How to Tell The Difference Between Pasture-Raised vs Conventional Chicken

How to Tell The Difference Between Pasture-Raised vs Conventional Chicken

Can you tell the difference between pasture-raised meat and conventionally-raised meat simply by looking at two cuts, side by side? 

We want to make your answer to that question a resounding, “Yes!”

Pasture-raised meats are visibly different from meat that comes from high-volume factory farm operations. There are noticeable differences in:

  • Color
  • Smell
  • Size and plumpness
  • Texture

These visual (and olfactory) differences are due to how the animal has been raised, what it’s been fed, and how the meat has been handled during and after processing. You really are what you eat. 

Difference between Pasture-Raised and Conventional Chicken

Whole chicken comparison
Chicken Breast Comparison

Choosing the Best Chicken: Pasture-Raised or Conventional

When it comes to choosing the safest, most nutritious, and tasty meat for your family, the appearance of the meat is just one of three key differentiators to consider.

1. Appearance of the meat

2. Farming practices used to raise the animal

3. How the animal was processed

    How to identify pasture-raised meat just by looking at it



    Pinker color 

    Paler color

    Plumper appearance

    Flatter appearance

    More neutral smell. Mildly earthy.

    More metallic or chemical smell, which is often attributed to the chlorine baths commonly used during processing. 

    Smoother texture and lower fat to muscle ratio.

    Higher fat to muscle ratio.


    A note on taste… 

    Pasture-raised chicken is widely reported to have a more complex and nuanced flavor due to the increased activity of pasture-raised birds, as opposed to conventional birds that are mostly or entirely raised indoors in confined spaces.

    The more active lifestyle of pasture-raised chickens helps the muscles and fat develop in a more balanced way, which contributes to more flavorful and juicy meat.

    After cooking, you may notice pasture-raised chicken has a firmer or leaner texture, due to this more balanced fat to muscle ratio.


    Differences in farming practices between pasture-raised and conventional chicken



    Live in open fields with access to pasture, letting animals engage in natural behaviors.

    Confined in large industrial warehouses, with limited space for natural movement.

    Able to forage lush pasture for grub, bugs, and plants they enjoy eating.

    Fed a restricted diet of mass-produced feed

    Generally considered to have better animal welfare conditions.

    Controlled diet and environment manipulates natural growth patterns so that animals can be harvested faster (more profitable).

    Treated with fewer or NO antibiotics, additives, or synthetic hormones.

    Significant and far-reaching ethical and environmental concerns about high volume meat production.  

    Richer flavor due to the improved animal welfare conditions, including access to a varied and natural diet.

    Milder taste and texture due to controlled diet and less exercise.

    How Grass Roots pasture-raised chicken is processed vs conventional chicken



    Humane handling practices prior to and during harvesting

    Humane harvesting is generally not a priority, so questionable methods abound.

    Processed in small batches, which facilitates a more thoughtful and safe process - for animals and works.

    Processed in large batches, in a process that is often rushed, which increases animal stress and the risk of human injury.

    Air chilling

    Chlorine baths and increasingly, vinegar/hydrogen peroxide baths.


    Learn more about the benefits of pasture-raised chicken

    • What’s the difference between pasture-raised and free range?
    • What are the nutritional benefits of eating pasture-raised chicken?
    • Do any academic studies verify the health claims about pasture-raised chicken? (Yes! Come see the results for yourself.)

    Learn more here.



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