How to properly scald a chicken: (my never-fail technique).
I started raising and butchering my own homegrown chickens 10 years ago. Back then I had a lot to learn. But after "processing" over a thousand chickens between then and now, I've got the whole thing down pat. Fact is, I dare say I actually enjoy butchering chickens. It's not the blood and guts that appeal to me, it's the good feeling that comes with knowing how to do the job, and do it well.
One of the most difficult things for me to understand as a neophyte backyard butcherer was the matter of scalding. After killing a chicken and letting it bleed out, the bird must be scalded by dunking it in hot water. This action serves to loosen the grip between the fowl's hide and its plumage. A good scald translates to easy feather plucking. But every source I consulted, looking for some clear instruction on the subject, was vague or slightly different from other sources. I wanted clarity and I got confusion.
Bearing that in mind, I have endeavored over the years to learn exactly what it takes to properly scald a chicken before plucking. And I have succeeded in my endeavors. I now know and understand the secret to perfectly scalding a chicken--every single time. If you are new to poultry processing, you're going to have an easier time of it than I did. That's because I'm going to tell you the secret. I'm going to tell you what I wish someone had communicated to me 10 years ago.
Follow my simple, no-fail technique and you will never underscald 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). My technique will easily render the kind of scald that allowed world champion chicken plucker, Ernest Housen, 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 effortlessly denude several birds at a time in less than 30 seconds using a mechanical tub plucker.
First, you will need a pot full of water that you can heat up and dunk your chicken into. I have used a turkey deep-fryer pot heated over a propane burner. There are people who scald their birds in a pot heated over a wood fire. Either heat source will work. Second, you need a thermometer of some sort to measure the temperature of your water.
Many backyard poultry processors add a little liquid dish detergent in the scald water. This is supposed to help cut natural oils and allow the hot water to better do its job. I have scalded with the soap and I have scalded without. I rarely add detergent anymore. I suggest you try it both ways and see for yourself if you think it is worth using.
Heat your scalding water to 145-150[degrees]F. I know people who say that 148[degrees]F is best, others say they successfully scald in water up to 155[degrees]F. I do not necessarily disagree with either of those claims. However, the important thing to understand about water temperature is that you do not need an exact water temperature in order to get an exact scald. But you do need to have your water in an optimum temperature range. Shoot for 145[degrees]-150[degrees]F and you will be in the optimum range. In time, you may discover that a little cooler or a little hotter is more to your 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 if your pot will take them), by the feet and dunk it down into the hot water. Make sure you dunk the critter in far enough to cover the smallest feathers on the very bottom of the legs.
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 on it. When you do the feather pull test, and that feather slides out with no resistance, the bird is scalded to perfection.
Chances are, you will have to dunk the chicken 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 have to dunk it. 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.
I can tell you this approach works equally well with turkeys. Ducks and geese are, however, birds of another feather. Though I have never personally scalded and plucked a duck or goose, I understand the same technique will work at the same temperatures range. But hotter water (i.e., 160[degrees]F) usually works better, and such birds will need much more time in the water.
Now you know how to easily scald a chicken to feather-pickin' perfection. Spread the word.
Herrik Kimball plucks chickens in Moravia, New York. He is the author of Anyone Can Build a Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker, www.HowToButcherAChicken.com.
MORAVIA, NEW YORK