More chicken wings will be consumed during this year’s Super Bowl than ever before. And do you know who we have to thank for this? Chicken marketers? Clever food scientists developing addictive dipping sauces? Deep frying? No, sports fans, at the very core we have the Cornish Cross breed of chicken to thank.
The National Chicken Council (yes, it’s a thing) estimates that 1.35 billion chicken wings will be gobbled down by Americans this Sunday.
With a ‘b’.
2018 UPDATE: In the two years since when we first published this post, that number has gone up by 50 million wings. Check out the change in this number over the past several years:
OK, let’s take a breath and we’ll continue.
I think there are two keys to the success of the chicken wing: First is that the snack is enjoyably meaty but you still feel like you’re accomplishing something. Second is that chicken wings are cheap to produce.
All because of a highly efficient, bulky cross breed of chicken, the Cornish cross. This breed has been optimized through high tech, scientific breeding and crossbreeding to produce a bird that not only has more meat on its bones, it also grows more than twice as fast as normal chickens. And it doesn’t need as much feed to do it!
In fact, the cost to raise one pound of Cornish cross meat can be less than 25% of the cost of raising a pound of heritage breed meat. And that’s just taking feed into account.
More meat for less money. Snackologists around the world would agree that there was really no other choice than to develop the chicken wing into the king of football meats.
Another fun fact: all Cornish cross chickens consumed in the United States are harvested at around 6-8 weeks of age. This results in more tender meat since the muscles have not yet developed into tough, stringy meat. Think veal.
A heritage breed can take anywhere between 4 and 8 MONTHS to reach market weight. And a lot of the time, the processed weight of a 4 month old heritage chicken is half that of a 7 week old Cornish cross.
Compare the above photo of Cornish cross with the below of a heritage breed.
You’ll see there’s less meat on those heritage bones! It’s both freaky and amazing what breeders have accomplished.
Is this fast growth cornish cross breed a good thing or a bad thing?
In commercial operations, Cornish cross birds put up with a lot of bad stuff. Tight quarters, unsanitary conditions–they often end up laying around all day in their own mess. The breed has actually been optimized to put up with and survive these conditions. Sad.
Another issue with the Cornish cross is that they can develop health problems much more easily than heritage breeds, due to the ultra-rapid growth. Sometimes their bodies simply cannot keep up with the rate of muscle development.
However, the breed is still a chicken with natural chicken instincts, and can thrive if treated well by the right farmers. We have raised several different breeds of chicken for meat, fast growth and heritage, and can weigh in with our experience. If you’re interested, you can read our comparisons of raising, processing, and eating heritage breeds vs. the Cornish cross breed in this series of posts here.
With the right environment and care, we know first hand that the Cornish cross chicken can be a happy bird that runs around and scratches and pecks and lives a decent life. It’s actually of utmost importance to us. And we’ve found ways to reduce health issues, too. You can read about those here.
Happy animals make for better meat. And raising happy animals makes the farmers happier, which makes them care.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows
Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the chickens who gave their wings to the Super Bowl could have been very happy, as over 99% of the chicken consumed in the USA is the Cornish cross breed, commercially raised in non-organic conditions.
So… you were going to tell us how many chickens will be eaten during the Super Bowl?
I think the best way to figure this out is to go by the 1.35 billion wings reported by the National Chicken Council. It’s an impressive number and it’s fun to pass around.
The Council isn’t actually clear on what counts as a single chicken wing, which is typically cut into three pieces:
- the “drumette”, which is like a miniature drumstick similar to a leg
- the “flat”, which you might think of as a section of meat that falls between two outer bones (not unlike our forearms)
- the wing tip, which is not normally consumed by the general public, and definitely is not included on a plate of chicken wings
I think it’s safe to assume that, to get more impressive numbers, they count the drumette and flat separately. Which means every two “wings” that they count are actually from a single wing of a chicken. And therefore, since every chicken has two wings (we can hope), we just need to divide that 1.35 billion by 4 to get a grand total of:
337.5 million chickens will be eaten during the 2018 Super Bowl!
All raised and processed for a single day of enjoyment.
That’s more chickens than there are people in the United States, eaten in a synchronized manner across the country in the span of a few hours one Sunday evening in February. Yowza.
To read the piece from the National Chicken Council on the chicken wing consumption at the Superbowl, which has some entertaining stats you can use to freak out your friends on Sunday, visit their site here.