From global giants like KFC to your local charcoal chicken outlet, there are plenty of choices for takeout chicken and we're eating more of it than ever before. But are we always making the most sensible choices?
Picture by Dion Gillard
Australians eat a lot of chicken. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, while we each consumed an average of 8.3kg of chicken a year in the 1960s, that figure had jumped to over 30kg a year by the turn of the century. While those numbers include all the chicken we cook at home, there's no shortage of options if you want some poultry on the run.
The giant of the takeaway chicken market is KFC (which has 600+ stores in Australia), followed by Red Rooster (360+ stores), Nandos (250+), Oporto (100+) and a whole bunch of smaller franchises and independent stores. And that's ignoring the chicken burgers on offer from the major burger joints.
Unsurprisingly, it's in the burger area where things can get very unhealthy pretty quickly. Mark, the editor of our sibling site Kotaku, was twitching with excitement this morning at the news that KFC will be releasing the Double Down Burger in Australia. The Double Down essentially eliminates the burger roll to cram in more bacon and chicken and cheese. The end result? At least 2200 kilojoules in the American version. That's not actually a totally ridiculous amount if it's the main thing you eat as a key meal, but if you add a soft drink and some chips and a desert, larding up will probably be the end result, even for a lean rock-climbing Scot like Mark.
How can I make this healthier? Because chicken stores offer such a wide range of options (chicken pieces, whole chickens, nuggets, burgers, wraps, rolls and sandwiches), we're not going to repeat what we did with burgers and list all the figures. Frankly, you'd all probably explode with numeric overload if we did. But the basic advice that emerged from that piece very much stands: if you must order a burger, don't order chips and a full-strength soft drink with it, and avoid anything with the words 'ultimate', 'double', 'maximum', 'mega' or 'super' in the name.
The other fundamental lesson is to go for the roasted/grilled/charcoal chicken options over the fried ones. Even in a grease-heavy joint like KFC, the "fillet" option has notably fewer kilojoules per 100 grams than the classic fried chicken (839 versus 1186). No matter what chicken you order, avoiding the skin will cut down on your fat count. Stuffing is less likely to make you fat, but is often very high in sodium.
Here's the nutrition information pages for the major chain providers in Australia:
Chicken stores (especially outside the major chains) will generally have salads on offer as well, but some caution is sensible here too. If your salad has a fatty or oily dressing or a large helping of cheese, the kilojoule count can still be pretty high. A straightforward green salad, or a small serving of another salad shared with other people, is your safest bet.
How can I save money? The most straightforward healthy strategy is probably buying a whole or half roast chicken and sharing it with a few people. KFC is currently running 'Streetwise' meal deals, but these contain the more greasy/calorific end of its market. A whole BBQ chicken from your local supermarket might well be cheaper than the same deal in a chicken store.
What are your favourite chicken takeout options? Will you be joining Mark in the queue for the Double Down when it comes out? Keep us abreast of your choices in the comments.