Roast chicken taste test

Thirty years of intensive farming practices means expensive organic and free-range chickens don’t taste any better than a standard factory chook.
 
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  • Updated:3 Mar 2008
 

01 .Introduction

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In brief

  • Paying extra for an organic or free-range chicken may have other benefits, but it won’t necessarily buy you a tastier chook to roast for dinner.
  • Free-range and organic chickens are reared with more space and access to the open air, but these differences aren’t enough to give them more flavour.

For a special family occasion there’s nothing like a roast chicken dinner with baked pumpkin and crunchy roast potatoes.

So what’s the tastiest chicken? Do the more expensive organic and free-range chooks really taste better than standard factory-farmed ones?

To find out, CHOICE bought the different brands and types of chicken widely available in the big supermarkets. A chef roasted the chickens and we asked four food experts to tell us how they rated for flavour. 

Please note: this information was current as of March 2008 but is still a useful guide today.


Video: Free-range taste test

Can you actually taste the difference between a free-range chicken and a battery-raised bird?

 
 

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Chef carving chickenCHOICE tested eight chickens: two organic, two free-range, one corn-fed and three regular factory-farmed birds.

A chef cooked the chickens, without seasoning or stuffing them. They were identified only by a number on a metal tag attached securely to a leg, so the expert tasters didn’t know the brand or type of chicken they were eating.

Each taster was served a portion of breast and leg meat with a plain green salad and slices of baguette for cleansing the palate between samples.

We asked the tasters to separately rate the breast and leg meat for aroma, texture, flavour and overall impression on a five-point scale.

Chickens tested

  Features
Brand (in alphabetical order) Type Price per kg ($)
Ingham Broiler 3.99
Inglewood Farms Organic Organic 12.5
Lilydale Free-Range Free-range 7.26
Steggles Broiler 4.27
Steggles Corn Fed Corn fed 5.99
Woolworths Free Range Free-range 6.49
Woolworths Organic Organic 9.99
You'll Love Coles Broiler 5.09
 

The result was unexpected

There was no significant difference between the scores for free-range or organic chickens and factory-farmed birds. No brand or type stood out as specially tasty. In fact there was general agreement among the experts at the end of the test that "none of them tasted much like the roast chicken that mother used to cook for us when we were kids.”

Two of the chooks divided the experts a bit, but not enough to single any brand out in the taste ratings. Two experts found the most expensive chicken in our test, Inglewood Farms Organic, "dry and unappealing", whereas the others quite liked it.

The Steggles Corn Fed chicken polarised the tasters the most. They either found it "flavoursome and very tender" or thought it had "no real chicken flavour" and questioned whether it had been "pumped up with something".

Our chef didn’t season the chickens at all, whereas most people use salt, pepper, butter, paprika or other herbs and spices on the bird itself, and add still more flavour with stuffing. (See Cooking the best chicken.)

Left to its own devices, chicken meat — no matter where it comes from — doesn’t seem to stack up to much. All in all, it doesn’t seem to matter what chicken you buy from a supermarket. Follow your conscience and go for free-range or organic, or save money on a standard chook — they all taste much the same. And there’s a reason for this (see Fast and faster food).

Meet the experts

  • Images of the tasting judgesSydney Pemberton
    Syd runs Pemberton’s Food Workshop in Sydney, where she gives demonstration cooking classes for adults and children. She’s the author of How to Clean Practically Anything, published by CHOICE Books.
  • Kim Coverdale
    Kim is food editor of Super Food Ideas. Prior to that, she was deputy food editor of Woman’s Day and New Idea.
  • Debbie Solomon
    Debbie is an Asian food specialist who organises and runs food tours of Sydney’s markets and more colourful food locations.
  • Dave Kasmoroski
    Dave has been both a butcher and a chef. He runs Eumundi Smokehouse in Sydney, where he makes traditional charcuterie products using recipes inherited from his Russian grandfather.

Chef carving chickenCHOICE tested eight chickens: two organic, two free-range, one corn-fed and three regular factory-farmed birds.

A chef cooked the chickens, without seasoning or stuffing them. They were identified only by a number on a metal tag attached securely to a leg, so the expert tasters didn’t know the brand or type of chicken they were eating.

Each taster was served a portion of breast and leg meat with a plain green salad and slices of baguette for cleansing the palate between samples.

We asked the tasters to separately rate the breast and leg meat for aroma, texture, flavour and overall impression on a five-point scale.

Chickens tested

  Features
Brand (in alphabetical order) Type Price per kg ($)
Ingham Broiler 3.99
Inglewood Farms Organic Organic 12.5
Lilydale Free-Range Free-range 7.26
Steggles Broiler 4.27
Steggles Corn Fed Corn fed 5.99
Woolworths Free Range Free-range 6.49
Woolworths Organic Organic 9.99
You'll Love Coles Broiler 5.09
 

The result was unexpected

There was no significant difference between the scores for free-range or organic chickens and factory-farmed birds. No brand or type stood out as specially tasty. In fact there was general agreement among the experts at the end of the test that "none of them tasted much like the roast chicken that mother used to cook for us when we were kids.”

Two of the chooks divided the experts a bit, but not enough to single any brand out in the taste ratings. Two experts found the most expensive chicken in our test, Inglewood Farms Organic, "dry and unappealing", whereas the others quite liked it.

The Steggles Corn Fed chicken polarised the tasters the most. They either found it "flavoursome and very tender" or thought it had "no real chicken flavour" and questioned whether it had been "pumped up with something".

Our chef didn’t season the chickens at all, whereas most people use salt, pepper, butter, paprika or other herbs and spices on the bird itself, and add still more flavour with stuffing. (See Cooking the best chicken.)

Left to its own devices, chicken meat — no matter where it comes from — doesn’t seem to stack up to much. All in all, it doesn’t seem to matter what chicken you buy from a supermarket. Follow your conscience and go for free-range or organic, or save money on a standard chook — they all taste much the same. And there’s a reason for this (see Fast and faster food).

Meet the experts

  • Images of the tasting judgesSydney Pemberton
    Syd runs Pemberton’s Food Workshop in Sydney, where she gives demonstration cooking classes for adults and children. She’s the author of How to Clean Practically Anything, published by CHOICE Books.
  • Kim Coverdale
    Kim is food editor of Super Food Ideas. Prior to that, she was deputy food editor of Woman’s Day and New Idea.
  • Debbie Solomon
    Debbie is an Asian food specialist who organises and runs food tours of Sydney’s markets and more colourful food locations.
  • Dave Kasmoroski
    Dave has been both a butcher and a chef. He runs Eumundi Smokehouse in Sydney, where he makes traditional charcuterie products using recipes inherited from his Russian grandfather.

Chef carving chickenCHOICE tested eight chickens: two organic, two free-range, one corn-fed and three regular factory-farmed birds.

A chef cooked the chickens, without seasoning or stuffing them. They were identified only by a number on a metal tag attached securely to a leg, so the expert tasters didn’t know the brand or type of chicken they were eating.

Each taster was served a portion of breast and leg meat with a plain green salad and slices of baguette for cleansing the palate between samples.

We asked the tasters to separately rate the breast and leg meat for aroma, texture, flavour and overall impression on a five-point scale.

Chickens tested

  Features
Brand (in alphabetical order) Type Price per kg ($)
Ingham Broiler 3.99
Inglewood Farms Organic Organic 12.5
Lilydale Free-Range Free-range 7.26
Steggles Broiler 4.27
Steggles Corn Fed Corn fed 5.99
Woolworths Free Range Free-range 6.49
Woolworths Organic Organic 9.99
You'll Love Coles Broiler 5.09
 

The result was unexpected

There was no significant difference between the scores for free-range or organic chickens and factory-farmed birds. No brand or type stood out as specially tasty. In fact there was general agreement among the experts at the end of the test that "none of them tasted much like the roast chicken that mother used to cook for us when we were kids.”

Two of the chooks divided the experts a bit, but not enough to single any brand out in the taste ratings. Two experts found the most expensive chicken in our test, Inglewood Farms Organic, "dry and unappealing", whereas the others quite liked it.

The Steggles Corn Fed chicken polarised the tasters the most. They either found it "flavoursome and very tender" or thought it had "no real chicken flavour" and questioned whether it had been "pumped up with something".

Our chef didn’t season the chickens at all, whereas most people use salt, pepper, butter, paprika or other herbs and spices on the bird itself, and add still more flavour with stuffing. (See Cooking the best chicken.)

Left to its own devices, chicken meat — no matter where it comes from — doesn’t seem to stack up to much. All in all, it doesn’t seem to matter what chicken you buy from a supermarket. Follow your conscience and go for free-range or organic, or save money on a standard chook — they all taste much the same. And there’s a reason for this (see Fast and faster food).

Meet the experts

  • Images of the tasting judgesSydney Pemberton
    Syd runs Pemberton’s Food Workshop in Sydney, where she gives demonstration cooking classes for adults and children. She’s the author of How to Clean Practically Anything, published by CHOICE Books.
  • Kim Coverdale
    Kim is food editor of Super Food Ideas. Prior to that, she was deputy food editor of Woman’s Day and New Idea.
  • Debbie Solomon
    Debbie is an Asian food specialist who organises and runs food tours of Sydney’s markets and more colourful food locations.
  • Dave Kasmoroski
    Dave has been both a butcher and a chef. He runs Eumundi Smokehouse in Sydney, where he makes traditional charcuterie products using recipes inherited from his Russian grandfather.

Chef carving chickenCHOICE tested eight chickens: two organic, two free-range, one corn-fed and three regular factory-farmed birds.

A chef cooked the chickens, without seasoning or stuffing them. They were identified only by a number on a metal tag attached securely to a leg, so the expert tasters didn’t know the brand or type of chicken they were eating.

Each taster was served a portion of breast and leg meat with a plain green salad and slices of baguette for cleansing the palate between samples.

We asked the tasters to separately rate the breast and leg meat for aroma, texture, flavour and overall impression on a five-point scale.

Chickens tested

  Features
Brand (in alphabetical order) Type Price per kg ($)
Ingham Broiler 3.99
Inglewood Farms Organic Organic 12.5
Lilydale Free-Range Free-range 7.26
Steggles Broiler 4.27
Steggles Corn Fed Corn fed 5.99
Woolworths Free Range Free-range 6.49
Woolworths Organic Organic 9.99
You'll Love Coles Broiler 5.09
 

The result was unexpected

There was no significant difference between the scores for free-range or organic chickens and factory-farmed birds. No brand or type stood out as specially tasty. In fact there was general agreement among the experts at the end of the test that "none of them tasted much like the roast chicken that mother used to cook for us when we were kids.”

Two of the chooks divided the experts a bit, but not enough to single any brand out in the taste ratings. Two experts found the most expensive chicken in our test, Inglewood Farms Organic, "dry and unappealing", whereas the others quite liked it.

The Steggles Corn Fed chicken polarised the tasters the most. They either found it "flavoursome and very tender" or thought it had "no real chicken flavour" and questioned whether it had been "pumped up with something".

Our chef didn’t season the chickens at all, whereas most people use salt, pepper, butter, paprika or other herbs and spices on the bird itself, and add still more flavour with stuffing. (See Cooking the best chicken.)

Left to its own devices, chicken meat — no matter where it comes from — doesn’t seem to stack up to much. All in all, it doesn’t seem to matter what chicken you buy from a supermarket. Follow your conscience and go for free-range or organic, or save money on a standard chook — they all taste much the same. And there’s a reason for this (see Fast and faster food).

Meet the experts

  • Images of the tasting judgesSydney Pemberton
    Syd runs Pemberton’s Food Workshop in Sydney, where she gives demonstration cooking classes for adults and children. She’s the author of How to Clean Practically Anything, published by CHOICE Books.
  • Kim Coverdale
    Kim is food editor of Super Food Ideas. Prior to that, she was deputy food editor of Woman’s Day and New Idea.
  • Debbie Solomon
    Debbie is an Asian food specialist who organises and runs food tours of Sydney’s markets and more colourful food locations.
  • Dave Kasmoroski
    Dave has been both a butcher and a chef. He runs Eumundi Smokehouse in Sydney, where he makes traditional charcuterie products using recipes inherited from his Russian grandfather.