This last weekend some friends and I engaged in a bit of an experiment. I bought 2 chickens from three different sources- 2 fresh, local, grass raised birds, 2 bird raised on organic grain, also fresh, but not local, and 2 birds from the grocery store, the least-expensive I could find. I cut the backbones out of the birds (and reserved those for stock) and then flattened them out on a cutting board, rubbing each with a mixture of salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika. Then I grilled them over a slow charcoal fire with some water-soaked mesquite chunks. The different birds were identified by kitchen twine around the drumstick and the guests were subjected to a blind taste test of the breast meat. Each of the eight of us ranked each piece of meat from 1 to 3, so the best possible score for a bird was eight, worst 24, and total points available 48. The grocery store bird scored a 13, the organic, grain-raised bird a 17, and the grass-raised bird an 18.
I would in no way call this a definitive test, as the birds were pretty highly flavored by the smoke and spices. For that matter, two of us knew which sample was which. It was still interesting. Grilling on the bone like that is one of my favorite ways to cook a chicken and I think I achieved comparable levels of done-ness. I thought that the grass-fed bird and the grocery store birds were closest in flavor and better than the organic grain-fed bird. As one guest pointed out, the mass-market bird was probably injected with a bunch of brine and other things to add juice and flavor and that might well be why it did best.
Photos are omitted because I got busy and forgot to take any. There goes my career as food-blogger. For that matter, as a liberal arts major with no real pretensions to actual, well, science, I'll take this short experiment as grounds to reach a conclusion: while there are lots of good reasons to buy local, organic, and/or grass fed chickens, taste is probably not the definitive one.