Looking at and feeling the chicken can give you information that the label will not provide. When shopping for a whole fresh chicken that you are planning on roasting whole, select one that has a rounded, plump breast, because it would contain more breast meat, which provides a nicely shaped bird when roasted. When selecting chicken parts, choose those that are plump and moist. Compare the proportion of meat to bone. If lacking in meat, you are paying for more bone than meat. When feeling the breastbone, it should easily yield to your touch, indicating that it is a young bird that will provide tender meat. The color of the skin does not have any bearing on the tenderness or taste of the chicken. Breed and what the chickens eat affect the color of the skin. Producers will raise white or yellow skinned chickens according to preferences in different regions. It is important to look at the skin, avoiding chicken with skin that it is patchy colored or skin that has a transparent look to it.
Another sign of freshness is the color of the bones. Look at the ends of the bone and if they are turning gray, the chicken is getting old. If they are a pinkish color, they are still fairly fresh and the pinker the color the fresher the chicken. Look at the chicken to be sure it has been cleaned thoroughly, checking for signs of hair or feathers that were not completely removed. Fresh chicken, whether whole or pieces, should have a fresh smell. Check the package to see that it is sealed tight and does not have any tears.
Look for signs that indicate the chicken has been stored at improper temperatures. Check fresh chicken by squeezing or apply pressure to the package to feel for signs of freezing or look for ice crystals forming on the tray or along the wings or edges. These are signs indicating that the chicken has been store in too cold of temperatures, causing partial freezing. Partial freezing is not harmful, but the quality of the chicken will decrease due to the loss of natural juices and a decrease in tenderness. Also, be aware that packages stacked too high in the cooler may result in the top packages not being stored in cool enough temperatures, which would result in a decreased shelf life.
A similar problem occurs with frozen chicken that is stacked too high in the freezer. The chickens on top sit above the freezer line, which results in them not being stored properly to maintain an adequate freezing temperature. A frozen chicken should be rock hard and show no sign of freezer damage. There should be no crystals forming or frozen liquid inside the package, which would indicate partial thawing at some point. As with partial freezing of fresh chicken, partial thawing of frozen chicken is not harmful, but it may decrease the quality of the chicken when cooked.