How to Butcher a Chicken
A Step by Step Tutorial
Do you want to know how to butcher a chicken? I butcher my home raised chickens so that my family has access to clean meat that was raised and slaughtered humanely. I’ve been doing this for years because my family is opposed to the inhumane treatment of animals in factory farms.
This post is intended to show you how to butcher a chicken. There are a lot of photos to show the process. Readers should be advised that some of the photos may not be very pleasant to look at.
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Getting Ready to Butcher
Withhold feed overnight from the birds that will be butchered. This helps to clean out their digestive tract for easier evisceration. Be sure to provide fresh water.
Have everything set up ahead of time. Make sure your knife is very sharp. Set up a table for final processing, a bucket of water with a bit of bleach and some rags for cleaning the knife and the table, a container for the offal, and a burner with a scalding pot (and a kitchen thermometer) all ready to go.
Killing Your Birds
You may use a killing cone to hold the chicken while you nick the arteries in the neck and bleed the birds out. Or you may decapitate them with a hatchet or ax. To hold them still, put the chicken into a feed bag with a hole cut in one corner for the head to poke through. This allows you to hold the bird still so you don’t miss the neck with the ax and also prevents the carcass from flopping around.
Sever the neck with a sharp ax quickly.
Allow it to bleed out and wait for the reflexes to stop.
Wash the bird off to remove feces and dirt.
Once it is cleaned off, dunk the carcass into a pot of scalding water (145 to 150 F) for 1 minute. This makes it much easier to pluck the feathers. Be sure your water is up to the right temp before you start chopping heads off. You may want to add a drop of dish soap to make the scalding water penetrate the feathers better.
Be sure to scald the feet too. This will make it easy to peel off the skin, so you can use the cleaned feet for making broth if you like.
Plucking the Feathers
Plucking is quick and easy if the bird is scalded properly. If the water is too cool, the feathers don’t come off easily. If the water is too hot, the skin will cook and pull away from the meat as you pluck.
If the scalding is done properly, most of the feathers will just rub off as you run your hand over them. The wing and tail feathers require a bit more force.
Pull the skin off of the feet if you are saving them to make gelatin or bone broth.
After plucking, give the carcass another rinse.
Remove the Feet
You may remove the feet now, or after evisceration.
To remove the feet, locate the joint where the lower leg and drumstick meet.
Cut through the skin and ligaments holding the joint together.
You do not want to cut through bone or cartilage, you just want to cut the stringy ligaments. Bend the joint as you work to make it easier.
Remove the Oil Gland
You may remove the oil glad after evisceration also. Be careful not to squeeze the oil out onto the carcass. If this happens, rinse the oil away.
The oil gland is located on the top of the tail. It’s the bump that looks kind of like a big pimple. Cut around and under to remove it without getting the oil onto the carcass. (I’ve read that the oil gland will give the cooked bird a gamy flavor if it isn’t removed. I can neither confirm nor deny this, since I have always removed it.)
You will need to remove the innards. Be careful when cutting into the abdomen. You don’t want to puncture the intestines and spill feces into the body cavity. (I keep bleach water on hand in case I do get feces on the meat. I rinse with the bleach water and then with clean water.)
It is easier if you pinch and lift the skin of the abdomen with one hand and use a sharp knife to cut just beneath this pinched spot with the other hand.
Once the initial cut is made you will see where the innards are and you can avoid cutting into them. Locate the rectum leading up to the vent.
Cut around the vent, being careful not to cut into the intestines. You may use one hand to hold the rectum and intestines out of the way. The back of the vent will be attached to the inside of the body cavity with some stringy tissue. You’ll need to sever the connective tissue.
After vent is cut free, begin pulling the intestines gently from the body cavity.
Once the vent is pulled away from the body, you can increase the size of the incision and insert your hand into the body cavity.
Use your hand to carefully lift the bulk of the intestines out. The liver and gizzard will be attached to the intestines.
During this process you want to pull gently so that the intestines don’t rupture and spill feces into the body cavity.
The other end of the intestines will be attached to the gizzard. Use your hand to scoop the gizzard out.
You may be able to pull the heart, liver, and crop out all in one piece. You will need to loosen the crop where it is attached to the skin of the neck/chest area to do this.
Cut the intestines away from the gizzard if you wish to save it.
If you are saving the gizzard, you will need to slice it open and clean it. Slice from hole to hole and open it up. Inside will be grit and possibly some food. Dump this out and rinse the gizzard.
Once you have the gizzard washed off, you will be able to see the tough, yellow lining. This needs to be peeled away. It is a bit tricky to get started, but then it will come off easily.
The liver has a green bile sac. This needs to be cut away without spilling the green bile on the liver. I try to cut a little bit of the liver away with the bile sac to prevent contaminating the liver with bitter bile.
The lungs are a bit harder to locate. You will find them nestled into the rib cage in the chest cavity. Use your fingers to sweep them from the rib cage. I feed these back to the chickens or cook them for the dog.
After all of the innards have been removed, rinse the carcass thoroughly, inside and out.
How to Butcher a Chicken – Finishing Up
If you wish, you can burn away any pin feathers with a rolled up piece of newspaper that is lit on fire. I haven’t found many pin feathers on the Cornish x meat birds, but older birds do have them.
Now that you have finished dressing your chicken, give it another thorough rinse, pick any remaining feathers, and put it in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours before cooking. If the meat is not allowed to relax, it will be tough. If you plan to freeze the chicken, you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight or you can freeze it right away. Just be sure to pull the frozen bird out and let it thaw completely before cooking it. I have had good luck with this method.
To prevent freezer burn from ruining your poultry, use shrink wrap bags or a vacuum sealer system to remove air. I have kept vacuum sealed chickens in the freezer for 4 years without any damage to the meat from freezer burn.
A few notes before you start:
- Make sure you have everything you need on hand before you start processing your birds.
- If you can withhold feed overnight before butchering, do so. This will make the evisceration easier, especially when you are learning.
- If you are butchering large numbers of birds, you may wish to rent or buy a chicken plucker. This helps speed up the process.
- Work quickly and carefully. You want to chill your birds quickly to prevent the growth of nasty bacteria. But don’t sacrifice your own safety…be especially careful when you are using an ax or knife. The last thing you want is to end up in the emergency room with an injury.
- It’s best if you have a helper on hand to share the responsibilities. If you are working alone, keep your cell phone in your pocket in case you get a nasty cut. Safety first!
This tutorial is intended for educational purposes. If you engage in these activities, you do so at your own risk. This is how I process my chickens. You may find other ways that suit you better.
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