Which Grocery Store Has the Best Chicken? (Rotisserie too!)


Chicken. It’s lean, healthy, and versatile. Millions of people eat it every day. It’s sold in grocery stores all over the world. But which grocery store has the best chicken?

Here’s what I know from decades in that industry:

For ingredient & additive quality standards and animal welfare policies, no grocery chain beats Whole Foods Market. No antibiotics are ever administered in the life of the chicken. They (and many chains) also offer organically grown chickens which, by definition, are also free-range. 

But there’s a lot more to know about chicken and grocery stores than just that. So let’s keep going!

So in this article, we’re looking not only at what stores have the best chicken? But also, what does it mean when a chicken is raised without antibiotics or hormones?

What stores have the best rotisserie chicken? And what brands of chicken should be avoided?

We’re going to get into all of these questions and more.

Just keep reading!

Chicken isn’t the only thing worth being picky about at the grocery store!

If you’re a steak lover, you won’t want to miss my recent article about which grocery stores have the best steaks.

I get into all of it; USDA grading, Prime, Kobe, Choice, Select, and which grocery stores stack up and which ones miss the mark.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

What store has the best chicken?

There are tons of supermarkets out there, so this article is going to focus on a handful of well-known supermarkets.

Shopping for good chicken is a lot harder than shopping for a good steak. When shopping for steak, you should look for good marbling and a nice red color with no brown spots.

But for the most part, all chicken pretty much looks the same when you are purchasing it from the store.

So with chicken, you pretty much have to rely on the reputation of the store. You have to trust that the store is sourcing its chicken responsibly and being transparent with their policies.

Another factor in the quality of chicken is whether it is given growth hormones or antibiotics.

Animals fed right and treated humanely are not just for marketing. They make for better tasting, healthier meat. As a bonus, you can feel good that the bird lived it’s best life before it landed on your plate.

You can take that up a notch and look for chicken that is fed organically grown feed and free-range. Free-range simply means the chicken spends at least some of its life roaming the grounds of the farm somewhat freely rather than being kept in a cage.

Here are some of the best-known grocery chains in the US and how they stack up:

Publix

According to the Publix website, their GreenWise chicken is raised with no antibiotics or added hormones. They are also fed a 100% vegetarian diet. They contain no artificial ingredients or preservatives.

Publix also indicates that they use a special chilling technique that optimizes the taste and texture of the chicken. This special technique is said to result in chicken that is tender and juicy.

They also have their GreenWise Organic Chicken which is USDA-certified organic. (source)

Whole Foods Market

Meat sold at Whole Foods has over 100 animal welfare standards it must meet before it is sold in the store.

These standards don’t just apply to chicken. They also apply pork, beef, sheep, goats, and turkey.

If an animal ever gets an antibiotic treatment, it won’t be sold at Whole Foods. They also don’t permit added growth hormones. Animals are fed a 100% vegetarian diet with no animal by-products.

Sometimes chicken can be labeled free of antibiotics when, in fact, they were given to the animal earlier in their life, but none were present when the meat was tested at slaughter time.

So if you’re concerned about antibiotics in meat (and you should be) look for a label that says something like “Never ever given antibiotics.” Avoid products that simply say “antibiotic-free”, “No antibiotics added”, or “All Natural” as those have a lot more legal leeway and don’t necessarily tell you the whole story.

Whole Foods also ensures that animals are raised, transported, and slaughtered humanely.

Because there are such stringent standards to the meat that is sold at Whole Foods, you can rest assured that any meat you purchase will be healthy and free of nasty additives.

Whole Foods even ensures that the life of the chicken can be traced throughout the supply chain. Just look for the “Complete Traceability to Farms” phrase on the packaging. (source)

Kroger

Kroger is not as transparent about their meat policy.

They do offer antibiotic-free meat and their line of Simple Truth meat products that are free of growth hormones. And they do require that suppliers meet standards set by the National Chicken Council.

When talking about chicken, it’s natural to think about eggs. Kroger has made cage-free eggs an option. They have committed to providing a 100% cage-free egg supply chain by 2025. (source)

Trader Joe’s

Like Kroger, Trader Joe’s is not very transparent about their meat policy.

It is difficult to find detailed information about how their chickens are raised and what they are fed.  However, I did find that they carry organic free-range chicken.

But their FAQ page does state “Trader Joe’s offers items from sources of a conventional nature (where antibiotics are likely used) and sources that do not use antibiotics (organic, all-natural or explicitly labeled as antibiotic-free [ABF]).”

Given we know the USDA doesn’t officially recognize the term “antibiotic-free” and that the poultry simply tested negative for antibiotics at the time of slaughter, their organic line would be the safe way to go there.

Wegman’s

Wegman’s policy is that animals should not be mistreated.

They work with trusted suppliers and visit facilities to ensure that the chickens are being treated humanely. But at the end of the day, they’re pretty vague (especially compared to Whole Foods) on exactly what that means.

Wegman’s Animal Welfare Policy page does at least note “no antibiotics ever” as an option for some of their chicken. They also sell organic and free-range chicken.

After Whole Foods, Wegmans is the clearest of the big chains I researched here in terms of clearly displaying their animal welfare and additive standards on their website.

What is the best brand of chicken?

Not all chicken brands are created equal. A Fancy label does not mean better tasting chicken.

But beware, some lesser brands actually inject a salt solution into the chicken.

It plumps it up, and, of course, adds to the weight (making it cost more). It also keeps the chicken fresher longer. Typically it’s a 2% sodium or potassium lactate solution that will be added. So make sure and check the label and see if it says that (they are required to disclose it by law). (source)

Your best bet would be to buy a couple of chickens, cook them up and taste them for yourself to find a brand that works for you and your family.

However, I found at Publix GreenWise chicken is delicious. It is tender and juicy and has a nice texture.

But, if you’re really concerned about how the chickens are raised and slaughtered, Whole Foods Market is the best choice. They have very strict standards for how, not just chickens, but all of their meat, is raised and slaughtered.

If an animal is ever given antibiotics, the meat will not be sold at Whole Foods. So you can rest assured that you will not be ingesting unnecessary antibiotics.

Which grocery store has the best rotisserie chicken?

In this case, the term “best” could refer to the quality of the chicken and things like we’ve discussed (antibiotics & hormones). But “best” could also refer to the flavor.

So we’ll dive in a little bit to both.

Rotisserie chicken is delicious. And today you can find it in just about every grocery store you visit. However, they are not all created equally.

If you have a Costco nearby, they really have the best tasting rotisserie chicken. Their chicken is big enough to feed a family of four, and they are delicious. The meat is juicy, the skin is crispy, and at $4.99 each, the price is right.

However, their chicken is cheap in part due to lower quality meat. The following ingredients were, at the time of this writing, on their label: “salt, sodium phosphate, modified food starch, potato dextrin, carrageenan, sugar, dextrose”.

Their meat and poultry standards also reveal they “limit application of these antibiotics”

But it’s not a surprise that stores would use lower quality chicken for their cooked products. They are, after all, in business to make money. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

So if you want flavor and a low price, Costco is the way to go.

Out of Publix, Whole Foods, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, and Wegmans, Publix has the best tasting rotisserie chicken.  They have a wide variety of options, the price is reasonable, and it’s always hot and fresh.

The biggest problem with Publix rotisserie chicken is that many complain they tend to run out early. But if your top concern is animal welfare and artificial ingredients, Whole Foods Market still makes the top of the list.

What are the USDA poultry grades and standards?

There are three grades of poultry, Grade A, B, and C, that can be sold in stores.

Unlike beef, you can’t just look at the meat to see if it’s a good cut. With beef, you look at marbling and the color of the meat itself to determine the quality. Of course, the USDA also grades beef, but it’s not hard to get an idea of how it’s going to taste based on looks alone.

Most of the poultry you will find in your meat department will be Grade A.

Whole chickens, chicken breast, chicken thighs, etc. Chicken that is Grade B or C will be processed into cut-up, chopped, or ground poultry products.

There are three main factors in grading poultry:

  • Exposed flesh
  • Disjointed or broken bones
  • Missing parts

The table below summarizes each grade and the factors:

FACTOR GRADE A GRADE B GRADE C
Exposed Flesh The total length of cuts on breast or legs must be less than 1/4″ and the total length of cuts everywhere else must be less than 1 1/2″ 1/3 of the flesh on a part may be exposed More than 1/3 of the flesh on a part may be exposed
Disjointed or broken bones None or one disjointed Two disjointed OR One disjointed and one non-protruding broken OR One non-protruding broken No limit
Missing parts Wing tips and/or tail removed at the base Wing(s) to 2nd joint AND/OR back area removed up to one-half way to the hip joint, not wider than the base of the tail Back area not wider than the base of tail extending to the area beyond halfway to hip joints

(table source)

What does chicken without antibiotics and hormones mean?

Food labels can be confusing. Chicken labels are no exception.

What does it mean when chicken is labeled “antibiotic-free” or “organic”? What about “no added hormones”? So, here’s the good news. No chicken that you buy in the store will ever be given added hormones or steroids.

By law, hormones are not allowed in raising poultry.

If the phrase “no hormones added” is on the label, it must be followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” source

In other words, like labeling a bag of carrots “gluten-free”, it’s a marketing gimmick to make you think their products are somehow better or safer. The trouble is, shoppers became so confused, that now, almost everyone does it as they don’t want shoppers to their product has added hormones.

But even if the chicken isn’t labeled as being hormone-free, you can rest assured that it is in fact, free of hormones.

Just like people, chickens sometimes get sick. When they do, a veterinarian may administer an antibiotic. Once a chicken has been given an antibiotic, it may not be labeled as being “raised without antibiotics” or “no antibiotics ever.”

However, federal regulations require that chickens that have received antibiotics cannot leave the farm until it has cleared from their system.

So in that aspect, all of the chicken you buy is technically “antibiotic-free.” But if you want to make sure the animal was never, ever, given antibiotics, look for a label that says “no antibiotics ever”.

How do you buy chicken from the grocery store?

There are so many different kinds of chicken at the grocery store. So how do you know what to look for when shopping?

Firstly, check the “best by” date. Eating chicken that is out of date will make you sick.

Check out the color of the chicken. It should have a pinkish hue. Chicken will fade from pink to a dull gray color as it spoils. So if there is even a hint of gray coloring, leave it at the store.

If you are purchasing chicken with the skin on, make sure the skin covers each piece.  You don’t want to short yourself any of that delicious crispy skin.

But there is more to look out for when it comes to labeling.

Some labels don’t really mean anything. These should be considered marketing schemes.

Organic

The first label to look for is organic. Look for the USDA Organic logo, not just the word “organic.” This ensures that the chicken was fed an organic feed and at least has access to the outdoors.

Hormone-free

We’ve established that the hormone-free label doesn’t really mean anything.

Antibiotic-free

But you still want to look out for the antibiotic-free label (and ideally no antibiotics ever). Yes, any antibiotics given to chickens has to be clear of its system before it leaves the farm. But you have to have a lot of trust in the farmer to really know that the antibiotic is actually out of the chicken.

Cage-free

Another term that doesn’t really mean much is cage-free. Sure, these chickens do not live in cages. Instead, they live in warehouses with concrete floors and no windows.

A slightly better option would be to look for free-range or free-roaming chicken.

According to the USDA, to be labeled as “free-range” or “free-roaming,” chickens must have access to the outdoors for some part of the day. (source)

However, there are no requirements for the length of time the chicken must spend outdoors, the size of the outdoor area, or the type of ground cover.

So, for example, there could be a small door at the end of a barn that is open for 10 minutes per day. Because the door is open, the chickens have access to the outside. This qualifies them as “free-range” chickens.

So are free-range chickens the happiest chickens? Do they have the freedom to run around, eat bugs, and live their best chicken life? I don’t know. And if they still end up slaughtered, does that even matter?

Another thing to understand is that not all free-range chicken is organic.

But all organic chicken is free-range. To receive free-range certification, the chickens must have access to the outdoors, among other things.

Are there some chicken brands to avoid at the grocery store?

Every chicken producer must meet USDA regulations to be sold in grocery stores.

So you can feel pretty confident that whatever chicken you purchase will be safe to eat.

That said, you shouldn’t just pick up any old chicken. You should still read the label and make sure that it meets your personal standards.

There are probably some types of chicken to avoid as well as some brands that I personally avoid.

Ground chicken for one. Ground chicken can be made up of several different birds from several different places. So you won’t know if it’s been previously frozen or the quality of the meat pre-grinding.

In that case, it’s better to buy your chicken breast and grind them at home. Then you know exactly what you are getting.

Brands to avoid is a very subjective phrase.

If the way chickens are raised and slaughtered matters, then there are some brands that you may want to avoid.

Personally, there are some companies out there that simply do not have a good reputation.

Tyson is one example. Tyson has been sued more than once. Not only for mislabeling it’s packaging as “natural” or “all-natural,” but they also have a history of mistreating animals. source

They also have a history of being environmentally irresponsible.

They’ve been known to dump millions of pounds of toxic pollutants into U.S. Waterways and wash products with hazardous chemical disinfectants. All while claiming to be environmentally responsible. source

Tyson certainly isn’t the only company that has some controversy.

Perdue Farms, one of the largest poultry companies in the US, has been known to push around farmers and take advantage of them. Farmers often have to kill several thousand chickens per flock, at the direction of Perdue, without compensation. source

So, if not polluting the environment, the way farmers are treated or the way chickens are treated matters to you, you may want to consider avoiding Tyson and/or Perdue brands.

Did I answer everything you wanted to know about which grocery store has the best chicken?

We covered a lot of information in this article. It can be a lot to digest, I know. (See what I did there?)

We went over what grocery stores have the best chicken and how to buy chicken at the store. I also discussed the best and worst chicken to purchase at the store.

Then we talked about some common terms that you may have seen on the packaging. And we also talked about the different USDA Grades.

While not all chicken is created equal, it’s not too difficult to find quality chicken. Organic and cage-free chickens usually make for the best chicken.

Personally, I find chicken thighs to be the most flavorful and the juiciest.

Like steak, but not sure if Prime is worth the money?

I recently conducted a blind taste test of USDA Choice, USDA Prime, Certified Angus, and Grass-fed ribeye steaks.

Prime is definitely the most expensive of those 4, but did it taste the best?  Find out my results in this recent article and brief video where you’ll see it all unfold!

Just click that link to see it on my site!

Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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