Having trouble deciding between ground chicken and regular chicken breast? They’re both solid options, but some preparation techniques work better if you choose one or the other. Let’s take a closer look at ground chicken vs chicken breast.
Ground Chicken vs Chicken Breast
While ground chicken may contain both white and dark meat, chicken breast is all white meat. Both products have their pros and cons—which one you choose depends on what you’re planning to make, your budget, and whether you want to make the meal as heart-healthy as possible.
About Ground Chicken
As the name suggests, ground chicken is chicken meat that’s been fed through a grinder until it resembles small, skinny tubes. It may even have a paste-like consistency, depending on the grinding method and the fat content of the meat.
Ground chicken can be made up of both white and dark meat. The food processors may also include fat and skin to give the product a richer texture and flavor. It’s typically at least 97 percent lean, but there are blends available that contain just 1 percent fat.
About Chicken Breast
This cut comes from the pectoral muscle that’s located on the underside of the bird. It’s leaner than the dark meat on the thighs and drumsticks, and pairs well with a broad variety of flavors.
A whole chicken breast can be divided into two halves. That’s usually what happens when the birds are butchered for commercial sale. When you buy a “single” chicken breast, you’re actually getting one half of the whole breast.
Despite its popularity and versatility, chicken breast is a difficult cut to master. The meat is so lean, it dries out easily, even if it’s just overcooked by a few degrees. We’ll talk more about serving temperatures later on.
What They Have In Common
Both ground chicken and chicken breast are considered leaner, heart-healthier alternatives to beef. Thanks to their mild flavor, they’re also more versatile.
Chicken is a good source of protein, whether you’re dealing with whole muscle cuts or ground meat. It contains essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron and vitamins B6 and B12. As such, it contributes to a healthy and well-balanced diet.
Ground Chicken vs Chicken Breast: How They Differ
Because it’s been fed through the meat grinder, ground chicken has a softer texture than whole chicken breasts. It can be distributed evenly throughout noodle dishes and casseroles, giving it the edge when these items are on the menu.
Chicken breast is also very tender, but you can often detect the meat’s natural fibers when you bite into it. In fact, if you attempt to cut a cooked chicken breast into cubes while it’s still warm, the meat has a tendency to shred.
As we mentioned earlier, when you buy ground chicken, there’s a good chance that it includes a blend of white and dark meat. The only white meat on a chicken is found on the breast, but ground chicken may also include meat from the wings, legs, or thighs.
There may also be skin and fat included in the ground chicken. For these reasons, chicken breast is a healthier alternative, especially if you stick with the boneless and skinless variety.
You need to take care not to overcook chicken breast. When it’s cooked past 165 degrees, the meat takes on a sawdust-like consistency.
Ground chicken is more forgiving, but we would still recommend removing it from the heat when the internal temp hits the 160-degree mark. Thanks to carryover cooking, the temperature will continue to rise slightly, giving the meat the ideal texture.
Ground chicken can be used in most recipes that call for ground beef or pork. The flavor will be milder, but the end result will be healthier, too.
For example, you can form the mixture into patties to make a delicious burger. Top with lettuce, tomato, and onion and serve on a toasted bun. Feel free to season the ground chicken as desired—mix-ins such as kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, and capers all work well.
Chicken breast makes a great entree, but you can also use it to create memorable sandwiches, salads, or tacos. Because it’s leaner, this is a good choice if you want a low-calorie, heart-healthy meal.
If you’re hoping to save money, ground chicken is probably your best bet. Although chicken breast is typically affordable, the ground product will probably be set at an even lower price.
In fact, because chicken breast is both popular and healthy, it usually fetches a higher per-pound price than the other parts of the bird. In some cases, you might be able to save money by purchasing a whole chicken and dividing it into portions yourself.
Safe Internal Temperature
Do you need to cook ground chicken to a different internal temperature than chicken breast? After all, the safe temp for ground beef is noticeably higher than the recommended temp for steak.
Since chicken is a poultry product, though, you should cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees whether it’s ground or not. Here’s why.
Unlike red meat such as pork and beef, poultry is classified as white meat. The flesh is not as dense, so any bacteria that might be contaminating the surface can travel deeper. That’s why it’s not safe to eat poultry products medium rare, as you would a steak.
One important caveat: All ground meat products, including the ones made from red meat, need to cook to at least 165 degrees.
When the meat is ground, any surface-dwelling bacteria can be spread throughout the mixture. The only way to destroy them is to cook the meat thoroughly. This applies to ground beef, pork, and lamb as well as turkey and chicken.
Can You Make Your Own Ground Chicken?
If you’re worried about the fat content of the ground chicken you buy at the supermarket, you might consider buying boneless and skinless chicken breasts and grinding the meat yourself.
When you grind your own meat, you know exactly what goes into the mixture. There’s no need to include skin or fat if you want to make the product as lean as possible. Just trim the breasts and add them to the meat grinder.
In fact, you don’t even need a meat grinder. A regular food processor will work fine. Just be forewarned that the process can be messy, and the raw chicken will contaminate the equipment. You’ll need to wash the bowl and blade thoroughly with hot, soapy water as soon as possible.
To grind chicken breast, cut it into small pieces, as you would if you were making a chicken stew. Set the pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then transfer the sheet to the freezer for about 15 to 20 minutes.
When the meat has firmed up a bit, use the food processor or meat grinder to transform it into ground chicken. It’s important not to skip the freezer step, because if the meat is too warm, it will turn into a messy paste.
On a related note, the utensils you use for grinding should be as cold as possible. Try putting the grinder plates or food processor blade in the freezer along with the meat. You can put the bowl of the food processor inside as well, assuming you have room.
When the ground chicken has reached the right consistency, season and cook it as desired.
The Bottom Line
Should you choose ground chicken or chicken breast for your next meal? That all depends on what you’re planning to make.
Ground chicken can be a more cost-effective choice, especially when it’s tucked into a pasta sauce or casserole. On the other hand, chicken breast makes for a lovely presentation, and you can use the leftovers to make sandwiches or salads.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!