While writing up yesterday’s post about eating out vs. making meals at home, I realized that I’d been making a lot of soup lately. For some of the recipes, I used store-bought chicken broth; for others, I made homemade chicken broth using chicken backs and necks that I had in the freezer from past chickens I’ve chopped up and chicken breast bones that I’ve de-boned. Which makes me wonder — what’s cheaper? What’s better?
Pacific Foods has organic free-range chicken broth, normal or low-sodium, available at our local grocery store or food co-op. Regularly $3.09; on-sale at the Co-op this month for $1.89. Each box has approximately 4 cups (1 quart) of chicken broth.
My homemade chicken broth recipe involves 2-3 lbs. of chicken parts (backs, necks, bones, skin, etc.) that would otherwise be unusable, 1 medium-to-large onion, salt, and two bay leaves. It makes approximately 2 quarts (8 cups) of chicken broth.
The obvious variable in the chicken broth recipe is how much you’re paying for the chicken parts. The local food co-op offers prepackaged chicken backs and necks at $1.39/lb., although I’m not sure if those are free-range chickens or just “natural” chickens. Last month, I bought a $15.07 free-range chicken (approximately 5-6 lb. chicken), which, after deboning the breasts and taking off the legs, thighs, and wings, yielded enough chicken parts for a batch of broth. I’m going to somewhat arbitrarily set the price for the leftover chicken parts at a higher value of $1.50/lb., or $4.50 out of the $15.07 I spent on the whole chicken.
Back to my calculations: $4.50 for free-range chicken parts + $0.50 for a medium-large organic onion + minuscule pennies for salt and bay leaves = $5.00 for 8 cups (2 quarts) of chicken broth, or $2.50/quart. I save $0.39 on homemade broth for normal-price chicken broth, but lose $0.61 when chicken broth is on sale.
- The natural, free-range chicken I used isn’t “certified organic” but comes from a local, sustainably-run farm. Pacific Foods is based in Oregon and is labeled USDA Organic.
- You can make homemade broth even cheaper with conventional chicken; I used to purchase bone-in chicken breasts or whole chickens on-sale for as little as $0.99-$1.39/lb. and freeze the leftover parts/bones until I had enough for making broth. However, that defeats my purpose of trying to purchase more organic, locally-produced foods.
- A Cooks’ Illustrated issue ranked Pacific Foods free-range chicken broth as one of the lowest in their taste testing. Swanson’s Organic topped the list, but I don’t know how far the food travels before it arrives at my local store. I haven’t done my own taste-testing (and frankly, I’m not sure if I’m discerning enough to tell with premade broths!). However, I know for sure that homemade broth’s taste and flavor far surpasses ANY pre-made broth that I’ve had so far!
So, as I don’t care too much about the fact that Pacific Foods free-range chicken broth was ranked low in taste tests, I bought a few boxes of broth on-sale for convenient use in dishes where the chicken broth flavor isn’t the main taste.
However, I’ll probably stick to trying to make my own broth whenever I can for the following reasons:
- The cost is about the same
- The flavor is a ton better
- I’m supporting local farmers by doing so
- The food is traveling less to get to me
- The satisfaction level of cooking from scratch is much higher
Comments or questions? Post them below!