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Chicken industry and the dark meat

sordftr Jan 26, 2011 01:22 PM

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...

  1. e
    ediblover Jan 26, 2011 01:55 PM

    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
      mpjmph Jan 26, 2011 03:39 PM

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

      1. re: mpjmph
        ediblover Jan 27, 2011 01:10 PM

        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
          gordeaux Jan 28, 2011 04:04 AM

          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
          Jase Jan 26, 2011 03:43 PM

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

          1. re: Jase
            chefathome Jan 26, 2011 03:45 PM

            So do I - a VAST difference.

            1. re: Jase
              I used to know how to cook... Jan 26, 2011 03:46 PM

              Hi Jase,

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


              1. re: Jase
                Goblin Jan 27, 2011 04:52 PM

                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
                  I used to know how to cook... Jan 27, 2011 05:06 PM

                  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...
                    Goblin Jan 27, 2011 05:24 PM

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

                    1. re: I used to know how to cook...
                      Chef Wendy B Feb 2, 2011 01:07 PM

                      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
                    huiray Jan 28, 2011 07:36 PM

                    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
                    joonjoon Feb 1, 2011 11:11 AM

                    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
                      tommy Feb 1, 2011 11:13 AM

                      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
                        huiray Feb 1, 2011 11:25 PM

                        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
                          tommy Feb 2, 2011 05:00 AM

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


                  4. I used to know how to cook... Jan 26, 2011 02:07 PM


                    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...
                      ferret Jan 26, 2011 02:38 PM

                      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
                        Will Owen Jan 26, 2011 03:12 PM

                        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
                          Robinez Jan 26, 2011 07:26 PM

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

                          1. re: Robinez
                            operagirl Jan 27, 2011 08:07 PM

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

                          2. re: Will Owen
                            Tripeler Jan 27, 2011 04:35 AM

                            "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
                              Will Owen Jan 27, 2011 12:55 PM

                              "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
                                chefathome Jan 27, 2011 01:11 PM

                                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
                                  Will Owen Jan 27, 2011 04:10 PM

                                  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
                                  Veggo Jan 27, 2011 04:31 PM

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

                                  1. re: Will Owen
                                    Jase Jan 27, 2011 04:33 PM


                                    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
                                    Chef Wendy B Feb 2, 2011 01:13 PM

                                    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
                                  I used to know how to cook... Jan 26, 2011 03:31 PM

                                  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...
                                    Chowrin Jan 28, 2011 01:12 PM

                                    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
                                      ospreycove Jan 28, 2011 05:15 PM

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

                              2. j
                                Jase Jan 26, 2011 03:45 PM

                                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
                                  Naco Jan 26, 2011 03:48 PM

                                  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
                                    brucesw Jan 26, 2011 06:53 PM

                                    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
                                      Robinez Jan 26, 2011 07:34 PM

                                      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
                                        Naco Jan 27, 2011 03:55 AM

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

                                  2. s
                                    soupkitten Jan 26, 2011 07:13 PM

                                    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.


                                    1. I used to know how to cook... Jan 27, 2011 05:34 PM

                                      This discussion about the dark meat having more flavor and boneless thighs being readily available makes me think next time I grind up some chicken for meatballs I'll mix in some thighs.

                                      Thoughts anyone on appropriate proportions? Maybe half and half?


                                      1. huiray Jan 28, 2011 07:51 PM

                                        That dark meat slurry sounds dreadful.

                                        From the article:

                                        "Why do we treat dark meat—perfectly edible dark meat, savored abroad—as a waste product?"

                                        "...consumers unconsciously perceive dark meat as dirty when compared to the breast, perhaps because it's situated at the back and bottom of the animal."

                                        "...to another reason why chicken legs rarely make it into our shopping carts: We're squeamish. "When you're faced with a chicken leg, there's no hiding the fact that it's the leg of an animal," says Pelchat."

                                        Sad. Truly sad.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: huiray
                                          Will Owen Jan 31, 2011 10:43 AM

                                          Yes, it is. We are animals that have always eaten other animals, a fact with which I made my peace as soon as I graduated from baby food. Never had a qualm about eating bunnies and chickies and moo-cows. YMMV, but if you're gonna eat meat you really ought to be honest about it.

                                          1. re: huiray
                                            rockandroller1 Feb 2, 2011 07:10 AM

                                            Um, beef tenderloin is part of the ass muscle that pushes out cow poop. So I don't think the back/bottom of the chicken argument holds water.

                                            1. re: rockandroller1
                                              huiray Feb 2, 2011 10:02 AM

                                              Great - do convey that to the folks the article discusses! :-)

                                              1. re: rockandroller1
                                                sparrowgrass Feb 3, 2011 09:30 AM

                                                No. Tenderloin is the strip under the backbone.

                                                1. re: rockandroller1
                                                  Chef Wendy B Feb 3, 2011 09:59 AM

                                                  Rockand roller you might want to get yourself a picture of the conformation of a cow and/or a chicken. You're a little off the mark on where the Tenderloin is. In any animal it's the least used muscle there is, hence the name TENDER loin. It hugs the rib cage under the loin. On a chicken it's that wierd piece that falls off the breast when you pull it off the bone.It isn't doing any pushing, cow poop or anything else for that matter!

                                              2. Motosport Jan 31, 2011 10:54 AM

                                                I.M.H.O. boneless chicken breast may be "easier" to cook but unless you slather them in sauce and spices they lack the flavor of thighs. They are also dry compared to the thighs.
                                                I substitute skinless and boneless thighs whenever a recipe calls for thighs. No one ever complains or probably even knows.
                                                They are available at any major supermarket or wharehouse store.

                                                1. l
                                                  lsmutko Jan 31, 2011 12:43 PM

                                                  "When you're faced with a chicken leg, there's no hiding the fact that it's the leg of an animal," says Pelchat."

                                                  I have a friend who even blanches at the sight of regular chicken breast, skin-on, bone in. It's pretty sad.

                                                  But I hope, selfishly, that at least some of the cheap thighs and legs, whether whole or skinless/boneless thighs, stay cheap and available. I use them for just about everything, chicken and dumpling, paprikash, enchiladas, the chicken component in my Sunday pasta sauce. I switched a couple of years ago for budget reasons, but they just work better in just about everything for me.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: lsmutko
                                                    tommy Jan 31, 2011 04:10 PM

                                                    I don't see how this is "sad." Are you pitying this person? Or, thinking less of them? I'm unsure what you're suggesting with that comment.

                                                    1. re: tommy
                                                      lsmutko Feb 2, 2011 08:52 AM

                                                      I find it sad that she's so completely neurotic about what she eats and how far she's removed herself from what food is and where it comes from. It negatively affects her life; she has highly inconsistent rules about what she can and can't eat and probably has an eating disorder. She gains no pleasure from food, just anxiety.

                                                  2. KaimukiMan Feb 3, 2011 10:21 AM

                                                    For better or worse, people are discovering that chicken thighs are edible. What a concept.

                                                    When Costco first came to Honolulu (ca. 1990), the boneless skinless thighs were about 35% less expensive than the boneless skinless breasts. Now the price difference is only about 10-15%.

                                                    No question, the thighs have almost 3x the fat of the breasts, so if you are on an extremely low fat diet, and assuming you aren't going to drench the breast in some sort of rich sauce, then go for the breast, but you need a lot less sauce with the thigh.

                                                    1. s
                                                      sancan Feb 3, 2011 10:37 AM

                                                      Aren't we lucky? By my count the majority of hounds favor dark meat, like most of the world. I had been in the habit of telling people that they should try a blind taste test for light and dark meat, and then I had a "head slap" moment - what was I doing? If the word starts to get out, the price of dark meat will go up! Now I just smile as I chow down on succulent dark meat.

                                                      As to the article, I'm assuming that he was interested in finding a cheaper way to make light meat out of dark, since, as somebody already posted, it's been done for a long time for the processed chicken products industry.

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