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I don't know how much the grocery store is doing marketing and how much difference there is between different packages of chicken on their shelves. Locally, two of our best known grocery stores advertise their chicken as being "select" so presumably a better quality chicken than off-the-shelf Perdue.

I've also noticed that one store's "select" chicken breasts are larger than the others. When I cook one store's chicken, it tends to be more rubbery (no matter the size) or the leftovers have a chew that almost makes me wonder if it's undercooked. Strange.

Or is one store just handling it better than the other. Are there different grades of chicken? I'm confused.

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You should say where you live; the answer to this question might not be the same everywhere. This site has members from all over the world. –  SAJ14SAJ Feb 26 '13 at 14:43
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Everything you could want to know--and more--about US grading: ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004377 –  SAJ14SAJ Feb 26 '13 at 14:58
    
Well, where I live is in my profile but... The pdf you link to is good but I don't know what's at the grocery store. I could ask, of course, but what's going on in general? –  Rob Feb 26 '13 at 16:17
    
Visitors to this site should not have to look up a member's profile just to find out where the question is applicable. This is a localized question so please specify the location. –  Aaronut Feb 27 '13 at 13:36
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1 Answer

Poultry grading in the US is voluntary, while inspection is mandatory. Per the FDA:

Chicken Inspection

All chickens found in retail stores are either inspected by USDA or by State systems which have standards equivalent to the Federal government. Each chicken and its internal organs are inspected for signs of disease. The "Inspected for wholesomeness by the U.S. Department of Agriculture" seal ensures that the chicken is free from visible signs of disease.

Chicken Grading

Inspection is mandatory, but grading is voluntary. Chickens are graded according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service's regulations and standards for meatiness, appearance, and freedom from defects. Grade A chickens have plump, meaty bodies and clean skin, free of bruises, broken bones, feathers, cuts, and discoloration.

The actual US poultry grading standards can be found in the USDA document. Grade A chicken overall (the actual standards take 5 pages):

  • Looks nice--no discolorations, marks, bruises, or inappropriate cuts
  • Has at least 75% of the skin covering it (where appropriate)
  • Is plump and "well fleshed"
  • All the feathers have been removed

Any chicken that was actually graded will almost certainly be labelled, as it is a marketing issue. Otherwise, it is ungraded but inspected chicken. My personal experience is that most retail chicken, at least where I live, is ungraded.

Factors that affect the toughness or quality of the chicken, in decreasing order of importance, include:

  • The age of the bird
  • Any injections or additions to the meat, such as a saline brine, by the packer; brining partially denatures the proteins in the meat, and may contribute to the "rubbery" texture mentioned in the question
  • The way the bird was treated and fed (some heirloom or boutique chickens are raised in a more traditional manner, where they move about much more, and may have a more varied diet, and so have tougher, but more flavorful meat as a result--but I don't want to turn this into a political treatise on poultry production methods)
  • The breed of the bird

The size of commercial chicken is almost entirely related to the age of the chicken; thus the relative toughness of the meat is fairly well correlated with size.

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If you could link to the document you mentioned in the comments, and say something about the B/C grades it discusses, this might be a more complete answer to the question! –  Jefromi Feb 28 '13 at 1:58
    
@jefromi I have taken your suggestions... –  SAJ14SAJ Feb 28 '13 at 2:09
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