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When did chickens get super-sized?

Anne Mar 5, 2007 12:53 PM

I usually buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts individually frozen in a 5# bag from GFS (restaurant supply). It states on the bag that they are 4 oz. portions, which is just perfect for us---I cook for just the 2 of us. Well, I was out of them and the local Kroger was advertising Perdue boneless, skinless "fresh" chicken breasts for $1.87/lb., so I decided to buy a package for tonight's dinner. I thought it was strange that the smallest package was over 3 lbs., but figured I'd just freeze the breast halves I wouldn't use today. Well, I get my 3.85lb. package home and find there are FOUR breast halves in the package! That means EACH breast half is over 3/4 lb.! One was particularly large, so I had to weigh it---it was over a FULL POUND! Geez, I've seen smaller TURKEY breasts!
What's going on? What happened to a single chicken breast half being a serving for one---not a whole family?!!
Is Perdue alone in this, or are all the "supermarket chickens" so super-sized?

  1. jfood Mar 5, 2007 01:09 PM

    The meat on a Bell & Evans normally weigh in at ~6oz. each, but can vary widely. I had one package with 3oz and another with an 8 oz'er.

    If you found boneless breast >12 oz each, and foghorn leghorn topped out at over 1 pound that is extremely unusual and frightening. Sounds like they had an over abundence of oven roaster chickens (Stop and shop in CT was selling these for $.69 per pound two weeks ago) and they are selling the roaster breasts as broilers.

    1. e
      emilief Mar 5, 2007 01:13 PM

      I buy chicken at Whole Foods. This last year, they have never had a chicken under 5 lbs. They are enormous- Bell & Evans. No, they tell me, chickens do not come in 3 lb sizes! I hacve coq au vin cooking on the stove now and had to double the liquid portions because the chicken was so large.

      6 Replies
      1. re: emilief
        hotoynoodle Mar 5, 2007 07:20 PM

        that's not true. we serve 3-lb bell and evans chickens where i work. (steakhouse, so guest gets the entire bird.)

        1. re: emilief
          jfood Mar 6, 2007 03:14 AM

          I'm w hoto. i buy B&E 3-4 times a week and usually have 3-3.5 lb'ers. This time of year you can get larger, but i normally stay at this size if whole. WRT the B&E breasts, just look in the case, they will have all sizes.

          1. re: emilief
            Megiac Mar 6, 2007 08:53 AM

            I bought a 3 1/2 pound chicken from Whole Foods last week.

            1. re: Megiac
              California Sunshine Mar 6, 2007 12:32 PM

              Which Whole Foods was that? My two local ones only ever have 5 pounders...

              1. re: California Sunshine
                Megiac Mar 6, 2007 01:54 PM

                Denver. They always seem to have smaller ones.

                1. re: California Sunshine
                  alwayscooking Mar 19, 2009 07:38 AM

                  My 3lb BE was purchased at WF in Boston.

            2. b
              bonmann Mar 5, 2007 01:14 PM

              Mutant chickens are everywhere. Especially the big names like Tyson and Perdue. Like you, I don't understand the point of a breast half that feeds a family of four. Purdue has come out with a perfect portions product that is like your GFS product but not frozen, although you can. That is why many people have stopped buying supermarket chicken breasts. I mean what do they do to these chickens to get them this way?

              3 Replies
              1. re: bonmann
                Bobfrmia Mar 5, 2007 04:11 PM

                This is kinda funny from a timing standpoint. Last week I was running late, wanted some wings to eat while watching the bb game, so just grabbed a box of Tyson Hot and Spicy Wings. Didn't look like much for 4 bucks, but I was in a hurry.
                Of the 14 oz the box contained, 10 of it had to be bone. These were the smallest chicken wings I've ever seen. I've never bought the prepared wings before, and damn sure won't again, but there wasn't a wing as big as my thumb in the box.
                I e-mailed the company asking if they were sure these weren't pigeon wings.
                They did offer me a refund, which I declined, but I'd really like to see these tiny little chickens in the before picture.

                1. re: Bobfrmia
                  bonmann Mar 6, 2007 04:06 AM

                  Now I have this picture in my head of large breasted chickens with little bitty wings!

                  1. re: bonmann
                    LindaWhit Mar 6, 2007 08:22 AM

                    Tyrannosaurus Rex Chickens!

              2. Candy Mar 5, 2007 01:18 PM

                It is pretty much a supermarket thing. I just hate it, I quick roasted 2 last week for a simple supper. I should have frozen one for another time,we split one and still had some leftover tastes for the girls (dogs). I think the supermarkets get the nice little birds for their rotisserie and fried chickens.

                We are lucky to have an insependent meat market here in Bloomington, IN. The Butchers Block. They get their chickens from a local producer and going in and getting just what you need or a perfect little 3 lb. roaster is wonderful. 'Course their other meats and supplies are great too. I buy almost all of my meat from them. I only buy supermarket meat when I am presed for time. I'd complain to the store manager and if you have a nice independent see what they have.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Candy
                  mordacity Mar 17, 2009 12:42 PM

                  I love it. Once a month I'll buy a 4 or 5 pounder and roast it - my sister and I get three nights of roast chicken each, then I'll strip the carcass and use the bits for another night or two of chicken pot pie and the carcass for stock. That's 8-10 meals and half a gallon of stock for $10 worth of chicken. Awesome.

                2. Ruth Lafler Mar 5, 2007 01:25 PM

                  Even the organic chicken breasts at my butcher's are huge -- they usually weigh 3/4 of pound, and sometimes closer to a whole pound. It's ridiculous! I'm a single person, and I don't always want that much chicken (especially if money is tight and I don't want to "invest" in multiple servings when I really only want one).

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                    LindaWhit Mar 6, 2007 08:24 AM

                    Ruth, here's what I usually do is before packaging it for freezing: I split the chicken breast lengthwise down the middle, trying for two relatively even portions. That way, if I need one that's about 4-6 oz., I don't have to double the recipe to accommodate the humongous-sized chicken breast.

                    1. re: LindaWhit
                      Ruth Lafler Mar 6, 2007 08:47 AM

                      Yeah, but sometimes I don't want to pay for chicken that I don't really need. The Smart chicken breasts that I buy aren't cheap -- they're $8.99/lb. Sometimes I don't want to buy $9 worth of chicken when I only need $4.

                  2. d
                    dijon Mar 5, 2007 02:01 PM

                    Most chicken I find at the market these days has the "added natural juices" or some such excuse for pumping them up with salt water like they do turkeys. The other day I saw one with up to 12% water added, and the breasts with bones and skin attached are just huge, then they expand when cooking. I'm a little disappointed but still use the boneless skinless depending on the dish, because they are such a bargain. Read "The Omnivores Dilemma" about our problem with the corn based food factory misguided industry, chicken isn't near the twisted problem beef is. We have "air cooled" no water added "smart' chicken in the grocer now, which I use when I want something a little less adulterated.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: dijon
                      Ruth Lafler Mar 5, 2007 02:12 PM

                      Yeah, organic smart chicken is what I usually buy, too. The breasts are huge.

                      BTW, my sister told me the following: When she prepares roast chicken she "dry brines" it first. When she lived near me, she used Smart Chickens from our butcher, and she said they exuded very little water into the brining container. Now she doesn't have a nearby source for Smart Chickens, so she's using "Rosie" chickens (organic, free-range, sustainable, etc.). She said she was shocked to find that after she's dry brined them there's an inch of water in the container. So air chilling really does make a difference.

                    2. chowser Mar 5, 2007 02:55 PM

                      A lot of chickens sold these days are bred to have extra large breasts. Some are so top heavy that they can no longer stand upright.


                      We can thank McDonald's and chicken nuggets for it.:-p

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: chowser
                        DanaB Mar 6, 2007 01:45 PM

                        >>Some are so top heavy that they can no longer stand upright.<<

                        This is an urban myth. Snopes is your friend:


                        1. re: DanaB
                          LauraB706 Mar 13, 2009 12:41 AM

                          DanaB, your link has nothing to do with top heavy chickens that can't stand upright.

                          Instead, your link is about an urban myth saying KFC doesn't use real chickens, but instead uses "genetically manipulated organisms".

                          Too bad you didn't read your own link.

                          1. re: DanaB
                            RosemaryHoney Mar 16, 2009 08:10 AM

                            Actually, chowser is correct. I've posted about this elsewhere on the boards, but last summer we raised broilers, and even though we selected a breed that was about halfway between "commercially-breed" (think generic Tyson) and "heritage" (which had a low meat-to-feed ratio), our chickens could barely stand. We had them in a chicken tractor, much like the one described in "Omnivore's Dilemma", and we were shocked to see that, despite their green grass and space, they opted (or were only able to) stand/sit in one spot and munch. It was sort of...freakish, really. We butchered them at 12 wks, and they were 7-13 pounds after processing.

                            1. re: RosemaryHoney
                              veggielover Mar 16, 2009 09:45 AM

                              We bought chickens from a local farmer in Massachusetts who butchered them at 12 weeks and we were shocked that they weighed between 5-7 lbs and tasted tough. I could only braise them. what is going on here?

                              1. re: veggielover
                                RosemaryHoney Mar 17, 2009 10:55 AM

                                Hmmmm...that's a good question. They may have been a true "heritage" breed, or laying hens? Ours are incredibly tender, juicy, and flavorful. If they hadn't been so difficult to look at, I would get the same breed again this year. We were planning to move more towards the heritage kind, but your experience makes me wonder...

                                1. re: RosemaryHoney
                                  veggielover Mar 18, 2009 10:43 AM

                                  I have no idea, but I think that I'll ask.

                        2. m
                          MikeW Mar 5, 2007 03:12 PM

                          Try Kosher if you can find it. Empire Kosher whole chickens are usually in the 3 to 3.5 pound range.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MikeW
                            p.j. Mar 8, 2007 11:37 AM

                            I agree that fresh Kosher chickens are available in smaller sizes, and they also tend to have a lot more flavor.
                            That said, my DH buys the bags of Empire frozen breasts, both with and without the bone, for quick week-night meals. I have noticed a tremendous variation in the sizes of the breasts, especially the boneless ones. I get annoyed when I am trying to make fairly even portions of schnitzel, etc., and some breasts are more than 2x the size of others.

                            I remember 30 yrs. ago there were all sorts of sizes: springers, broilers, fryers, etc. I'd consider a 5 lb. chicken to be close to a soup chicken!
                            p.j., who likes the dark meat best, anyway.

                          2. PeterL Mar 5, 2007 03:32 PM

                            They need to send these chickens out to the exercise yard more often.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: PeterL
                              Humbucker Mar 5, 2007 03:58 PM

                              Wouldn't that just make their breasts even larger?

                            2. Karl S Mar 5, 2007 03:41 PM

                              Some ideas

                              1. As noted above, the breeding of chickens with larger breasts (and, in the case of Perdue chickens, fewer bones or ligaments) continues apace, sadly. Now, those birds are usually targeted for sale whole. Generally, these big roasters are crappy birds. It's better to get a capon if you want a large roaster, or two smaller birds if you can't get a capon. Avoid big chickens if you can.

                              2. Smaller, more normal bird breeds increasingly get used for parts instead of for sale whole (GRRR).

                              3. But, as the demand for parts increases, it may be that supermarkets have to cannibalize (inappropriate metaphorical verb duly noted) their supply of monster whole chickens to supply demand for parts. Which I would avoid like the plague (see 1 above).

                              Basic rule: when it comes to hens, bigger is worse, not better.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Karl S
                                missclaudy Mar 5, 2007 04:03 PM

                                Chicken is the new turkey.

                              2. Sarah Mar 5, 2007 04:09 PM

                                I asked the butcher at Mollie Stone for a 3 - 3-1/2 lb chicken, and he said there's no such animal -- that they've all been weighing in at about 4-1/2 lbs, even Rocky Jrs, which I thought would be petite.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Sarah
                                  beachmouse Mar 7, 2007 06:28 AM

                                  At least, I've had good luck finding Sanderson Farms whole chickens in the 3.5-4.0 pound range.

                                2. m
                                  ML8000 Mar 5, 2007 04:21 PM

                                  You can get smaller "less buxom" chickens at a decent Chinatown or Chinese butcher or at a decent butcher w/ organic birds. I think some Mexican butchers also might have smaller birds that focus on flavor first and poundage second. Even as the organics will have large breasts, they usually aren't the monster birds like Costco.

                                  Ironically as the hyper breast chickens take hold -- you're going to start seeing "heirloom" chickens appear like heirloom turkeys and the price will be a little nuts. Example: heirloom turkeys go for 3 or 4 x the price of a regular organic (i.e., $150+ vs. $50-60). Funny how that work.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: ML8000
                                    kare_raisu Mar 5, 2007 07:48 PM

                                    Do you know how to ask specifically for these birds at Mex Carnecerias and or chinese butchers?

                                    1. re: kare_raisu
                                      ML8000 Mar 5, 2007 08:41 PM

                                      I've never bought chicken at a Mexican market so I can't speak to that, just skirt steak. For Chinese markets I just look at the chickens and the price and buy them. The birds are usually always on the skinny side and have the heads and feet on them (a sign of freshness to many). Often they'll lay in a pile and look like rubber chickens.

                                  2. r
                                    robertpasadena Mar 5, 2007 04:32 PM

                                    I'm with Mike W. Try Kosher, the chickens are smaller, naturally yellow from eating real corn and super tasty. Trader Joes in So Cal has a Kosher line, I prefer the taste to organic.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: robertpasadena
                                      hotoynoodle Mar 5, 2007 07:24 PM

                                      some producers, like perdue, mix marigold petals into the chicken feed to get that yellow color. i've also read that regional preferences for color -- yellow, not-so-yellow -- vary what the chcikens are fed.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle
                                        dijon Mar 6, 2007 05:56 AM

                                        The marigold petals in the feed are to give egg yolks their nice gold color. Interestingly, they add lutein to the eggs which is currently being studied as a prevetantive treatement for the eye disease macular degeneration. In a related topic, I think the eggs from uncaged chickens with flax added to the diet to increase the egg's omega 3's are worthwhile despite their extra cost.

                                      2. re: robertpasadena
                                        missclaudy Mar 6, 2007 12:39 PM

                                        Kosher chickens are soaked in salt water (brined) which makes them taste great.

                                      3. n
                                        naturalbusinessnews guy Mar 6, 2007 08:27 AM

                                        The antibioitics and hormones in these birds add a huge amount of water weight to them. While I'm not sure about the mutant organic birds some replies refer to nearly all growers rely on this added weight from feed and treatment to pump up the weight of their poultry, beef and pork.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: naturalbusinessnews guy
                                          kmcarr Mar 16, 2009 09:38 AM

                                          Poultry sold in the US has no added hormones. It is illegal to use hormones and it is actually pointless. The breeds created for factory farming grow so fast on their own that hormones wouldn't make a significant difference.

                                          Certainly antibiotics are used routinely in factory farmed poultry but I can't think of any mechanism in which antibiotics would cause the birds to retain more water.

                                          That is not to say that most chickens from large producers do not contain a lot of additional water weight. Most are injected with an "enhancing" solution; this is basically a salt water solution, possibly including some other flavor enhancers, etc. This added water can make up to 5-12% of the sale weight of the bird.

                                        2. pikawicca Mar 6, 2007 05:12 PM

                                          This is just another one of those insidious developments that are responsible for super-sizing Americans. When I was a kid, one-half of a chicken breast was a serving, and weighed about 4 ounces. Now, most chicken breast halves are two- to three- times bigger, but we still think of that half breast as a reasonable portion. Eight ounces (let alone twelve) of protein is way too much for one person. These new mutant chickens have almost no flavor, as well.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: pikawicca
                                            bonmann Mar 7, 2007 03:22 AM

                                            I agree about lack of flavor in chickens now. Whenever I hear someone say it tastes like chicken, I always think but chicken doesn't taste like anything.

                                            1. re: bonmann
                                              RShea78 Mar 7, 2007 05:23 AM


                                              I tend to agree that the white meat of chicken tends to be lacking in flavor (needs plenty of doctoring), however, I totally disagree with that of the dark meat of chicken. Dark meat of chicken is where almost all of the flavor comes from. (All in my honest opinion)


                                          2. RShea78 Mar 6, 2007 06:21 PM


                                            You initially purchased "portion control" chicken breasts of which are trimmed to the uniform size for restaurant service. The remainder is used for something else. So what you got at the Super Market was an untrimmed cut.

                                            They probably use a more uniform weight bird for making the premium restaurant breasts as the ones that look more like a quartered breast (1/2 of a 1/2) seem rather tough and dry.

                                            BTW I use an over night marinade of regular Italian Dressing (1cup) to Soy or Teriyaki Sauce (1/8 - 1/4) cup as enough to cover each breast that goes back into the refrigerator. (One batch normally covers about 2 pounds of breasts, so make more as needed)

                                            Tip- Beat down (to even out) the thickest areas of the breast with the flat part of a meat tenderizer. It will cook far more evenly that way. Best done before marinading.


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