Store-bought vs. farm-fresh: Which chicken will win?

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This past Sunday, I had a dinner party with two chickens and a pop quiz. I wanted to know in as semi-scientific a way possible whether a local farm chicken was really better than a grocery store chicken.

So, I cooked the two similarly sized chickens side by side with the same treatment (herbs and an apple and garlic in the middle, lots of butter) and asked people to rate them on a very open rubric.

I didn't tell anyone which chicken was which until the end, after everyone had eaten the same cuts of both birds and filled out their "Chicken Report Card." ("You're such a nerd," one of my guests said.)

The results were surprising. I'm not mentioning the farm, or the grocery store, or the brand of grocery store chicken I used, because this experiment really shouldn't be that specific!

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Right out of the bag, I could see the difference. The farm chicken was pinker, and of course, its neck and giblets weren't encased in a little bag, they were just inside the chicken. The store chicken had a bit of a yellowish color, and more fat flapped around the thighs and center cavity.

The chickens browned pretty evenly as they cooked on, but the grocery store chicken was just a little plumper (to be fair, it was also about a pound heavier). The farm chicken's skin crisped up better. Cooking two chickens in the same pan gave me a lot of liquid to baste with, which probably helped the process for both birds.

I would be remiss not to mention that a pasture-raised, local chicken that was fed organically is just objectively going to be better for you than a caged chicken from God knows where. It's also ethically cleaner, if you ask me — I know the money I paid for the farm chicken is going directly to good work being done in my community. But a grocery store chicken is not going to kill you, and it's substantially cheaper. Roasting one of those is still better than a dinner of Hot Pockets or other food-like items.

WHAT THE GUESTS SAID

I hate to tell you, but the grocery store chicken won out. I'll even confirm my bias and say I was really rooting for the farm chicken.

I graded on general taste, juiciness and skin crispness, plus an essay question about any striking differences between chickens 1 and 2. The grocery store chicken was voted juicier, but the farm chicken won out on texture.

One guest classified the grocery store chicken as having a "grittier" taste. One person wrote, "I literally cannot tell a single difference." Another wrote, "Chicken 2 (the grocery store chicken) was more moist and the meat fell apart more easily." Yet another wrote, "This was a delightful test! Overall, Chicken 1 was a bit tougher than Chicken 2."

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