy Instead:

The good news is there are some much better alternatives in the grocery store. Here are a few things you want to look for:

  • Air-Chilled (No Water Added): This actually does mean something very important. Air-chilled chicken is where they hang in a cold room - that’s the best. If it doesn’t say air-chilled, that means it’s water-chilled. Water-chilled is when they dunk the whole chicken in water. This makes the chicken look big and plump, but it loses a lot of flavor and texture.
  • Fresh: When chicken is frozen and thawed out, it can really degrade the quality of the meat. Some of these chickens are frozen and thawed multiple times - so look for a fresh, never-frozen chicken. 
  • Organic: Organic chicken is the BEST you can do at the store. That USDA seal really means something, it’s not a marketing gimmick. Most importantly it means the chicken had a Non-GMO feed. It costs a little more, but it makes a big difference.  I would always look for pasture raised chicken. You can find local farms that sell it by searching here: (