Plucking and Drawing
Home Up


After killing all four of the chickens (and letting then drain off most of their blood) we brought stuff inside, into the kitchen, including one of the tables.

First up was the removal of the heads. I was planning to do it, but it was tougher than I thought! Big hacking movements with a cleaver aren't a good idea, so the plan was to place the cleaver near the head and give a rocking back and forth motion. Aidon ended up doing it.

Note that the blood on the cutting board is actually from a previous chicken, not this one. There is really no more "bleeding" at this point in the process.

It was a tiny bit disturbing that during the knife-rocking the beak and eyes both opened and closed a little bit. Nothing horrible, but kinda surreal.

Lesson learned: On the subsequent days of processing we took the heads off outside, and then hung the chickens back up to finish draining of blood. We got a bit better draining that way. Also, we used the cleaver to get through the bone, and then used my large kitchen knife to get through the skin on the other side. That was MUCH easier!

We found that a chicken with its head cut off wasn't such a big deal at all. (That's a bad joke - I'm quite certain about the fact that if you kill a chicken by decapitation, it WILL, in fact, run about in a spooky sort of way!)

The geek part of me found it pretty fascinating to actually be able to see the inside parts of a chicken.

Unless I hear any different, there is no good use for a chicken head. It could feasibly be composted, but I think it would just attract the raccoons, so we just threw them out.

Does it surprise anyone that Scampi was curious? We kept her clear of the actual action, but it doesn't mean she didn't want to know what was going on!

I had a big pot of water on the stove, with a digital thermometer hanging in it. We found this site to be incredibly informative about all things, but especially about time and temperature for scaling. Even so, it took all four chickens before I really had it figured out.

For our birds, it seems that 140 degrees (which my stove burner, on low, keeps PERFECTLY) for 75 seconds, does the trick.

Lesson Learned: Swish the chicken around a bit so that it gets hot and wet at the skin. It'll make the feathers come out a LOT more easily! Another tip given to me after the first processing was to put a squirt or two of dishwashing soap in the water. That made a difference both in plucking, and in the smell. Also, we found that rinsing the dirty parts of the chicken off in the sink, before dunking, made a real difference in the smell, too. This might not have been such a big deal later in the season, but it had been raining non-stop, so they hadn't done as much free-ranging, and were dirty on their undersides.

Here is Aidon, pulling out the wing feathers. Those pretty much get pulled one at a time. Sometimes they require pliers, but most all of them just came out.

It is insanely hard to try to get a decent picture of plucking, all by yourself. Aidon had left the house at this point, and I really wanted one more plucking picture. It's not too hard to do the initial pluck. It's a bit like pulling artichoke leaves out of a cooked artichoke.

The end-game of plucking is the real pain in the rear. All the tiny feathers, and feather bottoms that stay in the skin if you don't grab them just right ... really tedious. I was definitely getting better at it as time went on. The first chicken took the two of us, together, nearly an hour. The last chicken I did, by myself, in 23 minutes.

Once the chicken is plucked, it looks more or less like this:

Next up - evisceration, also known as "drawing"

I didn't get the photos I'd have liked to, for this stage. For now it'll have to suffice to describe the process, and show a couple of the pictures that I did manage to get. I have also since learned (thanks for all the great info!) of a better way of doing it all.

In a nutshell, you need to make an opening to get your hand through and remove the guts. You also need to cut around the vent/anus to detach it all from the bird. You want to be careful not to perforate the intestines during this process. That's some icky stuff in there.

Lesson Learned: Dear GOD do NOT perforate the intestines. That stinks. I mean REALLY REALLY REALLY smells BAD! This is especially important if you are INSIDE! Forget about the fact that you are releasing bacteria into your food (although it's washable) - that stuff smells so bad you're going to WANT to have the bacteria infect you so you can just die and not smell it any more!

I only nicked the intestines once. The first time. Once I knew where stuff was, it didn't happen again. Phew!

While it was definitely squidgy, and slightly ... ooky ... I found the whole gutting thing really interesting. It was pretty fascinating to see the entrails, and on at least one bird the kidneys stayed inside, and I plucked them out whole. That was really interesting to see how they were kind of attached to the back by a small amount of connective tissue.

I have some ideas on how to do this part better next time, but by and large it wasn't hard to do.

Here is one chicken with the guts out, but still attached to the chicken at the vent (anal opening):

This was not the first bird. The first bird I had no clue what I was doing, and it ended up looking like it had gone to the gynecologist and had a nasty accident with the largest speculum in the drawer! (This is the chicken we ate last night, I just realized! Wow, that's pretty cool - knowing exactly what we ate. Exactly!) None of us are fond of gizzards, hearts, or livers, so I chucked them, this time. I will probably save the livers for my mom, if she wants them, next time. But I need to make sure I can tell the difference between all the internal organs ;)

Lesson Learned: At least until I find another way to do this, gravity is my friend. Lifting the carcass up a bit, while my hand is in there, helps me to realize what's detached from the inside, and what isn't, as it starts to slide out.

Lesson learned: During a later processing I totally figured out a better way. See the page with further processing for more info and pictures.

THIS was the first chicken ... see what I mean about how, um, wide-open it looked? ;)

Once empty, all that is left is to take off the feet, and the neck. Actually, I think except for the first one, I took off the feet first. Once there isn't a reason to hang it upside down, they aren't too useful. They're great for stock, though - so I saved them, after washing them well!

The feet cut off incredibly easily. A sharp boning knife, through the area between the knee joints, takes them right off. This isn't as good a picture as I'd like, but it gives the idea.

I'm going to try a few other things next time, with the neck. I naively didn't even know what the 'crop' was, and so wasn't looking for it to remove (although I think I did get it out, anyway.) The crop is a small pouch that is a temporary holding area for the chicken's food. It was empty, or nearly so, on our birds. On the first one, I took off a ton more than I needed to. After that I tried various ways of removing the necks. In all cases I also skinned the neck. They'll be used in stock (as will the feet!)

This bird still has a few feather bits on it, which came off after I was all done. Oh, and I don't have pictures of it, but see the little triangle at the tail? There's an oil gland down there that needs removing, too.

Finally, a good rinse inside and out, and it's time to quick-chill the birds through the dangerous bacteria-growing temperatures. 30-60 minutes in ice water does the trick. I will possibly brine them this way, next time. I always brine my chickens, and it almost seems stupid not to do it when they're already in the water... we'll see.

The finished bird, ready for the fridge or freezer!

The chicken must age a bit, before use. Different sources say anything from 4 hours minimum, to 2-3 days. You definitely need to let the carcass go all the way through the rigor mortis process - that's the 4 hour minimum. We ate the first bird at a little more than 2 days since butchering, and it was fantastic. The general consensus is that the aging after 12-24 hours doesn't add a whole lot. It's best to age them in the fridge, then freeze, so it will be ready when it's thawed from the freezer. Well, best for us, I think, anyway.

When I did make chicken for dinner, two days later, I stupidly marveled at how much it "looks just like chicken!" The breasts and tenderloins, removed for nuggets:

The rest of the chicken, back in the brining liquid:

Nuggets, breaded and ready to fry!

It might have been nice if I had managed a picture before a bite was taken, but I didn't. It still seems a fitting end to the whole thing. Our first home-grown chicken dinner - chicken nuggets (no Mom, NOT from McDonalds! She actually asked me if the nuggets we were going to eat that night were from McDonalds! ;) )

Best. Nuggets. EVER!



Copyright Kimberly Bobrow Jennery, 1997-2006

Contact Kimberly at: kimberly at bobrow dot net