whole roasted chicken on wooden kitchen table

Smart Saving Tastes Like Chicken

With the price of beef skyrocketing, now more than ever, chicken is becoming the backbone of the frugal kitchen. And why not? Chicken is much less expensive than beef or pork and useful down to and including the bones. 

whole roasted chicken on wooden kitchen table

Don’t pay full-price

Chicken is always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish, and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale and if it’s a loss-leader (that means priced dirt-cheap to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks.

Buy whole chickens

The most frugal way to use chickens is to buy them whole and cut them up yourself. You’ll not only save money, but chicken tastes much better when cooked with the skin and bones. A whole, organic bird usually costs less per pound than precut, skinned, and boned parts—and it tastes so much better. It is not difficult to cut up a chicken once you understand the simple steps. Here is a video tutorial or if you prefer written instructions with pictures. 

3-way chicken

Whether you buy a whole raw chicken or a rotisserie chicken from the deli counter, you are looking at three meals from that one bird.

Dinner #1: Roast chicken (more to come on this in a bit).

Dinner #2: Chicken pot pie, chicken sandwiches, chicken stir-fry, chicken burritos or chicken salad using the meat you removed from the carcass following Dinner #1.

Dinner #3: Chicken soup made from the carcass of the bird. 

Roast whole chicken

Preheat oven to 450 F. In the meantime, remove everything from the cavity and rinse it inside and out. Dry with paper towels or clean cloth. Season well with salt and pepper. Place one-half a rib of celery and half of a whole onion inside the cavity. Set the chicken breast-side-up in a baking dish or roasting pan.

Put the chicken into the oven and reduce to 400 F. Set a timer for 1 hour and do not open the oven door. After an hour, check if the chicken is done by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of its thigh. The internal temperature should be 165 F. for the chicken to be done. If you’re under, put it back in to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes and check it again. Let the bird rest for about 15 minutes. Carve and enjoy. 

How to store raw chicken

According to the USDA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raw chicken (regardless of if it’s whole; in pieces such as breasts, thighs, drumsticks, and wings; or ground) should be stored for no longer than one to two days in the refrigerator. If the chicken was previously frozen, this timeline begins after the meat is fully defrosted. If you’re unsure whether you’ll get to cooking that raw chicken before this timeline is up, your best bet is to freeze it.

How to freeze raw chicken

Freezing chicken in the original packaging is fine for up to two months. For longer freezing—up to 9 months—over-wrap packages with foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper or plastic bags. For ease in defrosting, separate and wrap individual pieces or servings prior to freezing, so you only have to thaw the quantity you need for the meal you’re preparing.

For safety’s sake, you don’t need to remove chicken breasts from the grocery store packaging before freezing. But for flavor and preserving the moisture inside those chicken breasts, it’s best to repackage.

The best at-home packaging method is vacuum-sealing with a machine (like FoodSaver), which removes air from the packaging and heat-seals the edges of the bag. No machine? You’ve still got options. Place chicken breasts in freezer bags and manually push out as much air as possible before zipping them closed. If you want to leave the chicken in the package it came in, the USDA advises that you wrap the container in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper. This helps add a barrier between the chicken and the air in the freezer.

The goal is to prevent freezer burn, which can happen when chicken is exposed to freezer air and becomes dehydrated and oxidized. If your frozen chicken breasts have spots of freezer burn, it’s okay to trim them off once they’re thawed. But if the whole breast looks gray and leather-like, toss it.

How to safely thaw chicken

The ideal and safest way to thaw chicken is in the refrigerator. This allows the meat to slowly defrost so that it has time to reabsorb the ice crystals that formed between the fibers, which gives it a better texture once cooked. Allow approximately five hours per pound thawing time.

This method does involve foresight, however, as it will take about 24 hours for a whole chicken to be completely thawed and ready for cooking.

For faster thawing, you can defrost using the cold-water method, by putting the poultry in an airtight bag and placing it in a bowl or sink full of cold water and changing the water every half hour. And never use hot water, since it can stimulate bacterial growth. This method can take anywhere between one and three hours, depending on the size and thickness of the chicken.

How to make chicken stock

Here’s my favorite method. Put the bones and skin from a chicken carcass into a large pot. Add vegetables like celery, onion, carrot, and parsley. Cover with water. Add a full teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to barely simmer. Place lid on the pot, but off to the side a bit. Allow it to simmer, partially covered for at least 4 hours, 6 is better. Check occasionally and skim off any foam that comes to the surface. Remove bone and vegetables and pour the stock through a sieve. Refrigerate tightly sealed in glass jars.


It’s Day 4 in our 40-Day Christmas Challenge!  You can listen here. Did you miss a day or two? No problem. It’s easy to catch up at my NEW! Podcast page.

40-Day Christmas Challenge


NEXT UP:

Stop Making These Slow Cooker Mistakes and Watch What Happens

A Dozen Ways to Make Dump Chicken

Secrets to No-Fail Tender Juicy Chicken Breasts


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5 replies
  1. Jackie says:

    Mary:
    I agree with you about not paying a lot for chicken. In October of last year I went to Smith’s Grocery in Albuquerque N.M. and they had chickens on sale 2/$6.00. These were huge chickens 12-16 pounds each. I figured out the cost per pound and they were $0.33 cents a pound. I have not found chickens at that price for over 47 years. I am hoping that they do this sale again this year because I will get more than 12 chickens this time. My total for 12 chickens? $36.00 total. I made 12 roast chickens, Soup, goolash, creamed chicken, chicken sandwiches for lunches and much more out of those 2 chickens.

    Reply
  2. Jackie says:

    Dear Mary:
    I wanted to share the deal I was able to make a few months ago. I check out the ads when we go to Albuquerque which is about 180 miles away from our home and we stock up on things we need. They had chickens on sale for $3 each. I got the largest ones I could find and bought about 12 chickens for $36. We finished off the last one this past Sunday. I figured it out and the chickens were $0.33 a pound. My husband sorta a fit because I bought so many but they lasted us 3 months because we have roast chicken each Sunday and I use the leftovers for several meals during the week. If I have any left by Thursday I freeze it for soup. I have a wonderful recipe for Indian Stew and goolash that I use the frozen meat for.

    Reply
  3. M G says:

    I agree w Pat C. Rinsing raw poultry was proven more dangerous than not rinsing, this was several years ago. For more info, Google “why you shouldn’t rinse chicken”, and pick your source. Thanks

    Reply
  4. Robyn S says:

    I normally buy chicken thighs, but the only chicken I found on sale last week were boneless skinless breasts. I cut them into 1-inch cutlets and marinated them in 1/4 cup italian dressing and 1/4 cup lemon-lime soda for half an hour and sprinkled on Chinese 5-spice, baking them on a cookies sheet with silicon mat for 40 minutes at 375 degrees. They turned out moist and fork-tender,and clean-up was a breeze.

    Reply
  5. Pat C says:

    RE: rinsing chicken or other poultry.

    Apparently most poultry is contaminated with a variety of bugs, including Campylobacter, which is really unpleasant although not life threatening. Poultry is perfectly safe once cooked to the right temp. However, rinsing chicken or turkey runs the risk of spreading the bugs around your kitchen, especially if the water splashes on the counter or backsplash. I just pat the bird dry inside and out with paper towels, while wearing disposable gloves and then roll the gloves down over the paper towels to dispose of them in the garbage, not the recycling and then I spray all surfaces with a weak (10%) bleach solution and allow it to dry. Of course, my mother was an OR nurse so I may have been raised to be more careful about cross contamination.

    Reply

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