How To
Properly Scald A Chicken
(My Never-Fail Technique)


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)

30 comments:

Danman said...

Hey Herrick,
I can't get your link to your "Clean a chicken in ten easy steps" post to work.

You've written so much and it's all so informative and enjoyable. Love your blog.

Dan

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the heads upon that link. I've fixed it.

Herrick

WeekendFarmer said...

Great blog. Enjoyed reading. Just saying hi!

Brad said...

Hi Herrick,
I grew up processing chickens with my family. My grandma was in charge of the dunking and plucking using a tabletop plucker along with a scalder that my grandpa rigged from an old propane water heater that we put a 5 gallon bucket of water on top of. I remember my grandma putting baking soda in the hot water to help with the grease, and she lifted the birdsout of the water as you mentioned, but also twisted the bird in the water to get at the base of the feathers.
I built both your tub-style plucker and scalder this past year and they worked extremely well. Thanks for the posts and for providing the "how-to" books.

Brad

Farmchick said...

Hi~Just out blog hopping...I enjoyed reading your blog....we used to butcher a lot of chickens when I was younger! Brings back memories.

David Schafer said...

Hi Herrick,

Great post. Forget ye not the all important soap in scald water. I know you know it but didn't mention it here. This allows the water to be "wetter" and penetrate better. Dirty water, in fact, simply will not scald any longer. We find a limit of around 150 birds per 30-40 gallon tub of scald water before it is mandatory break time while new scald water warms up.
The oily-skinned water fowl need a LOT of soap to get a good scald.
David Schafer

Ralph in AZ said...

I think that this a really important post. Once a person is past the "gross" factor, I think scalding is one of the big mental barriors that new poultry folks have to get past.

We only process about 25 or so a day. (It's just me and the Mrs and for us that's enough at a time - about 3 to four hours from set up to clean up). So for us the turkey fryer has been fine. But after seeing how well your plucker design worked this season, I may have to splurge and build your scalder! I have the plan book and it looks like a great machine.

Thanks for a great blog. It's been insperational for me.

Bluebird Meadow Farms (Andy) said...

As you know, Herrick, I built your plucker last year... this year I am "required" by chicken volume to upgrade my scalder from the turkey fryer pot to something more manageable... I have some ideas - I'll keep you posted with progress... and should that be a catastrophe - I know where I can get some good plans!
+Andy
P.S. Visit us at Bluebird Meadow Farms

Jennifer said...

hello! i've been enjoying your blog, and have added it my list of "daily stops". we live in norhtern pa, and are striving to live the simple, christian agrarian lifestyle. acutally, i had never even heard the word "agrarian" until i came upon your site! my husband built several chicken tractors like yours, and we even will be using them in the garden this year as a high tunnel of sorts. last night he ordered your pig butchering book- we're raising 2 pigs. we have them in a pig tractor, to boot! come on over and check it out. it's pretty neat, if i do say so myself!

Southern Agrarian said...

You should check out the introduction to the book I'll TAKE MY STAND: THE SOUTH AND THE AGRARIAN TRADITION by the Southern Agrarians: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA01/White/anthology/agrarian.html

Maybe you could do a post on it here and let more people know about it?

Anonymous said...

I read an old post of yours about Pastor Ralph West. I dont know if you have heard since then but the man is doing an awsome job in Houston. He has 3 locations and pastors about 21000 members. He is a mighty preacher. His website is www.churchwithoutwalls.org

Joyce Paski said...

I love your blog! Thanks so much for the scalding secret; I'm experimenting with 100 birds this year and I was dreading processing until I read this!

Justin said...

Old is Gold!
I Buy Barbeques

Karen said...

Herrick, you wrote a book on butchering pigs? (Jennifer's post above) Where is it? Not listed on the right in your books.

howlingduckranch said...

I notice you've used my photo. It would be nice if you had actually credited it and made a link to my site.

cheers,

Howling Duck Ranch

http://howlingduckranch.wordpress.com/2008/10/26/butchering-day-turkeys-warning-graphic-photo-documentary/

Herrick Kimball said...

Hello Howling Duck Ranch Person,

My apologies. I picked it up on Google Images. It's a great picture. Here is a link that works:

Howling Duck Ranch Essay on How To Butcher A Turkey

Thank you & best wishes,

Herrick Kimball

P.S. Having now read some of your blog, I am adding you to my list of agrarian bloggers link. Very nice.

howlingduckranch said...

Huh, on Google images eh. I wonder how that works! Thanks for putting my on your blogroll. I'll do the same over at my site with yours. Enjoying working my way through it.

cheers,

HDR

Anonymous said...

Herrick,
What about scalding the feet and heads?! I've not tried doing anything with the heads (besides feeding the dogs) but we keep all our feet and use for broth as in Nourishing Traditions. We found that an old mop without the mop on it works great to hold two chickens' feet and you can dunk and jiggle the whole chicken clear down to his toenails! Have you any info on how to do the heads? I hear they are very nutritious.
Thanks for your wonderful blog!

Anonymous said...

My grandson and I butchered 2 home grown turkeys today, a hen and a tom. The tom had a lot of bruising. We are wondering if this bruising will make a difference in the taste or tenderness of the meat, can you tell us?

David said...

You left out a step. Do you kill the chicken before scalding?

Herrick Kimball said...

David,

Yes, kill the chicken first...

1. kill
2. scald
3. pluck
4. eviscerate
5. chill
6. package. & freeze

Anonymous said...

We also use the thermometer to measure the water temp before dunking the bird but I also use about 3/4 cup baking soda to eliminate the smell of a wet bird and to help remove the pin feathers.

Pam, Missouri

micheal said...

HerricK:

I just made your tub style chicken plucker. Since I am a lousy carpenter, but a great machinist, I used my TIG welder and made the whole framework from Aluminum. I LOVE IT!!

It works so very well. And many thanks for the wonderful plans.

Next on my list.... the chicken scalder.

Take care

Micheal... From B.C., Canada

Anonymous said...

Somehow I wandered onto this site. Nice to see sociopaths hanging out together killing animals. The kicker? Someone asking if you kill the bird before scalding it. Another? Someone stating they are 'experimenting' with scalding birds. Imagine if the birds could fight back. Hope they would feed your feet to the dogs.

Anonymous said...

The dogs didnt get the feet, they got the heads(better than going to waste). I guess Anonymous Aug. 23, 2011 doesnt eat chicken. The ones in the grocery store arent manufacured into the plastic packages. Some "sociopath" had to kill it and put it in there. Its ok to be vegetarian just dont bash on the 90% of people who happen to like chicken (fresh farm raised chicken is the best, but the chickens dont kill themselves).

Montanaguy said...

I recently started raising a few chickens , primarily for eggs, but I knew I would occasionally need to butcher some. Your site was very helpful. I too share the opinion that people have lost touch with where their food comes from. As an atheist I believe this life is any creatures only shot, so taking a life is something that I do not take lightly. I rarely eat meat that does not come from an animal I have raised (grass fed beef) or killed and processed myself (deer and elk). If one chooses to eat meat, at some point in their life they should have to personally kill an animal so they have a personal understanding that an animal gave it' s life for our food.

Anonymous said...

Its great to find all you like-minded people across the globe treating your animals with dignity. Feed me happy chicken day.

Regards, Ben in Australia

marisa said...

Thank you for the tips on scalding a chicken! I'm about to go try it. I hope it works!

Anonymous said...

Great site, and tips. So important to know how to handle such things, and where our food comes from. Thanks for the scalding technique info. Keep the faith, and best regards.

Iggygirl PA said...

This brought back fond memories of my Grandmother's farm. We raised chickens for both eggs and meat, I remember her going over these tips with us. Now I am raising chickens again so this was a great reminder of the proper way to scald a chicken. Love your blog~