In the United States, chicken is the most popular animal protein across all age groups. Specifically in Gen Z, chicken and chicken dishes rate as the most popular protein (Datassential). Chicken's popularity is not surprise since it is easy to cook, versatile and has a mild taste that works with a variety of flavors and cooking methods. Additionally, chicken can boast a healthy nutritional profile as a lower fat animal protein. Traditionally, white meat chicken (breasts and wings) has been the cut of choice for consumers, but dark meat chicken (thighs and drumsticks) is gaining popularity. This is likely due to the rise in the desire for global and ethnic foods which are commonly made with the dark meat. Popular restaurants, like Panda Express and Chipotle, are even getting in on the dark meat trend which is helping fuel dark meat's acceptability. Dark meat has many benefits that can add value to your school meal programs.

Dark Meat vs. White Meat

The breast, breast tenders and wings of the chicken are considered white meat. Thighs an drumsticks are categorized as dark meat. Dark meat chicken a darker color due to the higher levels of myoglobin in these muscles. The role of myoglobin is to carry oxygen throughout muscles. Since dark meat muscles are used more often, this means they have more oxygen. The white meat muscles are used less often so they use less oxygen and have less myoglobin, meaning a lighter color.



All chicken meat is a good source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, biotin and vitamin B12. Dark meat, due to higher levels of myoglobin, has more iron. Dark meat has slightly more fat due to the fact that most fat is found in between muscles. Since wings and drumsticks are made up of multiple muscles, there is more fat. Since breasts are one muscle, the fat is more easily trimmed away. Looking at the table below, the calories of thighs and wings compared to breast meat is not that much different. Surprisingly, the fat in dark meat is not much higher than white meat.



Nutrient Skinless, Boneless Breast Thigh, Skinless Wing, Skinless
Calories 114 119 126
Protein (g) 21.2 19.7 22

Total Fat (g)

2.6 3.9 3.5
Saturated Fat (g) 0.6 1 0.9
MUFA (g) 0.8 1.2 0.8
PUFA (g) 0.4 1 0.8
Cholesterol (g) 64 83 57
Sodium (mg) 116 86 81
Iron (mg) 0.4 1 0.9



Thanks to the higher fat content of dark meat, dark meat has more flavor. Dark meat can be described as rich, moist, juicy, tender, and more "chicken-y". In cooking, some flavors like to stick to fat molecules so fat helps prolong the release of flavors in our mouths. Therefore, using dark meat can enhance the flavor or any dish.

Versatile and Cost Effective

All chicken is versatile and can be used in a variety of cooking applications and ethnic flavors. Dark meat has the extra benefit of staying moist during cooking and can be used in addition to or in place of white meat. Dark meat is perfect for K-12 food service since it stays moist during longer holding times. If your students are just getting used to dark meat, try using half white meat and half dark meat. Dark meat is also perfect for school food service due to its cost-effectiveness. Due to less demand, dark meat chicken is generally lower in price compared to white meat.


Pilgrim's Pride has a wide-variety of dark meat options perfect for K-12 food service under the Gold Kist, Pierce and Just Bare Chicken brands. Plus, now is the perfect time to add these products to your menus with our current Fall 2019 Promotion. Here is a full list of our K-12 all-dark meat products:

  • Pierce Dark Meat Menu Strips (1260)
  • Gold Kist Dark Meat Sausage (6390)
  • NAE Just Bare Dark Meat Sausage (776390)
  • Gold Kist Dark Meat Popcorn Smackers (110458)
  • NAE Just Bare Dark Meat Popcorn Smackers (770458)
  • Pierce Breaded Drumstick (7803)
  • Gold Kist Italian Style Meatballs (6410)
  • NAE Just Bare Italian Style Meatballs (776410)
  • Pierce Whole Grain Breaded 8-Pierce Parts (8820)

Check out our website for delicious recipes that feature our dark meat products. Contact us if you have any questions about the fall promotion and tips for adding these delicious dark meat products to your menus!