Dateline: 14 February 2009
Ten years ago I started growing chickens for meat here on my little 1.5 acre homestead. I pastured them in a homemade chicken tractor on the front lawn. After they grew to harvestable size, I butchered the birds myself. The craft of killing, scalding, plucking, and eviscerating chickens was completely new to me. I remember how offensive and intimidating it was.
But after butchering nigh unto a thousand chickens over the years, I am no longer offended nor intimidated by the work of butchering. I dare say, I enjoy “processing” chickens. Besides that, it is a good feeling to know I can now do the job and do it well.
If someone had told me ten years ago that I would one day enjoy butchering chickens, I would have laughed. “Ha! That’ll never happen!” But it did. Maybe there is something wrong with me.
In any event, I have made it a point in the past few years to post several poultry processing essays here on this blog, and I have even put together a whole web site that tells (and shows) exactly How To Butcher A Chicken in ten easy steps.
That web site specifically explains how to eviscerate and cut up a chicken after it is killed and scalded and plucked. For information about what comes before that, my 11-year-old son, James, shows how it’s done HERE. (By the way, that essay has been read by more people than anything else I’ve posted here on the internet in the last four years)
Although I have discussed the matter of scalding chickens prior to plucking in other essays, I have not written specifically about this very important topic. This essay will now correct that deficiency.....
A chicken is scalded by dunking it up and down in hot water. Such action serves to loosen the feathers so the bird plucks easily.
Scalding is a matter of confusion to the neophyte chicken butcherer. I know it was to me when I was new to the whole chicken butchering “thing.” But I now know the never-fail secret to perfectly scalding a chicken. This secret is what I wish someone had communicated to me ten years ago. If you have never butchered a chicken and you want to learn how, you’re going to have it easier than I did.
Follow this simple never-fail technique and you will never under-scald a chicken (and have a hassle getting the bird plucked), and you will never over-scald a chicken (and end up with torn skin or cooked flesh).
This technique will easily render the kind of scald that allowed World Champion chicken plucker, Ernest Hausen of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, to hand-pluck a chicken in 4.4 seconds (back in 1939). It is the kind of scald that will allow you to Whizbang-Pluck several birds at once in about 15 seconds.
First, you will need a thermometer of some sort to measure the temperature of your scald water.
Second, you will need a pot full of water that you can heat up and dunk your chicken into. I have used a turkey fryer pot over a propane burner. There are people who scald in a pot heated by a wood fire. Either approach will work.
Heat your scalding water up to between 145 and 150 degrees. I know people who say 148 degrees is best. Others say they successfully scald in water up to 155 degrees. I do not necessarily disagree with either of those claims. The important thing to understand about water temperature is that you do not need an exact temperature in order to get an exact scald. But you need to be in an optimum temperature range. Shoot for 145 to 150 degrees and you will be in the optimum range. In time, you may find that a little cooler or a little hotter is more to your personal liking.
When your water temperature is within the optimal range, hold your bird (or birds... you can dunk two at a time with one hand) by the feet and dunk it down into the hot water. Make sure you dunk the critter in far enough to wet the smallest feathers on the bottom of the legs, just above the feet.
Hold the bird under the water for maybe three seconds and give it a vigorous little up and down jiggle. The jiggle action helps to get hot water to the base of the feathers. Then pull the chicken out momentarily before dunking, jiggling, and removing it again.
After a couple of dunks like this, you need to perform a feather pull test. This test is performed by selecting one large wing or tail feather and pulling it. When you do the feather pull test and the feather slides out with no resistance, the bird is scalded to perfection.
Chances are you will need to dunk the bird more than two times. You may need to dunk it four times, or six times, or more. I don’t know how many times you will need to dunk your bird. There is no magic number.
The important thing is that you repeatedly dunk the bird, and each time you remove it from the water, you give a pull on one of those big feathers. Make sure it is only one feather, and when it slides out with absolutely no resistance, the bird is ready to pluck.
Now you know how to easily scald a chicken to feather-pickin’ perfection. Now you know the secret.
I can tell you this technique also works on turkeys. Ducks and geese are, however, birds of a different feather. Though I have never personally scalded and plucked a duck or goose, I understand that the same technique will work at the same temperature range. But the bird will need to stay under the water much longer.
===============If you are processing A LOT of chickens, check out my essay titled, "Introducing My Deluxe Automatic Chicken Scalder
===============You can find links to all my poultry processing essays here: Herrick’s Poultry Essays Archive
(I can't say for sure, but this woman might be Ernest Hausen's wife scalding a chicken for him to pluck back in 1939)