Chickens come in all shapes and sizes and are bred for different roles.
Since I had a hankering for chicken the other night and happened to be at my local grocery store I came home with a standard grocery store bird. I butterflied it and grilled it over hickory smoke.
The chicken below is the hickory smoked chicken from a while back. The slightly more expensive air-chilled, free-range chicken from Mary’s Chickens in California.
Both birds were cooked exactly the same way. What differences can you see aside from the color which is due to the smoke? Note how the bottom chicken is longer, the legs extend off the plate. Compare the difference in breast size vs thigh/leg size. The top bird, almost certainly a Cornish Cross, is more compact, but quite a bit larger overall. The bottom bird actually used its legs for running around whereas the top bird almost certainly spent 95% of its time alive if not confined to a cage certainly confined by being crowded along with thousands of birds.
What’s my point? No point, really. Just wanted to show two different chickens from two very different suppliers and demonstrate there are indeed visible differences. What about the flavor? I can attest to Mary’s Chicken tasting “better” than the grocery store variety. Better? Yeah, more actual chicken flavor mingling with the smoke and salt vs the grocery store chicken that tasted more like a carrier for the smoke and salt.
Bottom line: find a local supplier who raises chickens for meat. Visit the farm. A reputable supplier probably won’t let you near the meat birds since god only knows what parasites or viruses you might have clinging to your shoes, but they should let you see their operation and answer any questions you might have. Find out if they sell direct from the farm on “slaughter days” or where you can buy one of their processed birds. Yeah, it’ll cost more, but not a whole lot more. Some producers do charge a super-premium price for organic birds, but you don’t need to get the most expensive “artisan” bird out there. Just try and find a chicken that was raised free to run around eating a diet largely of gross stuff, chickens love to eat ticks, and able to mature at a more natural rate. It might redefine how you think about chicken.