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Chicken leg name confusion

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I used to get packages of "chicken leg quarters". These seem to be out of stock in my area recently. Sticking to the general legs part of a chicken, I noticed there are quite a few different pre-packaged options:

  • Chicken leg quarters
  • Chicken legs
  • Chicken thighs
  • Chicken drumsticks

I guess a "drumstick" is the lower leg, and the "thigh" the upper leg. Then a "leg" would be the whole thing, right? But what's a "leg quarter" then?

I got some legs yesterday, and they appear at first glance to be the same as leg quarters, but I don't have the two to compare side by side. Also, I remember the leg quarters being the cheapest chicken around, about $0.80/pound if I remember right. The legs yesterday were something like $1.05/pound.

These are all the same house brand from the same store (Market Basket in Massachusetts in case that matters), but I also noticed the same labeling from national brands like Perdue.

So what's the difference between a leg and leg quarter, and why is the latter cheaper? What specifically do all the various names really mean?

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2 answers

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From personal experience I would say that the 'Chicken leg quarters' include half of the back.

When butchering a chicken the back where thighs/legs attach can be cut into a separate piece of chicken or the the back can be split and half left attached to the thigh.

The chicken back is not a commercially viable piece on its own, and it is much simpler/easier in a commercial butchery, to split the back and leave it attached to the thigh.

In my youth, we always bought a whole chicken and cut it into eight pieces, for cooking.

2 Legs (drum stick)

2 Thighs

2 Breasts

2 Backs (front and back)

I liked the back back, with the tail. Plus skin and/or breading. Not a lot of meat otherwise.

Edit: Add supporting references.

Leg Quarters: Generally includes a little less than a quarter of the meat on the chicken. The cut includes a thigh, drumstick, and a part of the back. Source

"Why are chicken leg quarters cheaper than the thighs and drumsticks?" Because it’s less work for chicken processors to break down the quarters into small pieces. A general rule for buying meat is that the less it must be processed, the cheaper the price will be. If you buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself, you will pay much less than if you bought individual pieces. Source

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I think the only real question here is leg.

  • Drumstick - the lower part
  • Thigh - the upper part
  • Leg Quarter - Drumstick + Thigh. "Quarter" comes from the 4 quarters: Left Drumstick + Thigh, Right Drumstick + Thigh, Left Breast + Wing, Right Breast + Wing. While not terribly relevant in most cases, but interestingly extremely relevant with certain questions about Kosher chicken, a package of 4 "quarters", even if they appear to match the pattern (but often they will not - e.g., all "left" or all "right") can be assumed to be from different chickens. Obviously a pack of "4 Leg Quarters" is from at least 2 different chickens, and a "4-legged chicken" (4 leg quarters + 2 breast quarters) is from at least 2 (but as many as 6) different chickens. But I digress.

The question remains: "What is a package of legs?" I have been told that normally this means "leg quarters". That being said, when I am handed a shopping list that says "chicken legs", I have learned to always ask "drumsticks or leg quarters?" as the terminology is ambiguous.

As far as pricing, generally I find that the pricing is "drumstick" < "leg quarter" < "thigh". But it is very much market driven. If you have the option of multiple competitive brands in one store (I generally don't as the Kosher stores typically price all brands the same at any given time, and the regular stores will typically only stock one Kosher brand at any given time), or a particular item on sale for some reason, the price relationship between various parts can vary.

All that being said, if you see a package labeled "legs" and it includes thighs then it is identical to leg quarters and if it does not include thighs then it is identical to drumsticks. In other words, "legs" is just a name, not a special variant.

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