Last week, we gave you all the information you needed to know to butcher and cut up a chicken.
And there’s nothing better than pasture-raised chicken, right?
But in the videos we made for you, we only showed you how to process a chicken without the skin – which is usually the way we eat our chickens.
If you’re looking to freeze or cook whole birds, however, either for the roaster or for another recipe, you will need to know how to scald and pluck a chicken.
For a long time, we did everything by hand. It’s definitely possible to both scald and pluck a chicken manually – but it takes a long time, and trust me, it’s not fun when you’re butchering chickens in the hot summer sun. Or in the icy freezing rain of November!
This blog post will guide you through all the steps involved in scalding and plucking – and I’ll also tell you about some of my favorite products.
**J&R Pierce Family Farm is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to allow sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products on Amazon. I often link to Amazon when recommending certain products, and if you choose to purchase, I may earn a small percentage of the sale. It costs you nothing extra, and all recommended products are ones that I personally vouch for. **
Butchering Your Chicken
Before you can move on to processing your bird, it needs to be…well, dead…first. This video will show you the steps you need to take to kill a chicken. Since you’re not skinning it, you can skip everything after the first minute or so.
If you prefer to read your instructions, be sure to check out our post about how to butcher a chicken here. Remember, you will want to keep this video and the other article on hand for after you are done plucking and scalding your chicken, so that you know how to eviscerate it and clean it out before you eat it.
The Scalding Process
Why do you need to scald? It’s simple. Scalding is the secret to being able to pluck a bird. If you don’t scald, you’re not going to end up with a very evenly plucked chicken – the feathers will be extremely difficult to pull.
Chickens can be prone to both overscalding and underscalding. If you over scald a chicken, you will end up with torn skin and partially cooked flesh – something you definitely don’t want to risk.
If you under scald a chicken, it’s going to be extremely difficult to pull the feathers and you’ll have a ton of trouble trying to pluck your bird. Plus, you will be more likely to be left with those unappealing-looking pin feathers, too!
You have two options for scalding a bird. I’m going to tell you about the old-fashioned way of doing it, and then I’m going to give you some recommendations for the…easier…way of doing things. I know, I know – I’m usually all about doing things the traditional way. But when you’re processing hundreds of chickens in a season, sometimes it’s easier to take a little bit of a short cut.
If you are scalding in the traditional sense, you will need a thermometer and a pot of water. The pot should be large – ideally bigger than a stockpot. We used to use an old water bath canner pot.
Heat the water to a temperature between 145 and 150 degrees. Try not to be too much colder or too much hotter. The exact temperature does not matter so much as that you want to avoid being way too hot or too cold.
Once you get the temperature where you want it, hold your bird by the feet and dip it into the hot water. Dunk it far enough down to reach all the feathers on the legs. Hold it for a few seconds and then shake it a bit so that water can get to the base of the feathers. Dunk it a few more times before testing a feather.
To test a feather, pull one large wing or tail feather and see how easily it slides out. If you are met with a lot of resistance, you need more dunking. If it’s perfect, you are done scalding. You may need to scald the bird four, five, six, or seven times.
The challenge in scalding is that the water cools down very quickly. If you’re processing chickens outside and it’s even a little bit chilly out, you are going to need to reheat your water repeatedly. You can have water on the stove going to refresh the pot as needed, or you can scald your chickens over an open flame.
Now, here are some recommendations to make scalding a bit easier.
Two Good Chicken Scalders to Consider
This 5-in-1 scalder is a great value for the money, offering superior performance in a short amount of time. It’s great for home use and runs on propane – with no electricity needed. It has an aluminum pot with a 42-quart capacity and can scald two adult chickens at a time.
The fully adjustable propane dial allows you to scale your temperature up or down depending on your needs, and it has a standard hose and regulator that will allow you to connect to most propane tanks. It is set up for scalding at 145 degrees and loosens up the feathers quite nicely.
If you wanted to, you could even use this scalder to steam large amounts of vegetables, shellfish, or other foods, too! I’ve even heard of people using it as a turkey fryer, but I think I would want to save it for my butchering needs.
This scalder is a bit more expensive, but it’s also more durable. It’s made out of molded fiberglass and has a single heating element of 240V. It heats water up rapidly, getting to your desired scalding temperature in less than 10 minutes. This made-in-the-USA product can hold fourteen gallons of water.
How to Pluck a Chicken
Once you have scalded your chicken and it is ready to be plucked, you’re on to the most challenging (and often most dreaded!) aspect of chicken processing.
I hate plucking chickens by hand, which is why we invested in a chicken plucking machine. However, you can do it by hand and it’s not a complicated process – just time-consuming.
Once your chicken has been scalded, you can either start scalding immediately or dunk it in ice water. The ice water helps prevent the skin from tearing when you start pulling out feathers.
To pluck, hang your bird upside down. Start with the wing feathers and pull downward. Try to avoid the temptation to pull too many feathers at once – this can cause you to tear the skin, and will also tire your hands out more quickly.
When you’re done plucking, you can begin the process of eviscerating your chicken (return to the video I showed you earlier). When your chicken has been gutted, you can cut it up or freeze it whole, depending on whether you want to use it as a roaster, in pieces, or for stock.
The Best Chicken Pluckers
Don’t want to pluck your chicken by hand? Me neither. Here are some of the best chicken pluckers you can buy to make quick work of all of your chickens.
This drum chicken plucker is meant for commercial use, so it’s also a bit more expensive. However, it will really get the job done! It’s made of premium food-grade brushed stainless steel, making it rust resistant. It has a powerful 1.2 HP motor with a GFCI connector.
The plucker unit itself is comprised of 92 fingers in a 20” drum. You can pluck two to four birds at once, spending less than thirty seconds per bird. The job will be quick and effortless. Plus, this plucker has a waterproof IP54 weather-resistant electrical housing, meaning you can use it in any setting.
If you’re worried about how massive this plucker looks, don’t be – it’s compact and comes with two wheels to make it easier to transport. It has an additional third leg to make it more stable while you’re operating, too. You can take this unit apart for easy cleaning and there’s a feather catching chute to make it easy to hose down.
This is another higher-end commercial option, but again, if you’re processing lots of chickens, it’s the way to go. Also made out of commercial-grade stainless steel, this tub is 20/5” and feathers in a matter of seconds. It has a heavy-duty motor that allows you to process four chickens at a time with minimal scalding needed. You can also use it on turkeys, ducks, and geese, with most birds requiring less than a minute each of plucking time.
This chicken plucker is also a higher-end model, but slightly more affordable for folks seeking a bargain. It has a 20” tub that allows you to process two to four chickens at a time, depending on the size of your bird. It also has a built-in water pipe so that you can connect your hose to easily rinse the discarded feathers from the inside of the barrel.
I really like that feature in particular. Chicken pluckers get clogged quickly with feathers, particularly if they’re wet – which they will be, because you just scalded them! This machine makes it super easy to get rid of the built-up mess.
You can process chickens in as little as ten seconds with this machine! The manufacturers recommend plucking one at a time to avoid any unnecessary bruising, which can compromise your meat. It’s not designed to pluck geese or ducks, but can be used on turkey, quail, and guinea fowl, as well as bantam chickens.
One of the more unique – but awesome – ways to pluck a chicken that has come about in recent years is the ability to use a drill to pluck your birds. This is one of many chicken plucker drill attachments on the market.
Essentially, these pluckers work just like any others – they use rubber fingers to remove large feathers from your bird. However, what’s really bizarre about them is that they attach to the end of your drill, so instead of dropping your chicken inside of a large vat to pluck it, you will move around the bird with your drill to remove the feathers.
This particular drill attachment plucker is one of the best of its kind. It has a steel housing and soft rubber fingers to make plucking fingers easy. It is durable and works delicately, preventing the bruising of your chicken or tearing of the skin. It’s also super cheap, because it’s powered by the drill you probably already have.
Yardbird offers a ton of chicken processing equipment, and you can purchase this particular chicken plucker either on its own or with additional restraining cones – remember I said you could buy those or make them yourself? Well, Yardbird makes the entire process streamlined and super easy.
This chicken plucker comes with replacement fingers, so if something happens to your original machine, you don’t have to panic. It has a 1.5 HP motor and can defeather a chicken in less than 15 seconds. The drum is 20 inches and can accommodate multiple small birds or a single large bird. It has an impressive 110 individual fingers to naturally remove feathers from the bird, and it also helps to clean it in the process.
The Yardbird Stainless Steel Chicken Plucker also comes with an irrigation ring to let you flush the plucked feathers into the feather chute and then back out. It comes with a quality stainless steel drum and a quiet gear-drive commercial motor, making cleaning and operation easy and practically silent – even if you raise chickens in the city.
Another plucker option you might want to consider is a tabletop plucker. These tend to be less expensive than drum pluckers – in fact, a tabletop plucker very similar to this one (it’s no longer being made) was our first introduction to chicken pluckers in general.
This tabletop plucker is made by Dux Industries, the manufacturer of our first chicken plucker, too. It can pluck any chicken in as little as 30 seconds – so while it’s not quite as efficient as a drum plucker, it can get the job done with relative speed, too. It has a 1725 rpm motor and uses 28 fingers to remove the feathers from the bird in just seconds. It is made out of food-grade high density polyvinyl material. It’s not only easy to maintain, but it’s also easy to clean.
One of the major draws of using a tabletop plucker is that it’s not only affordable, but it’s also easy to use. You do need to connect it to an external power source, but you can set it atop a tabletop or another surface in order to pluck. These units are generally more lightweight than drum pluckers and also simpler to operate. However, you can usually only do one bird at a time, regardless of the size.
Chicken Scalder-Plucker Combos
Now – you don’t have to purchase those two pieces of equipment separately. You can choose a scalder-plucker combination tool for your on-farm processing.
To purchase one of these nifty units, think about how many chickens you intend to process in a year and in a single day. There are a ton of options on the market, but you’ll want to consider your chicken breed and budget, too.
Some good combination units to consider are:
I’ve never used a combination unit before, and I wouldn’t recommend purchasing one unless you have a large volume of birds to butcher in a short period of time. They can be pricey, and I can’t speak as to how well they work. However, it’s definitely an investment to consider making if you raise a lot of meat birds.
So what do you think? Are you tired just reading these instructions? Remember, it’s usually easiest to butcher large batches of chickens at once, so that you can save the extra cleaning and set-up involved for each individual butchering session.
Let me know what kinds of questions you have in the comments!
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