I’ve been a duck hunter nearly all of my life and have processed my fair share of waterfowl. Give me a mallard and a pair of scissors and I’ll have it dressed and ready for the stew pot within a few minutes.
When I acquired a few chickens for my backyard, I found a rooster among the flock that I can’t keep because they aren’t allowed within city limits. I hadn’t given much thought to butchering chickens, figuring it would be about the same as a duck. After a bit of research, I found that to be mostly true. But then there was the killing part.
All my ducks were harvested with a shotgun. This rooster’s fateful day would come by my own two hands and a sharp blade. Again, more research. Then a call to an uncle who has raised chickens for years. He explained an easy way to dispatch my bird by using a killing cone, which I’ll get into later.
The whole process took about an hour. That afternoon I enjoyed a slow-cooked chicken stew, one of the best I’ve had in quite some time. The taste and texture of the meat reminded me of childhood when my grandmother would cook a yard rooster for nearly an entire day.
Now, in the mornings, I eye the coop in my backyard to see if any other of the juvenile birds are actually roosters. Below are the steps to butcher a chicken. If you’re still in the process of getting some of your own, check out these other blogs on building a chicken coop and caring for the flock in the winter.
You’ll need a sharp knife to ensure a swift kill. That killing cone I mentioned is a necessity to prevent the bird from flapping around during the process. You can also use a plastic jug, such as an old vinegar bottle. Simply cut a sliver off the top and bottom.
A tall, 15-quart pot is handy to scald the bird to help remove the feathers. Bigger chickens might require a larger pot. A plucker is a luxury, but plucking by hand is a cinch if you scald the bird correctly. Work gloves will protect your hands as you dispatch the chicken, while latex gloves are handy during the butchering process.
Isolate the bird you intend to harvest a day before you kill it and don’t feed it. This ensures there is no food in the crop of the chicken, which is the area in the esophagus where initial digestion begins. The lack of food will also keep the intestines cleaner. This decreases the chance for contamination as you’re butchering.
The next day, gather all of your materials. Fill the pot halfway with water and begin heating. You want to get the water hot, yet not boiling. Usually, around 140-160 degrees should do the trick.
Butchering chickens helps to thin the flock if you have too many older birds or roosters, and also provides you with fresh, free-range meat.
Killing the Chicken
Place the chicken upside down into the stabilized killing cone. I nailed mine to a tree. Pull its head out through the bottom of the cone. Then, with your knife, cut the main artery, which is just behind the ear bone.
The bird will quickly bleed out. It will flap around during and after you’ve made the cut, but this is completely normal. The killing cone will ensure the bird stays in place. After a few minutes, once the blood flow will has ceased, remove the the chicken from the cone.
Dip the chicken in the heated water for about three seconds then pull it out momentarily. Dunk for again for three seconds, repeating the process two or three more times. Pull a feather as a test. If it comes out easily, you can begin plucking. If it’s difficult, dunk the bird a few more times. Be careful not to submerge it for too long or you’ll cook the meat.
If you have a plucking device handy, stick the bird in and it’ll be devoid of feathers in just a few minutes. Plucking by hand takes longer, but is easy if you scald the bird for long enough. Ensure you get all of the feathers out, especially those pesky pin feathers. Small hairs that are left can be singed off with a lighter.
Dress the Chicken
Place the chicken on a clean cutting board. With your knife, cut off the feet. At the joint of the leg there’s a sweet spot you can slice through with little effort. Bend the feet and make a few incisions until the knife slides right through.
Remove the head. Once it’s off, cut around the opening of the neck to pull out the crop and esophagus. Make an incision around the anus, pull it out and then widen the hole so you can pull out the innards. With your hand gently remove the intestines, taking care not to rip the guts, which can contaminate the meat.
Finally, rinse the chicken to remove any blood or debris. If you’re cooking the bird right away, let it marinate for an hour or so. If you’re freezing it, place in a plastic bag or freezer paper and be sure to mark the date. All that’s left is to enjoy the fresh, free-range meat sourced right from your backyard.