A guide to sourcing the best quality meat:
Three questions to ask your butcher about chicken
It can feel daunting to ask a butcher about the quality of their chicken. But a genuinely good butcher will welcome your questions and be proud of their answers.
So, how do you make sure you’re buying the best quality chicken from your butcher? Here are the questions to ask to make sure a chicken really has been reared more humanely and is slower-grown, offering lots more flavour and a more substantial texture.
1. WHAT BREED IS IT?
Ideally the bird will be a slow growing breed, these are typically from Hubbard. The older a bird is, the more flavour it has. It’s also a much firmer meat and there’s more fat on the bird, so the eating quality is much better.
The Ross bird has been developed to grow quickly in industrial systems. It has very small legs because nobody really wants to buy them and enormous breasts.
2. AT WHAT AGE WAS IT KILLED?
In intensive systems chickens are killed as early as 21 days and typically around 35 days old. “If a newborn baby grew as fast as your average supermarket chicken, by her third birthday she would weigh 28 stone,” says RSPCA’s chicken welfare specialist, Kate Parkes.
For free-range systems 56 days is more the norm and this is still a fairly fast-growing bird.
Birds growing at their natural rate will be ready for slaughter at around 70 or 80 days. These will have typically been reared in the most humane conditions and offer the deepest flavour.
3. HOW LONG ARE THEY HUNG FOR?
If they are hung for a few days, like game, this will improve the texture.Three More Questions For A Deeper Understanding…
3 more questions for a deeper understanding
1. HOW MANY BIRDS ARE THERE TO A SHED?
Ideally, there shouldn’t be any more than 500 birds per shed, if you got thousands then only half will go outside because they won’t be able to access the exits.
2. WHAT PERCENTAGE OF PROTEIN ARE THEY FED?
The chickens will be fed different amounts of protein as they grow, so you want to know what’s the maximum percentage of protein in their feed? Ideally, it should be lower than 20%. For context, there’s a huge difference between 20% and 24%.
3. HOW FAR AWAY IS THE ABATTOIR FROM THE FARM?
The journey is really traumatic for any livestock so the shorter the better.