For months preceding and following my recent move to Orlando, I have been searching for ways I can get plugged into the community. Coming from a year of small-town Georgia life, I have been eager to take advantage of all the different activities and resources that a slightly more urban life has to offer. I also have lots of free time. As you may remember from my bread-making experience, free time for me usually translates into finding ways to make delicious food in a cost-effective manner.
So, naturally, I spent $23 on a 3.75-pound whole chicken.
Yes, I know that whole chickens normally cost about 5 bucks. Let me back up and explain. Jobless hobos such as myself certainly can’t afford to spend gourmet prices at every meal, and this was not my intention. Rather, I was trying to acquaint myself with the local food co-op scene.
Local food co-ops are just one facet of the fast-growing local food movement, acting as a partnership between multiple farms to provide environmentally friendly whole foods to a local community. The farms are local or regional and often practice organic or natural farming – plus, since they’re local, there’s not as much gas used for shipping. Co-op members make an order a few days in advance, and on the designated pick-up day, come to collect a box of whatever produce is in season. Eco-conscious, healthy, and convenient? Yes, please! I signed up for my first box of local produce within a week of moving to the city.
My husband and I have also been trying to limit our meat consumption. We’re not trying to be vegetarian per se, but we try to practice vegetarian tendencies. We both try to eat a little bit lower on the food chain – it’s good for us (not as much fat and cholesterol in our diets) and good for the environment (it takes much less energy to produce vegetables than meat). There are exceptions to the vegetarian rule, because, let’s face it. Meat is delicious. When I scanned the local food co-op website and saw that they also sold grain-fed, free-range chicken for $6, I decided to get some poultry in addition to my produce box.
This is an instance in my life where my tendency to read quickly and gloss over some of the finer details of writing really came back to bite me. Or rather, bite my wallet. In my defense, I didn’t read all of the information on the website wrong. That chicken definitely cost about 6 bucks.
Per pound. My chicken clocked in at 3.75 pounds. Ergo, $23 chicken.
Needless to say, I felt a little foolish for not bothering to read the information correctly. I was trying to be healthy and save money, not put us out $23 because I had a Chick-Fil-A craving. To save face (and more money!), I vowed to use every last piece of the chicken.
And I did. Tada!
The second bit of panic after the initial sticker shock came when I realized I had no idea how to cook a whole chicken. The natural idea that sprang to mind was roasting it like a turkey. But that would require purchasing a roasting pan, which I couldn’t afford, because I spend all of our hard earned money on a chicken. Instead, I rammed half a can of beer up its rear end and we baked ourselves a moist, delicious beer-can chicken.
Beer Can Chicken
3.75 lb whole chicken
Assortment of spices (we had Old Bay, chili powder, cumin, garlic, and oregano)
1 can of beer (we used Yuengling)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Remove innards from chicken.
- Rinse chicken, inside and out, with cold tap water.
- Rub chicken, inside and out, with several tablespoons of assorted spices of choice.
- Drink a quarter of the beer. Or, pour it out, but drinking it’s more fun.
- Puncture several holes in beer can and place in oven proof pan.
- Plunk the chicken down on the beer can. Form a tripod with the two legs and can to stabilize. If the sight of a chicken standing up on a beer can makes you giggle, then you did it right.
- Cook at 400 degrees F for half an hour, reduce to 350 for the next hour.
- After about an hour and a half, it’s done! Don’t pour out the drippings from the pan – that’s for gravy!
I made a salad and mashed potatoes to go with the chicken, and used the drippings from the chicken to make a pretty decent gravy, if I don’t say so myself.
I said it was pretty decent. I never said it was pretty.
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
Drippings from chicken
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups milk
Black pepper to taste
- Pour drippings into a skillet.
- Add flour and pepper and stir til smooth.
- Add milk and cook over medium heat until thick.
- Let sit for 1 minutes, thin with milk if needed.
This was way too much gravy for our mashed potatoes, so I have since been using the gravy over biscuits for other meals.
I made sure to save all the bones from our meal, and began collecting vegetable odds and ends over the rest of the week. By the Friday after our Sunday meal, I had collected about a quart’s worth of onions, kale stems, and other veggies to make a chicken stock for future use in soups and gravies.
Hey look, I took my own before and after shots this time!
Bones from leftover whole chicken
Approximately 1 quart of assorted vegetables
Garlic, pepper, and oregano
8 cups of water
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Arrange bones and vegetables on baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes
- Move roasted bones and vegetables to large stock pot, fill with approximately 8 cups of water. Heat to boil.
- When boiling, add a couple of teaspoons of assorted spices such as garlic, pepper, and oregano. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours.
- Strain out solids and chill stock in refrigerator. When cool, transfer 1 cup at a time to plastic sandwich-size ziplock bags, lay flat, and freeze. Use later for soups.
I haven’t used the stock yet for soup, so the verdict is still officially out on that. But the chicken and gravy have definitely been crowd pleasers…if you consider my husband and me to be a crowd. The chicken, salad, and mashed potatoes lasted us for two dinners, so 4 entrée meals for $23 divides out to about $5.75 per serving. Not cheap, but not too bad. I probably won’t be purchasing grain-fed, free-range chicken for every Sunday dinner, but at least I know I can satisfy the occasional meat craving with local, whole ingredients.
And yeah, I’ll probably still find a way to sneak a Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuit in my diet every now and then. I’m not completely vegetarian, after all.