How to Process a Meat Bird
Every summer we sharpen up our knives and roll out the plucker in order to put the chickens in the freezer. (If you can't handle pictures of dead chickens then I suggest you don't continue to read this blog post.) The pictures that are posted aren't too graphic in my humble opinion, so if you want to learn how to process your own chicken, keep on reading.
First you want to not feed your chickens for the last 12-24 hours because there is less mess when you are gutting them. Make sure they have water. Put a chicken upside down in a cone. You can make one or buy one. It's nice to have more than one cone if you are doing more than 10 birds. That way, you can dispatch more at one time. The cone has an opening on the bottom that the head and neck of the chicken are exposed. When they are upside down in the cone, they are less aware of what is going on. Seems like they get drowsy. Make sure you have a sharp utility knife. Fresh blades are a must! I am a pansy and let the men folk do this part. (I am the official gut-er) Is that a word? I don't know! When they are in the cone, you make one slit on both sides of their neck, right under their ear lobe. Have a bucket right underneath to catch the blood. It takes a couple minutes for a bird to bleed out properly.
After they have been bled out, dunk them in 142-145° F water. A big pot on top of a gas burner works nicely. It's nice to have a thermometer handy in order to check the water temp. We dunk the chicken 9- 12 times. After 9 dunks pull out a couple feathers out of the wings. Do they come out easily? If not, give the bird another couple dunks in the hot water. Don't worry, after a while you will have this figured out.
After many years of dunking by hand, our very smart neighbor came up with an automatic dunker that we can dunk 3 birds at a time. We have taken the easy road, I know! We also put in some blue Dawn dish soap because it cuts the grease and the birds feathers come out much cleaner.
Pull the birds out of the dunker and cut their feet off at the knuckle. This will make your knife dull after so many birds. Takes a little practice if you are a beginner, but like I always tell my kids, "Practice makes Perfect."
Now is the time to pluck those feathers off the bird. Start plucking by hand......or put your chicken into the plucker. We use a plucker that is similar to a top loading washing machine. We turn it on, then gently put the chickens in. It works best if we put in 3 birds at a time.
The chickens bounce around in the plucker and the feathers come off as the black rubber fingers are touching each bird. They go from this to...…..
Plenty of feathers to almost nil. Pure awesomeness in less than a minute. This will make the processing a whole lot easier!
I am sure that by now you have guessed the next step. It is now time to take off the head. An easy way to do this is to take a nice sharp kitchen scissors and cut in the area where you previously made an incision.
In this second picture above, it shows sliding the knife under the skin. Slice that open till you get close to the body. Find the wind pipe. It's a tube that is on the right side of the neck. Pull that away from the neck, loosening as much as you can. In the pictures below, you can see the windpipe that has been separated from the neck.
Next you need to find the crop. The crop is a little storage pouch for food. If your chickens had their food taken away in the last 12 hours it's a bit harder to find since there will be no grain in it. It's located close to where the neck and the body meet, still on the right side. If your chickens were still eating like little pigs up until they were dispatched, it is quite easy to find the crop. That sack will be plump full of grain. Pull it away from the body. Don't rip it off, just loosen it up from the body. It will help with the whole process if you do this one little step!
The second picture above, shows taking off the neck with a kitchen scissors. Now you are ready to begin the process of taking out the insides of the chicken. (aka gutting)
Make a nice little horizontal cut about an inch above the vent. I call this the bikini cut. Ha! Make it about 2-3 inches long. Pull that skin away from the intestines as you make your cut. It's best if you don't cut into the intestines. You don't want all that liquid running all over the meat. Reach in and gently loosen things up in there. If you reach farther up, you will find a big ball. That is the gizzard. If you can loosen that up and pull it out, most everything will come out with it. Caution: There is a bile sack here that comes out with the liver. If that sack breaks open inside the chicken, you need to rinse out the chicken quickly, otherwise your meat will be ruined. Rinse well, very quickly, if this happens.This picture below on the right is an attempt to show you what is normally left after you pull out the gizzard and the guts.
Reach back in there. Remove everything still in there that you can pull out. Sometimes the heart is still there, along with a few other odds and ends.
The next step is to find the lungs that are neatly pressed up against the ribs. Rake your fingers by the ribs and hopefully you will figure it out. Ha! This took me a while to understand. So best of luck to you! This picture above on the right is an attempt to show you what is normally left after you pull out the gizzard and the guts. It's all situated all up there. If you have the lungs out you should be able to see the ribs clearly. There are lungs on both sides of the spine.
Cut down around the vent so it looks like the above picture on the right. You know you are on your way to being a pro when you can do all this without breaking open the intestines. Put that chicken in some ice cold water for 24 hours. That makes for some nice tender chicken. The key is.... don't put in the freezer for 24 hours.
Now is a good time to take out the organ meat if you are going to save it. Cut carefully around the bile sack that is attached to the liver. Discard bile sack. Keep liver. You can also clean up the gizzard. Split it open carefully and peel away the sack that is in there. It normally has little rocks and grit in there. Discard sack of grit. Keep gizzard and heart.
I am very thankful to have neighbors that have been very patient with us as we have learned to process chicken. We have learned some serious skills that help feed our family not to mention other families.
I will be posting shortly on how to package chicken so it looks like this. If packaged properly chicken can be put in a deep freeze and doesn't need an expiration date!
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