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Buying chicken online may not be the norm but, as we've discovered during the coronavirus pandemic, the supply chain for commodities like quality meat, seafood and even yeast shouldn't be entirely relied upon when things go haywire. Considering the average American eats about 100 pounds of chicken per year, having a good source is crucial if you'd rather not go without. Not only is purchasing chicken online easy and affordable, but you can do some serious armchair research and determine where the birds are coming from and get exactly -- or close to exactly -- what you're looking for. This is especially advantageous if you're trying to eat more organic chicken or certified humane and pasture-raised poultry. Even if you're not, there are a multitude of online retailers to buy butcher-fresh chicken from and take grocery store guesswork out of the equation.

Why buy chicken online?

When you're cruising the chicken aisle at your local market or grocery store, you're limited in selection, but a flock of online retailers make finding the type of chicken you want easier than ever. With a little investigation, you can find the best place to buy chicken online that meets all your requirements. You can get the exact chicken cuts and type of chicken you're searching for, all with just a few clicks, and many of these retailers provide much more information about the chicken and poultry than a simple grocery store label. 

Companies like Cooks Venture, started by one of Blue Apron's founders, Matt Wadiak, sell particularly high-quality, certified humane chicken raised on non-GMO feed made with sustainable farming practices at competitive prices. And as important as anything, in Wadiak's view, is that his chicken outfit employs regenerative farming to keep soil health intact and limit the overall impact poultry farming has on climate change. 

You can also get great deals on chicken when you purchase online, including on whole chickens, and especially when chicken is purchased in bulk or semi-bulk. You can scour the web or jump on the mailing list for these chicken purveyors (or check back with us, of course) to find out about limited online chicken sales and special package deals. Online retailers such as Rastelli's, ButcherBox and Crowd Cow -- which started by selling only beef online -- now carry organic and free-range chicken too. You can easily bundle it all up in one order of butcher-box-quality meat and save on shipping costs and trips to the store. Crowd Cow, for example, offers 5% off if you subscribe to have chicken delivered regularly, something you likely would want anyway. Cooks Venture offers a 25% discount and free shipping when you buy four of its heritage-breed, animal welfare-certified chickens, and they can cost as little as $15 per bird, which is far cheaper than you'll find for the same quality at Whole Foods. 

Safety and freshness

If you're concerned about freshness, most of these online chicken purveyors ship their birds chilled or frozen via highly traceable logistics and usually in just a couple of days or less. Many have begun using eco-friendly shipping solutions, too, like recycled denim and compostable or reusable boxes. (Some do still ship in Styrofoam.) At present, we have not uncovered any instances of compromised freshness or wide-spread foodborne illness linked to buying chicken and poultry online. It stands to reason that it is at least as safe or safer than buying from a brick-and-mortar store. As with anything, the higher-quality the operation -- both online or in person -- the less chance there is of a "situation." 

Types of chicken you can buy online: Organic, humanely raised and more

This is one of the biggest advantages of ordering chicken from an online poultry retailer. As mentioned, in a grocery store you have limited options and often the best stuff sells out first. Online chicken retailers like Thrive Market, Crowd Cow and Fresh Direct allow you to select exactly what you want, and their inventory is less vulnerable to outside supply chain disruption. This includes specific cuts of chicken like breasts, thighs, wings and whole chickens, but also chicken that is bred and raised according to a standard of your choosing. You can buy organic chicken, certified humane chicken and pasture-raised chicken and have them sent to your door in just days and on a regular basis. In addition to chicken, you can find high-quality turkey and quality fresh meat at many of these online retailers, as well as more specialized poultry like duck, pheasant, quail and game hen, if you know where to look.

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Cook's Venture

Chicken labels to consider

Sifting through the labels and terminology when buying meat and poultry can be tricky. With so many different standards it's helpful to have a way to decode the chicken label. To complicate matters, only some of the labels refer to USDA regulations while others, like "all-natural," are simply marketing buzzwords that mean nothing.

These first two labels signify some of the most rigorous standards and are the best indicators you're getting a humanely raised poultry product.

Certified humane chicken

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According to the ASPCA, this label represents a significant improvement over conventional standards and means outdoor access for ruminants and for pigs and poultry when accompanied by the words "free-range" or "pasture-raised." If animals are raised indoors, it means more space, bedding and enrichment are required and subtherapeutic antibiotics are prohibited. Standards extend to transport and slaughter too, and compliance is assured by independent on-farm auditing.

Animal welfare certified chicken

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This six-level rating program for animals raised for meat and eggs is slightly more complex. According to the ASPCA, each successive level represents progressively higher welfare and includes all requirements of those below it. Cage confinement, hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics are prohibited at all levels, standards extend to transport and slaughter and compliance with them is verified by auditors on every farm. 

Read more about both of these labels here.

Organic chicken

The "organic" label is a good one to look out for but keep in mind it really just means that the chickens have been fed a certified organic diet and often -- but not always -- means the farming practices used in feeding the birds are better. The chicken label doesn't signal anything about a chicken's quality of life or humane practices during their life or death and, in many cases, organic chickens still experience a lot of factory farming's most notorious practices.

No antibiotics or chicken raised without antibiotics

This means the chickens were not routinely given preventative antibiotics, which many deem harmful, but it doesn't mean they weren't given antibiotics if they got sick.

Pasture-raised chicken

Because there's no legal definition of this term, "pasture-raised" is hard to verify, though it implies birds spent significant time outdoors and in a pasture. The USDA requires chicken labels to be "accurate" but without any formal guidelines, this one has quite a bit of wiggle room.

Free-range chicken

This is another label you've likely seen on sides of egg cartons and chicken packages that is misleading once you dive into the criteria. "Free-range" is meant to indicate that chickens had access to the outdoors but there is almost no requirement for how much or how big that outdoor space is. In many cases, poultry coops are set up so that the chickens don't even use the outdoor space. 

All-natural chicken

This is a marketing term and means nothing. There are no requirements for a chicken to be labeled all-natural and if you see it, you should probably assume it is anything but.

For more, read our in-depth breakdown of chicken labels or check out out this chicken labeling chart from the ASPCA.

Where to buy chicken online: Organic, welfare-certified, pasture-raised and more

Thrive Market

For $119 you can build a custom butcher box of meat and seafood and that includes plenty of options for quality, organic chicken. In fact, you can select only chicken for this box if you want but also choose to mix in some high-quality beef or wild-caught cod, salmon or other seafood.

Crowd Cow

Despite the name, this newer online meat purveyor carries a lot more than beef. Crowd Cow has one of the best selections of free-range and organic chicken you can order online. Purchase organic whole chickens for as little as $16 or try the Bodybuilder Pack -- a whopping 6 pounds of chicken -- for just $63.

Cook's Venture

Founder and CEO Matt Wadiak's given goal is to improve the overall farming and feeding system that supports the massive poultry industry and bring it to scale (it's currently distributing upward of 700,000 chickens per week) so more people can eat better chicken raised on environmentally friendly feed. You can get its G.A.P Animal Welfare Certified heirloom chickens, which are bred to be biologically sound, gut-healthy and tasty (speaking from experience), directly from Cooks Venture's website for around $18 when you buy six, with free shipping on all orders.

Green Circle

Specialty food store D'Artagnan has a great selection of certified-humane, air-chilled, antibiotic-free and pasture-raised chicken, making it one of the best places to buy chicken online. Green Circle is a well-known quality producer and butcher. D'Artagnan carries a good deal of its poultry line. If you want to stock up now, the high-end retailer is selling six Green Circle certified-humane organic chickens (3 to 3.5 pounds each) for just $129. Or get two Green Circle birds for $32.

Rastelli's

Chicken thighs are incredibly flavorful and a perfect candidate for dishes like chicken cacciatore or lemon pan chicken. Rastelli's will ship out a box of 12 boneless skinless thighs for $29 or 12 boneless skinless chicken breasts for $39. You can also order nearly 4 pounds of ground chicken -- perfect for meatballs and tacos -- for just $19. Save 5% if you make it a reccurring delivery and snag any number of Rastelli's other great meats direct from the New Jersey-based specialty shop while you're filling up your cart.

Smart Chicken

Certified Organic Smart chickens are fed an organic grain diet, and are free-range and certified humane by the Humane Farm Animal Care. All Smart chicken products are raised without the use of antibiotics. A 4-pound bird will cost about $17.

Applegate Farms

You've probably seen these chicken products and others from this line in your local market. You can rest assured Applegate stresses quality in its products, including organic and certified humane chicken in many of them. That includes Applegate's homestyle chicken tenders or breaded chicken patties, which are both made using humanely raised birds.

ButcherBox

All of this online butcher's chicken is G.A.P animal welfare-certified. While you can't place single orders for breasts or single whole chickens, you can build your own monthly boxes that include chicken or choose ones that are curated by ButcherBox.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.