Boneless vs Bone-in Turkey Breast

My youngest brother used to work at a restaurant where he was responsible for planning the menu each day, ordering the food, and he did most of the cooking, too.He was about 17 or so at the time.  It was his premise that it’s cheaper to buy boneless poultry, because most of the weight is in the bone.

I’ve had my doubts about this, and recently had the opportunity to test it out with turkey.  I bought two turkey breasts, one one was boneless, one was bone-in.  The final purchase price was approximately the same for each. although the bone-in of course weighed considerably more.

We brought them home and cooked them,following package directions.  We removed them from the oven and right here I was already dead certain which was the winner.
Hint: It’s not the cheap imitation of a turkey in the bag on the left.

Once cooked, we pulled meat off the bone, or diced it, in the case of the boneless turkey.

Yes, my young chef’s helper here should have her hair back, and, in fact, that is the rule.  I was focused on taking the pictures and didn’t think about it, and my lapse is hereby immortalized for the life of the internet, which is to say, to infinity and beyond.

The measuring cup on the left holds ALL of the boneless turkey breast.

The measuring cup on the right holds an equal amount, but as you can see, there was still a lot of turkey on the bone:

Plus we can use the carcass for some nourishing soup broth. So for turkey breast, at least, it’s not cheaper to buy boneless.  I don’t know if this is true for chicken pieces or not.

I do know that a very long time ago I read that basically, the chicken bones weight about the same, no matter what size you buy, so if you are buying whole chickens or any pieces with the bones in, you get more meat for your purchase by choosing the package of greater weight- especially true when we’re talking about whole birds.

In other words, a whole chicken brought to market will have a skeleton weighing about 1- 1 1/2 pounds (and I am totally making the number up), so if you buy a 3 pound chicken 1/3 to  half of it will be the skeleton, but if your chicken weighs five pounds, as little as a fifth may be the bones. 

One of these days I’ll try and buy equal weights of chicken breasts or thighs, bone in and boneless, and compare them as well.

Meanwhile, check out Mile-Hi Mama’s blogpost of bone-in vs boneless calculations.

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7 Comments

  1. MamaOlive
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    It looks like your boneless breast cost almost three times as much, per pound. Is that right? So if the boneless was only twice as much, it would be about the same price per cup of meat? Though some would argue that the bone-in tastes better and would be worth more.
    Once I had a similar comparison where our commissary sold fully cooked (frozen) turkeys and raw (frozen) turkeys. We compared the price per pound, and added in the trouble, and decided the cooked turkey was cheaper per serving.
    (A more recent example is bacon at Sam's club. The pre-cooked bacon is cheaper per serving than the raw! Plus it's faster and much less messy to use.)
    Interesting thoughts here.
    I appreciate you taking the time to make this comparison and posting it for us.

  2. catlinye-maker
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    My mother did the chicken experiment (I believe it was with chicken breast, now that I think about it) in the 70's, and came up with half bone by weight. Her conclusion was that it was a savings if boneless was less than double the cost of bone-in. Though you still lose out on the soup front.

    Be aware that there's a tipping point on the bone to meat ratio in turkeys as they get larger; at least in our experience. Over about 35 lbs the bone mass required to move the turkey around means you get less meat per pound than on a smaller bird.

    Linda C.

  3. Tamara
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how if the results would be similar or bone-in ham vs boneless…it seems like a ham bone is awfully heavy. But there is that soup thing.

  4. Milehimama @ Mama Says
    Posted November 22, 2011 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    I actually worked out a table of actual costs for boneless/bone in and posted it on my blog, if you're interested:
    http://www.milehimama.com/pinching-pennies/meat-calculations/

  5. Jennifer
    Posted November 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    We own and run a catering business, my husband is a chef by trade, and I told him about your post. He said that there is a difference between restaurant prices and grocery store prices. We can get a much better price for chicken and pork that what you'll find at the store (beef is ridiculously high no matter where you buy from!). Right now, we can get cheap frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts (at restaurant prices). To make a sauteed chicken breast with supreme sauce, we won't be buying bone-in chicken breasts, de-bone it and de-skin it. It wouldn't be worth our time and we would save nothing in the end (even if we made stock from the bones). In this instance, you're brother was right.

    The other things to consider is what you are considering waste. If you are cutting up beef for stew or pot roast, you probably won't be cutting off the fat like you would for Swiss steak.

  6. MrsKamorri
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Lately I've been able to buy chicken breasts with bones for as little as 89 cents per pound. The least I can get boneless (and skinless) ones is $1.88 per pound. The bones in a chicken breast (that has been split) are really inconsequential; they're mostly ribs. I haven't weighed or measured, but I know that those bones aren't anything like half the weight of the package. Maybe 1/4, but I'd think even less. And they really do taste better when cooked with the bones in. They don't dry out as much either, since the skin is there too.
    So my freezer is half full of chicken breasts right now. Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. And I make stock a couple times a week. Now if you'd just send your son down here to kill and process me a couple of deer (I'll help process!) I'd be all set.

    Lindsey in AL

  7. Posted November 23, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for the comparison. I don’t have a lot of experience cooking turkey so this is a big help. Now I will need to check out the rests of your blog.

    Lord bless and Happy Thanksgiving!

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