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Jan 26, 2011 01:22 PM

Chicken industry and the dark meat

Slate had an interesting article on the economics of light and dark chicken meat:

I found particularly interesting the section on a new method to feed Americans dark meat:

Dr. Mirko Betti, a professor of nutritional science, embraced the challenge while completing his Ph.D. at the University of Georgia and developed a product similar to surimi, the synthetic crabmeat found in Asian eateries. The production process is simple; excess water is added to ground dark meat and the slurry is centrifuged at high speed to remove the fat and myoglobin. At the end there are three distinct layers: fat, water, and the extracted meat. The first two are discarded, and the third, which resembles a sort of meaty milkshake, is where the money is. It promises endless commercial applications (in nuggets, burgers, and other processed products) for businesses that can both fulfill demands for "white meat" and exploit the favorable supply-side price of dark meat. Betti, who's currently at the University of Alberta, is confident that in just a couple of years his meaty milkshake will be featured on a menu near you."

Something to look forward to...

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  1. Good read. Taste wise I don't have much preference, but the breast is just so much easier to cook/prepare than the leg/thigh. If dark meat came in boneless packages, I'm sold.

    15 Replies
    1. re: ediblover

      It does! My grocery store almost always has boneless, skinless thighs in stock, for far less than breasts.

      1. re: mpjmph

        I really need to pay more attention. Either that or the stores haven't deem the area to be a good market for it.

        On flavor, there certainly is a difference, but it's still chicken in the end and even free ranged ones have a mild flavor compared to something like duck.

        On a strange note, with fried chicken, I like the drumstick and breast, not for flavor, but because it's just easier to get at the meat.

        1. re: mpjmph

          Sometimes, in my Mexican tinged markets, b/s thighs cost more than b/s breasts when the breasts are on sale for like 1.60 /lb. I fear that ppl are getting wise and starting to realize that thighs are insanley good, and breasts are not as tasty. Kinda like what happened to skirt steaks a few years ago.

        2. re: ediblover

          Interesting, I find a huge difference in tastes between breast and thigh meat.

            1. re: Jase

              Hi Jase,

              Me too! The thigh meat is less dry and has more flavor than breast.


              1. re: Jase

                I agree about the difference in flavor between dark and white chicken meat--I think the texture also is influential: the darker leg meat is moister and it just tastes a bit fattier and more flavorful.
                But how come no one has talked about the difference in flavor between bone-in and boneless chicken parts? I've always heard that bone-in parts are more flavorful when cooked, as well as giving more flavor to the sauce if used for stews, braises, etc. So that's what I use, if possible in my recipe.

                1. re: Goblin

                  Hi Goblin,

                  Chicken breasts on bone with skin are much more flavorful when cooked. The bone and skin insulate the meat. Much less loss of juices and flavor.

                  If you want skinless-boneless for your final preparation it's not a big deal to remove skin and bones after it's cooked.


                  1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                    You right; I forgot how much flavor the skin adds too!

                    1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                      The flavour lives in the fat between the skin and the meat. When they are skinned the boneheads in the markets pull off all the fat too. Bye bye flavour. Up here in Toronto we have a whole lot of Asian supermarkets. Big ones, not corner stores on obscure streets. Large full service Super Markets I I highly recommend T&T Markets). They have chicken at half the price of the regular stores and they do boneless leg and thigh in one piece. Don't ask me why they sell them so cheaply because in chef's school I hated having to bone out a whole leg and thigh because it was so hard to get around the joint without the whole thing falling apart. The Asian market prefers dark meat so we have tons. I buy nothing but for soups and stews and whatever else I dream up. For years the chicken processing industry has sent most of it's dark meat and the feet and the heads to the Asian Market. The general market prefers white meat 10 to 1. We're an unusual bunch but we know what tastes the best!!

                  2. re: Jase

                    Me three. I greatly prefer dark meat to white/breast meat. Where there is a choice I always take the thighs/legs - preferably bone-in, skin-on. I don't know what the problem is with cooking them, as mentioned in another post.

                  3. re: ediblover

                    I always thought thighs were easier to cook than breast, because it's almost impossible to overcook. I just throw one on a pan on low heat and walk away for a while. When I come back it's done.

                    1. re: joonjoon

                      It depends on what you're doing. If you want a boneless presentation, and can't find a boneless thigh, there's added complexity. If you want skinless, and there's no skinless thigh at the store, there's added complexity. You also have to trim thighs a bit for gristle, which you rarely if ever have to do for breasts.

                      1. re: tommy

                        For myself, I want the skin on. I want the bone in. Off the top of my head I can't think of a dish that would specifically call for boneless thighs, at least one that I might want to make. In any case I might even look slightly askance at folks who can't handle a single large bone in a thigh when eating it...

                        I personally think the frequent desire for boneless, skinless, fat-less, colorless chicken is a little, uh, weird. Why not just get processed protein cubes instead?

                        <Shrug> Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

                        1. re: huiray

                          "<Shrug> Different strokes for different folks, I guess."


                  4. Hi,

                    Geeze... That's disgusting!

                    To Ediblover, I see boneless thighs in the supermarket. Haven't seen legs but that's likely because they wouldn't be as easy to bone, tendons and all.


                    14 Replies
                    1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                      Not sure why it's any more disgusting than killing, cutting up and cooking the chicken in the first place. I guess everyone has their threshold of what's tolerable but this is a reasonable approach to feeding people at low cost. This isn't all that different from chicken hot dogs or chicken sausage - just a little more specialized.

                      1. re: ferret

                        I find it very hard to get my head around how processing a chicken's best parts (in our family, breasts are for sandwiches, period) as elaborately as this, and turning it into sludge that requires further elaborate processing to make it sort of palatable, could be economically superior to just giving everyone a chicken to eat. I am convinced that, although there are a few who genuinely do not like dark meat (hey, some folks hate Mozart, too), most people who don't eat it have been scared away by the Fat Police, or at least think they SHOULDN'T like it. Furthermore, a reasonably well-though-out campaign showing happy, healthy people taking big fat bites out of thighs and drumsticks would almost certainly reverse the trend. Or maybe the stores should just make breasts cheap and leg quarters expensive, and let the snob factor do the job.

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          Comparing Mozart to dark meat chicken made me laugh for some reason..I am still trying to figure out why..

                          1. re: Robinez

                            Me too! I should screen my dates with those two preferences . . .

                          2. re: Will Owen

                            "Or maybe the stores should just make breasts cheap and leg quarters expensive,"
                            Will, it is interesting you should suggest that, because in Japan this is exactly the case. The cheapest chicken parts are the breasts, while the thighs cost about twice as much. The reason is that most people here think the breasts have little flavor compared to the thighs.
                            Interestingly enough, chicken wings used to be cheap, but interesting ways of cooking them have become popular, and now they are more expensive.

                            1. re: Tripeler

                              "The reason is that most people here think the breasts have little flavor compared to the thighs." This is not opinion, I insist, but demonstrable fact. Color indicates the presence of more flavoring elements, and fat=flavor as well. Now, a perfectly poached, just-barely-done chicken breast is certainly delicious when still hot and slightly quivery, but to preserve any of that delicious IMO requires skillful preparation and plenty of mayonnaise. But I just had three grilled skinless/boneless thighs for lunch, cooked night before last and eaten cold today, and they were almost as good as when just off the grill.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                Yes! Thighs are much less prone to overcooking. They contain much more iron and potassium. Myoglobins are found in tissue that is used more (i.e. thighs) as they transfer oxygen more efficiently to the muscles, creating dark meat. Breasts contain glycogen which is stored in the liver and when needed by the white muscle broken down into glucose.

                                1. re: chefathome

                                  Not to mention the fact that you can marinate them in olive & chile oil with S&P, sprinkle Aleppo pepper all over them and grill'em until they pop and sizzle. Oh, I guess you kinda did say that …

                                  Anybody looking for skinless/boneless thighs packaged for sale will probably have better luck if he or she inhabits an area with a large Latino population. This is one of the specialty items offered by your typical Latin-American grocery or carniceria, and around here in SoCal, anyway, the mainstream chains are following right along, some even offering those or beef preseasoned for carne asada (another very nice thing to grill).

                                2. re: Will Owen

                                  And do they ever shrink while grilling or baking! But what's left is pretty tasty, including cold leftovers.

                                  1. re: Will Owen


                                    Grilled ginger hoisin boneless chicken thighs are great fresh and as leftovers. A quickie sandwich the next day or cut them up and make tacos out of them.

                                  2. re: Tripeler

                                    Supply and demand. The more people want it the more expensive it will be. They don't like white chicken in Japan. That's why it's cheap. The reverse of here. Wings got expensive because we wanted them. They used be part of the bird that got sent to the Asian Market. Then Buffalo Wings happened. Now when I go to Hong Kong (I love Hong Kong, food, food, food!) you can't get stuffed chicken wings for love or money and when you can they cost a fortune! They are so good!

                                3. re: ferret

                                  Hi Ferret,

                                  I don't find "killing, cutting up and cooking the chicken in the first place" disgusting at all.

                                  I'm quite fond of chicken, dark or light meat. I do, though, want it to be meat, not a 'meaty milkshake' which has had all the fat and, likely, all the flavor removed, before more processing which allegedly turns it into something which will substitute for white meat. That's what I find disgusting.

                                  Agree with Will Owen. I don't see how doing this will make it economical.


                                  1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                    do you do it yourself? sagacious hillbilly has a nice primer. read it before you call it "not disgusting."

                                    I consider it necessary, and rather primal, myself.

                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                      chow,......and going to a higher use.

                              2. I'd hate to see this drive up dark meat prices. I love dark meat and think it's great that it's inexpensive. Give me dark meat any day of the week. When I roast a chicken, we save the breast meat to make chicken salad sandwiches, it's too bland to eat by itself otherwise.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Jase

                                  Exactly. Dark meat is win-win: tastes better, and is cheaper too. I will never understand the appeal of paying a premium for boneless/skinless white meat. Nasty stuff.

                                  1. re: Naco

                                    I wouldn't go so far as to call breast nasty but otherwise I agree. I only buy thighs or leg quarters at the supermarket except for the rare occasion when I plan to drag out the rotisserie and do a whole bird. Then, the breast meat is the last part eaten and almost always winds up as leftovers to be added to some other dish. When I eat chicken out, I order the dark pieces or dishes with dark meat, if possible.

                                    As to the question raised above about price I don't see how this can do anything but drive the price of dark meat pieces up.

                                    1. re: brucesw

                                      I like chicken and dumplins. If I use all dark meat ( it was an experiment) it is too fatty. If I use equal parts dark and white it is perfect. White meat has it's advantage's other than the obligatory chicken salad, and sandwiches. And a bit of white meat is needed in a homemade pot pie.

                                      1. re: brucesw

                                        I was talking specifically about boneless-skinless breasts, not breasts in general.

                                  2. this is not new/news, "mechanically separated" chicken has been around for quite a while. here's a pic before it's molded into kid-friendly animal nugget shapes.


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