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The Problem with Mary's Chicken

I have now twice purchased Mary's chicken to find out why it is considered so good. The first time, I purchased it at Avedano's over in Bernal Heights. I came home immediately and open it from the packaging and it smelled so foul (no pun intended) that I needed to air out the entire kitchen and obviously could not prepare nor serve the chicken. Second time - today, I purchased a Mary;s chicken at Faletti's - came home, opened up the packaging and while not nearly as offensive as the previous experience with Mary's, there was no way I could serve to consume.

I am not completely faulting the stores as a big fan of Faletti's and Avedano's obviously has a good reputation, but is there something about Mary that I should know???

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  1. I use Mary's chicken thighs to make raw cat food and have never had a problem. During the process, I get pretty intimate with the chicken, too, since I'm feeding it piece by piece into the grinder and then mixing it up with other things. No strange smells at all. I buy it at Whole Foods, by the way.

    1 Reply
    1. re: emily

      Emily, could you please contact me via my email address? I, too, feed my cats raw -- WF ground chicken thighs. last_ghia@yahoo.com.

    2. The problem is not so much with the chicken as to how it is packaged. I've had this problem with Rocky chickens and other birds that are packaged in an air tight bag. As the bird sits in the bag (even if only for a few days) the juices of the meat continue to leach out of the meat. With nowhere to go they sit in the bag and decompose. The same bird that was not packaged that way and left to sit in a refrigerator for as long would not have the same odor (or flavor). Either its not purchasing any bird that is packaged this way or its knowing when the fresh shipment comes in and timing your purchase to get it as soon as possible, then racing home to remove it from the bag, rinsing and either preparing or storing it.

      17 Replies
      1. re: runningman

        OP reports going right home and unwrapping the chicken right away. Are Mary's chickens pre-wrapped? I had in my head (but could be wrong) that they are not wrapped until purchased: if so, there wouldn't be time for this process to occur as you describe.

        Most of the high end chickens I purchase are not wrapped until purchased. My most recent purchases were Fulton Valley chickens from Canyon Market in Glen Park, which had been recommended on the board (I think by Windy), and which were very good.

        1. re: susancinsf

          I have seen Mary's chicken both ways.

          1. re: wally

            You are correct, when purchased at Avedano's, the Mary's chicken was pre-wrapped. Today when purchased at Faletti's it was not wrapped until purchased. Interestingly, my wife went back and returned the spoiling chicken this afternoon and they gladly returned it and replaced it with another Mary's chicken. It was okay, the wings were bruised and discolored. I don't mean to be unreasonable, but I have cooked many chickens in my life and these are not cutting it. For me, I am now 0-3 when purchasing Mary's chickens...I think I am finished.

          2. re: susancinsf

            The chicken from Mary's is disgusting. I purchased one on Saturday the 12th at Whole Foods. The packaged date was the 12th, so I was looking forward to having a fresh chicken that day. I opened it up and though it was not as bad as the one I got about 6 months earlier, it also did not smell like it was just packaged today, so I called whole foods to ask what's up? this is not a fresh chicken as the package indicated. The butcher asked me whether it was a label on the original package or one from Whole Foods. I said, from Whole Foods. He then said that that was the label that they put on it that day and does not reflex the actual packaged date of when the bird was packed at Mary's. I said I don't care when it was packaged at Mary's. It you put a label, packed on the 12th, as a consumer expects it to have been slaughter that day, after all, that's why we look at pack dates to begin with, to determine how fresh the chicken is. We expect it to be the first packed date, not the second, or third or how ever many times your put an extra label on it and if you put a pack date that is not the day the bird was slaughtered and packed, then it is deceptive. He agreed and suggested that I email Mary and ask her to put a pack date on it herself. Can you believe that???? What kind of business is that??? That I should fix their labeling glitch??? I'm sure I need to call Whole foods again and speak to the manager. I spoke to someone in the meat department, and he obviously has no clue of how to fix this, but my concern is Whole Foods, putting a pack date on the chicken when they know that the chicken was not slaughtered that day.

            1. re: susancinsf

              Some of Marys (and I think Fulton Farms, also) are pre-wrapped, it depends on where you buy them. I can't remember with any certainty, so I won't give names, but I seem to remember finding pre-wrapped birds from both at decent stores and no problems with either.

            2. re: runningman

              Reopening this thread... Runningman, I've experienced this problem with Rocky Jr. parts I've purchased in airtight bags. I wondered why there was the off smell and your explanation makes a lot of sense. Since it is the juices rather than the chicken that has decomposed, though, is the chicken still safe to eat? I have to admit that I baked them anyway and experienced no ill effects. But the whole time, I was a little worried. :) I'm wondering if just rinsing the chicken parts prior to cooking would be sufficient from a food safety point of view.

              1. re: goodeatsgal

                always rinse a chicken like that. Mine was a pastured chicken and it was absolutely tasteless.

                1. re: cheuimay

                  I think the taste of the bird is also (mostly?) in the genes. So you may have a pastured bird that is not a tasty breed.

                  1. re: rubadubgdub

                    I doubt Whole foods would use a tasteless breed for their most expensive bird. $4.65 per pound. To be honest, I did over cook it trying some of the techniques found on the internet to deal with pastured chickens who roam on grass all day and are tougher. all the recipes were on whole birds and I wanted to save the breast, back and neck for other things. though I cut the cooking time to 2/3, it still ended dry and tasteless. Yesterday, I ate one of the breasts fermented in kefir for a day and marinated in garlic, lime, salt, pepper and olive oil raw and it was absolutely delicious, but raw chicken is always much more tasty than cooked. Too bad the rest of the bird would be too tough to eat raw, but this gives me a great idea to maybe ferment it first.

                    1. re: cheuimay

                      I've eaten lots of pastured chickens purchased direct from local farmers and have not found them tough.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Pasture raised is tougher, simply because they are free to roam as opposed to being confined in cages. Your conclusion that they are not tough is based on what you're use to, but there is a diffference. To me, it's not that much tougher and those birds are usually much more tasty, but my husband is really hung up on fall off the bone tenderness and in my experience, and my personal taste preference, fall off the bone often means the succulents has been cooked out... probably a fine line between how long and low your cook it... a technique I definitely need more practice in.

                        1. re: cheuimay

                          Younger, smaller pasture raised chickens have legs that are not as tough, really hard to find.

                          1. re: wally

                            When I got the pastured chicken from Whole Foods, I got the biggest one, thinking it would be more fleshy. Was I wrong. Though it was only 3 lbs, it was very tough and bony. Now I know the obvious reason. The larger birds are older. It also could be a male bird. I was told by an older Chinese man from mainland China that the male birds are tougher and have less fat, which he preferred for the health benefits. There were other smaller birds, one so small, it looked like a pigeon. I'll try again at Whole foods, this time I'll know that the freshest it will be is two days, and there will be a smell from the cryovac. If it turns out, I'll let everyone know. $4.65 a lb for a fully pastured chicken is a great price. thanks for all the input.

                            1. re: cheuimay

                              the largest pasture raised chicken readily found in local sources is probably around 5+ lbs (processed and cleaned). Prather Ranch used to sell Soul Food farms which were the usual 3.5-4 lbs. but changed their source, and sometimes has these larger birds. Their price per pound is substantially higher, as it costs the farmer more to raise the birds longer (the activity of the animals demands a higher caloric intake). excellent flavor. legs are a bit chewy but not tough. folks who find the pasture raised birds tough might consider marinades or wet brines that are acidic.

                          2. re: cheuimay

                            Any chicken will fall off the bone if you braise it long enough.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              And you can keep some of the succulence if you braise it.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Yes, I did braise the pastured chicken from Whole foods and it did fall off the bone, but it was dry, probably because I over did the skin crispy part a the end, because the wine and spices at the bottom was completely dried out, so this whole discussion probably chalks up to me needing more practice on this type of bird. Also, there are other ways to deal with a tougher bird, simmering in thick sauces, like curry etc., but for me, it does take away a whole lot of other choices that I love, like barbecue or roasting without a cover.

                2. What did the people at the store say when you returned the apparently spoiled meat?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    The people at Avedano's were surprised that it stunk. I suppose that makes sense as it was pre-wrapped so they could not have known. My wife went back to Faletti's this afternoon to exchange todays stinky bird and they gladly made the exchange and indicated that the jury was still out on Mary's chickens - I suppose this is not completely unusual. Either way, I have prepared hundreds if not thousands of chickens, and so far, Mary's chickens are not holding up to the reputation.

                    To answer your question, both stores have responded as well as could be expected to the spoiled chicken. I do have a very sensitive nose to this kind of thing. I think I'll stick with the Happy Dan's at Bryan's.

                  2. I purchase Mary's chicken from Cal-Mart/Antonelli's on a weekly basis. The boneless skin-on breasts aren't prewrapped but the whole chickens are. I have never had an odor problem with either. I do know that Antonelli's stock of Mary's doesn't last very long, so maybe it is a turnover problem at the stores you frequent? Just throwing that out there.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: meggie t

                      That is a good point. Turnover is very important. I generally always consider the amount of turnover when purchasing meat or poultry of any kind. I would imagine that both Faletti's and Avedano's should have decent turn of their product.

                      1. re: meggie t

                        Both my stinky birds were pastured heritage birds, maybe because most people go for the regular ones, so there is no turn over problem, but I find the feed that are given to chickens makes the birds absolutely tasteless, so I thought I'd get a pastured one where they are free to forage and not be limited to soybeans and corn, they would taste richer, but the one I got last Saturday was also tasteless.

                      2. Just an update that might be of some use. Antonelli's at CalMart is not selling Fulton Valley anymore - their prices went up too much due to corn prices and Antonelli's said they would have to charge too much for them. They are now using Mary's Chicken for all their cuts, which I am very happy about. In addition, they are still offering Rosie's Organic boneless/skinless breasts.

                        One thing of interest is they now have Mary's Organic whole chickens, which they didn't previously carry (they only had the free-range). In speaking with them today, I inquired about the difference and he said that the organic is much more gamey tasting/smelling (and pre-wrapped, by the way, which their current stock of free-range is not). I thought of this thread and wondered if the OP purchased a Mary's organic or just free-range, and if organic maybe that has something to do with the smell.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: meggie t

                          Interesting as I noticed that Antonelli's was now selling Mary's. I don't doubt that chicken prices have gone up at the wholesale level as certainly have on the retail level, but Antonelli's always seemed to charge more than anybody - especially Bryan's which was right down the way. The other thing that Antonelli's does which I find a bit questionable is that they leave a portion of the backbone on the whole legs. This adds weight and thereby price to the purchase without adding any value. Most butchers sell whole legs that are just the leg and thigh only.

                          Regarding the smell that I experienced twice, it was undoubtably the odor of spoiled or old chicken. I have cooked and prepared several hundred if not thousand chickens in my life and recognize the smell of old chicken.

                          That said, I have had Mary's chickens at a friends house and the chicken was very good.

                          Right now, the best value for chicken is at Delano's market where they sell Rocky Jr.'s still for $1.79/pound.

                        2. I have purchased whole Mary's chickens (and parts) several times and I have never experienced what you have described. I like the Mary's brand for what it represents, air chilled chickens which have a better flavor and taste. I've always purchased my Mary's chickens in open butcher cases, where the chicken is packaged at the time of purchase. Since Mary's chickens are more expensive (hence it doesn't get sold as quickly), is it possible the butcher had them for a long time and it was possibly time for the butcher to discard the chicken, rather than sell it?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: peachblossom

                            that's the problem at Whole foods, though their heritage chickens are the cheapest ones around, it's still $4.65 a lb, and there is not enough turn over, so twice now, I've gotten a stale one. I'm definitely not going to pay $4.65 a lb for stale chicken.

                          2. the smell comes from them being in an air tight bag theres nothing wrong with the chicken. im a butcher and have dealt with these for many years.

                            1. Been buying them from Andronicos in Berkeley for years. never noticed an off-smell, ever.

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: arktos

                                Agreed. We've been buying them for quite some time at Whole Foods (Berkeley & Oakland) without a problem. No off smell. They cook up nicely with good texture and stay moist.

                                1. re: arktos

                                  Was it a pastured heritage chicken shrink rapped in cryovac? I spoke to the store manager in the Pasadena Whole Foods and he immediately called Mary and was told that it takes one day to air dry, then packed the next and possible shipped the next. Who wants to eat a three day old chicken stewing in it's own blood and liquids?

                                  1. re: cheuimay

                                    If three days from slaughter is not fresh enough for you, you'll need to raise your own or buy live in Chinatown.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      There was a time in history when no one would eat a 3 day old chicken. Now, most everyone's taste buds have dulled to accept 3 day old, soybean fed as fresh and succulent. I know they have chickens that you can purchase on the day of slaughter in Chinatown, but I'm trying to find one that is also humanly raised, pastured, and organically fed. Healthy Family farms has a booth in the South Pasadena farmer's market on Tues from 4-8p.m., though they're 100 % pastured with no soy or corn fed, I don't think it's organic.

                                      From one of their emails to me:

                                      Our meat chickens and egg layers roam on pasture eating insects and plants. We sprinkle feed along the area where they forage. The feed is a mix of seperate grains/legumes we purchase containing sorghum, oats, barley, alfalfa, peas.

                                      I got some pastured eggs from them last week and they look absolutely vibrant not thin and runny when opened.

                                      1. re: cheuimay

                                        Due to the need to wait out rigor mortis, three days old is about as fresh as you'll find chickens unless you slaughter them yourself. Some threads on the Home Cooking board on that subject:


                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Ming Kee Game Birds in SF Chinatown has wong mo gai that are slaughtered in the morning in Turlock and trucked to the shop for sale the same day. The firmness of a freshly killed chicken is considered desirable by the Cantonese. OTOH, some SF chefs are playing around with aging chickens. In France I had a roast chicken that had been aged for 15 days that was quite tender of flesh.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Thank you. I've had many chickens from Chinese poultry shops that was slaughtered in the morning and sold that day. I'm use to the sweet taste of fresh chicken. Aging seems like a good idea-but not cryovaced in it's own blood-would love to know if anyone knows how to do it. That would really solve the toughness of a pastured bird.

                                            1. re: cheuimay

                                              The chicken I had in France was aged with all its innards but the intestines. Don't know if it was bled or not. The roasted skin was extremely crispy, so I imagine that it was air-dried. The raw chickens (not wrapped in plastic) that I saw on display at specialty poultry shops all had dryish skin. The tender flesh of the Coucou de Rennes was remarkable considering the amount of tendons on that bird. I mean, I've had poulet de Bresse with similar sinew that had such tough flesh, we couldn't cut it with a non-steak knife.

                                              Bringing it back to the Bay Area, I've read that Saison ages its chickens. But some customers complain that the taste is too gamey.

                                            2. re: Melanie Wong

                                              without the written ideograms, Cantonese is nearly impossible for me to figure out. 'wong mo gai' is huang mao or yellow hair chicken ? xie xie.

                                              1. re: moto

                                                Yes, you figured it out, huang mao ji!

                                                You can buy live chickens and other live poultry at Ming Kee. But no longer slaughtered to order on site.

                                  2. I've bought fresh chicken, killed that morning, at the Ferry Building farmers market and was told by the farmer not to eat it for at least a day or it would be too tough. I bought two and cooked one that day, any way, and he was right.

                                    I've also bought other chickens (Whole Foods) organic and air chilled, and not shrink wrapped and they have had an odor about them when I took off the butcher paper after a few hours. I rinsed them, which you're supposed to do anyway, and the smell pretty much went away. I would note that the skin was not slimey, a give away when the meat is truly going bad.

                                    I used to walk to work through Chinatown, at around 5:45a and they'd be unloading crates of live chickens. All the birds looked perfectly healthy with none of the defects seen in photos of caged birds. As the birds were brought in through the front door, one could hear a band saw out the back, so they weren't long in San Francisco as live birds...

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: gryphonsroost

                                      I was taught not to rinse chicken for fear that the spattering of juices would spread bacteria, and especially so for air-chilled chicken since the water from the rinsing would make it more difficult to get crispy skins.

                                      1. re: vincentlo

                                        You have to rinse it, it's a dead animal carcass. That makes no sense (but a lot of our received wisdom doesn't). But remember Julia Child; dry the meat! Use paper towels. Apply salt for a few hours (like Zuni Cafe). Or look for the recipe for Peking Duck. There's all sorts of ways to get crisp skins.

                                        And I've cooked plenty of chickens without rinsing them. I'm not a worry wort (although the latest Consumer Reports article about bacteria on chickens was an eye opener!)

                                      2. re: gryphonsroost

                                        The idea of rinsing the poultry prior to washing has been rejected:


                                        1. re: escargot3

                                          Yep, that's been making the news lately.

                                      3. The problem with Mary's. I've never had their chicken. It's their duck that tastes like chicken. I have made it couple times.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: emglow101

                                          So I believe that any "less favorable" or negative comment should be balanced by favorable comments when appropriate. As such, I started this thread years ago as was very disappointed if not disgusted by Mary's chickens. Well, time has changed.

                                          I now buy Mary's chickens, both the "natural" or "organic" that are pre-packed. Invariably, the chickens are in good condition, free of bruises, free of malodorous stink and generally firm and fresh tasting meat.

                                          When I first posted, I believe Mary's was relatively newer to market as least to the larger market. Whatever the problem, they seem to have been remedied. Now, I am very comfortable purchasing a Mary's chicken, generally at Bi-Rite on Divisadero or Haight Street Market.

                                          1. re: poulet_roti

                                            I bought two Mary's Organic chickens for Xmas dinner. Both were wonderful.

                                        2. I have had very high quality Mary's chickens, both what they call "natural" and the organic. I usually always purchase them from Whole Foods stores in the North Bay.

                                          I'm a repeat buyer. I made Zuni's Roast Chicken and Bread Salad again last night with a Mary's chicken. So wonderful.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                            Andronico's has Mary's whole chickens on sale this week for $2.59/lb. I bought a 5-pounder and no bad odor.