1. Eating healthy on a budget

How a $10 chicken made 4 meals

Before I explain the technique, let me first hope that you find a good source for chicken. You want to avoid chickens that are raised without antibiotics and if possible you should buy organic. I have run into organic chickens at very affordable prices.

I avoid buying meat at retailers known for being cheap unless the packaging clearly states organic or some other clear language indicating the quality of the meat. I assume the worst for meat in packaging that doesn’t state much about the quality. I look for buzzwords like ‘free-range’, ‘organic’, ‘humane’ etc.

The technique

A whole chicken weighing about 6 pounds will cost roughly $10. The first part of the previous statement is the first clue. I buy whole chickens to save me money as I do not have to pay someone to cut it for me. Also, a chicken comes with diverse meat selections. Let me be honest in stating that I do not like to cut a whole chicken in pieces. But, I do it, get over with it and have a few dinners out of it.

Step 1 – Get your fresh meat

Buy a fresh (non-frozen) whole chicken if possible. You could buy a frozen chicken but you need to thaw it in the fridge first. Since you will be re-freezing parts of the whole chicken you buy its better to buy it fresh in the first place. Make sure you never thaw meat on the counter-top that will need to be refrozen.

As a warning, don’t buy a whole chicken that is already split in two. For one, it will likely cost a little more, but parts might be missing. You want an entire whole chicken that is intact and not modified in any way, except to be packaged.

Step 2 – Prep your surroundings

This step is recommended whether or not you buy your chicken whole. But, since raw chicken can be contaminated with bacteria, it is wise to remove any clean dishes, utensils or food from your work area. You don’t want chicken pieces or juices to splash on them and possibly contaminate them. You should do this before handling meat and especially poultry.

Step 2 – Get the right knife

As soon as you get home from the grocery store it is time to get out a butcher knife. This knife is perfect for cutting through raw meat.

Step 3 – Cut the chicken in half

Cut the chicken in half by ripping through the cartilage on the top as this arrow indicates. Flip the chicken around and do the same, except that you will be cutting through some of the backbones. The bones are small and easy to cut through.

Step 5 – Cut the chicken in pieces

Cut The chicken by all the identifiable pieces. The legs, thighs, 2 wings and breasts should all be cut off the chicken. My cuts are not supermarket quality, but I dont care. The chicken is for my family’s consumption so I dont need to get a perfect thigh.

Step 6 – Separate the chicken meat

Separate the dark meat (wings, legs, and thighs), the bony pieces and the breast. The breasts are big so they have further been cut into pieces. The back is also cut in smaller pieces. You can keep the wings as whole wings, as I have them here, or cut those into some more to be more traditional wings.

Step 7 – Plan to use them

Now let’s talk about what to do with them. How many meals you get out of them clearly depends on how many members are in your family and how much they eat. Here are some ideas to consider.

Using the dark meat: The dark meat batch should contain 6 pieces of chicken, 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 2 whole wings. If you eat modestly that can be a dinner for 3 people or a dinner for 2 with leftovers for lunch the next day.

You can stew the meat by throwing it in a baking pan with half an onion, a few cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, and bar-b-que sauce. Bake on 350 F for 1 hour. My best results with baked, stewed recipes come from this pan, probably because of its ability to hold in the heat well.

The white meat: I dont cook white meat often in my house, but there are tons of recipes online, like this chicken curry recipe. Pan-roasted seems to be the quickest and easiest and done right, it makes for a juicy dinner. The white meat batch (chicken breast) as shown in the photo is also cut in about 6 pieces, which is small enough to cook quickly on the stove-top.

The Backbone: The backbone is probably the one you are eying with the most suspicion. The best chicken soup is one made with bones. The back meat here also isn’t void of meat. There is plenty of meat all around the bones to go into the soup.

Throw the backbones, some onion, crushed butternut squash, water, salt, pepper, thyme, oregano and other additions of your choice and get the flavor from these bony sections. An instant pot (do you know they come in colors like this red one) will extract more flavor from them.

Step 8 – Store them

Store them per your needs. Wrap in wax paper, write the date and its content on the paper. Tape and freeze. For the chicken in the photo, I was cooking soup that day so the backbones were being used and weren’t wrapped. I then separated the breasts into 2 batches as I planned to use it two different times. I wrap them such that when it is time to cook, the portion is just right for what I need.

In the photo, I have used freezer paper (as I happened to have some at home), but I much prefer to use wax paper. Freezer paper has a layer of plastic and I avoid using plastics when possible, especially throwaway ones.

Step 9: Brainstorm dinner ideas

Now you have several batches of chicken that you can use for multiple dinners. You can decide how you want to use these for dinner. You can bake chicken breast and add with some brown rice and green beans for a pretty cheap dinner price. You can try curried chicken for the dark meat chicken. Perhaps you know of other ways to use the backbone besides soup, but if not soup is an ideal scenario.

Step 10: Clean Up

Thoroughly wash your sink with soap and water, and wipe down the surrounding area with vinegar and then rinse. If you have granite counter-top then wipe down with a solution appropriate for it, even if its just water.


If you have never handled a whole chicken before this might seem daunting or even gross. Just like all fear having some experience will help to make it better. As I mentioned before I am not a fan of cutting chicken, but buying a whole chicken is so cost-effective and diverse.


The recommendation from the CDC is that you should not wash chicken. The concern is the washing chicken can spread the juices to utensils and countertop which increases the risk of ingesting salmonella.

While I was growing up washing chicken is all we did. In fact, most people I know would not eat chicken if they know it was never washed. Also, chicken has a weird after taste if not washed with lemon juice or vinegar. Back then, not washing chicken is like committing a bad sin. So the CDC’s recommendation was not something that immediately appealed to me.

But, I like to take advice intended to keep my family safe. So I came up with a workaround. I don’t wash chicken anymore, but I soak it. I fill a large container in my sink with water, add lemon juice or vinegar to that container and then slowly place all my chicken pieces in the water. I keep this container in my sink during the entire soak of about 3 minutes. I might repeat this step again.

This process removes that weird after taste I don’t like, adds a hint of lemon to the chicken all without causing splashes.

When you are done, clean surrounding areas with soap and water and wipe down with vinegar.

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