I never did any chicken butchering before, heck before last year I never OWNED a live chicken before. When I mentioned that I wanted to butcher my own chickens my mom asked me why I wanted to do such a thing.
I guess she remembered me throwing up at first grade when they made me pull out pumpkin guts when we were cutting up Jack O’ Lanterns as an art project.
I guess a seven year old can afford a little squeamishness, but as an adult, I feel that I need to take some responsibility for what I eat. If I raise them, and I butcher them, then I can ensure that they are treated humanely and with respect.
I feel that when God gave man dominion over the earth, he wanted us to be stewards of it and not just takers.
Knowing that the piece of fried chicken used to come running when it saw me with the grain bucket makes it a little harder be wasteful.
9 Steps to Butchering a Chicken:
- Remove The Feet
- Pull off the Head
- Loosen The Crop
- Remove The Neck
- Remove The Oil Gland
- Open The Rear
- Remove The Viscera
- Clean Up & Chill
Step One – Preparation
You really don’t need a lot to butcher chickens, but you need access to running water, a decent workspace, a cooler with ice water to cool your birds, a gut bucket for offal, a pot and lid edible organs your going to keep, and most importantly a sharp knife.
The sharper your knife the easier this will be, you may want to buy a butcher steel or other knife sharpener and resharpen your knife every 15 or 20 birds.
Step 2 – Remove the Feet
It always best to give a quick rinse to your plucked bird just to start off right, and while your doing that its best to look for any remaining pin feathers.
Next lay the bird on its back. Grab a foot and bend down to put pressure on the joint. Slice the joint, but know that there is no need to apply a lot of force. If you saw gently a sharp knife while bending back on the foot, all will find this is pretty easy.
Most people throw the feet away, but in some countries fried chicken feet are a popular treat, you can also make a flavorful soup base with the feet.
Step 3 – Pull off the Head
Just as the title says pull off the head. It’s not hard, but if you’re squeamish nobody will laugh at you if you use a knife.
To use a knife, just slice into the neck just under the head. There are bones in the neck and you will meet a little resistance, but it is not more than a sharp knife can handle.
Step 4 – Remove the Crop
It’s generally considered best practice to not feed your bird 24 hours before slaughter, this not only reduces fecal content, but it also keeps the crop empty of food. Some people disregard this practice as they believe food in the crop makes it easier to find. Personally, I would rather go with the 24 hour fast, but can see the benefit of feeding the chicken once or twice just to learn where everything is.
The crop is a digestive organ that is basically a sack to hold the food a chicken eats before it is processed. The crop is located at the base of the chicken’s neck, just right of center and near the breast. If it has a lot of food inside of it, you may actually see it bulging out.
Once the food leaves the crop, it moves into the proventriculus, which is attached to the gizzard. The proventriculus produces the digestive juices needed to process the food.
The gizzard is strong muscle. It is red meat, so it looks like beef when you cut it. However, unlike beef it has a tough inner lining (it kind of reminds me of plastic). Since a chicken doesn’t have teeth the gizzard is used to grind up the chicken’s food. A chicken will eat small stones called grit, and this grit grinds the food inside the gizzard.
With chicken anatomy 101 complete, this is how you remove the crop.
First, you need to remove some skin from the around the bird’s neck in order to get at the crop. The easiest way is to lay the chicken on its back and stretch out it’s neck, then cut into the skin about half way up the neck, and cut a strip of skin up to the end of the neck. Use your fingertips to pinch the skin on the neck and lift it up a bit, then slice into the skin just below where you have lifted.
As you are filleting the skin off the chicken, you need to realize the skin is soft and stretchy, so if you don’t use your fingers to pull on the skin for tension, its going to be difficult to cut.
Directly underneath the neck skin is the esophagus and trachea. The tube on the bird’s right side is the esophagus which leads into the crop. The tube on the left is the trachea. Because the trachea is ribbed and far more rigid than the soft esophagus and because the trachea leads down into the body cavity where it connects with the lungs, it is easy to tell the difference between the two tubes.
Find and uncover the crop. The crop is held tightly to the bird’s neck skin and breast. It needs to be worked free. The crop is strong, but don’t force it, because if you break it open you will have a a mess. It’s not a bad day, but it is akin to vomit, and I don’t like undigested food on my meat, so make sure to wash everything off.
I think that finding an empty crop is the probably the most difficult part of butchering a bird. It holds tight to the skin and the color blends in too.
The best way I know to get the crop free it to grasp the bird’s skin with one hand while pinching, pulling, and peeling the crop away. Luckily, its something that you will get the hang of with experience.
Step 5 – Remove the Neck
Grab the neck with one hand and use your other hand to pull the skin around the neck down.
With the skin pulled down, and the base of the neck exposed, slice into the meat of the neck. The cut is almost between the bird’s shoulder blades. You’re not trying to cut through the neck. What you’re doing is cutting meat until you meet the bone. Do the same thing on each side of the neck. After you have made those three cuts, pick the bird up by the neck with one hand and twist the body around with your other hand. A couple turns and the neck will pop right off.
Step 6 – Remove the Oil Gland
The tail of a chicken contains an oil glad that most people remove, you don’t have to, but it the gland does taste different than most people are used to. Luckily, its pretty easy to remove, Put the knife above the gland and slice down. It helps to hold on to it while cutting. You will see the deep, yellow color of the gland itself as you are cutting. If the first try doesn’t get it all, try and try again until you have cut out all the yellow.
Step 7 – Open the Rear
Before you can reach into the chicken’s body and pull out its guts, you need to cut an opening at the back end.
Directly below the tail is the cloaca of the bird. The cloaca is also sometimes called the “vent.”; if you’re crude you could call it the bird’s butt hole. Since I am not a crude guy, I will call it the vent. Cut a small opening in the vent with the knife, then reach into the opening and tear it wider. Don’t go crazy with this because the less cutting you do, the less chance there is that you’ll cut into an intestine. Lift the skin and slice up into the lifted part. By doing it that way, you avoid cutting into any internal organs.
Warning: When you cut into the bird’s body cavity, no liquid should come out. If yellow-colored or other liquid gushes out of the opening, the bird is sick. DO NOT EAT IT.
If the chicken has ate prior to butchering fecal material will be in the intestine, and when you put pressure on the intestines it will leak out.
Fecal material escaping is not cool, but it happens (I learned that from Forrest Gump)… If it does escape, stop and flush all the poop off the bird, keeping the rear lower than the head so that no material enters the body cavity. If it gets on your work surface you will need to quickly disinfect it with a mild bleach solution (like what we show in the pool shock post).
Step 8 – Gutting
This is the step that causes my blushing bride to turn red faced and run away gagging.
It’s time to remove the viscera, or crudely spoken the guts. To do this your going to have to use that big slit you just made and reach your little hand in there and pull the guts out.
You keep your hand flat, and insert it fingertips first, up into the top of the bird (which is on its back) as shown in the pictures. Keep the back of your fingertips tight to the bird’s breastbone. What your doing is reaching in over the top of the guts, towards the front end of the bird.
When you have went as far as you can go (past the guts), curl your fingertips down, so you are grasping a good handful of guts. Then, pull out slow, straight, and steady. Don’t squeeze as your doing this because you don’t want to break anything open.
Some people may be able to get it all in one motion; I haven’t been able too, so know it might take a couple tries to get everything out. You should be looking at what you’ve extracted. One thing you need to look for is the green gall bladder, It’s the only green organ, and should be attached to the liver. The reason you are looking for it as you need to ensure you remove it and it did not break. If you break the gall bladder inside the bird, the thin green fluid will contaminate the meat.
With everything removed, there is room inside the body cavity. However, the heart and lungs are still inside
Reach into the center of the bird’s chest and you will find a small heart that is about the size of a man’s thumb. (No jokes about the quickest way to a chicken’s heart please).
Lungs are harder to get as they are spongy and sit tight to the ribs of the. You can scrape lungs out with your fingertips or a lung removal tool. However, I have found that, instead of scraping to remove the lungs, they come out much better if I use a finger to slide down under each lung and lift it out. Easier said than done, but after you process 25 or 50 birds, you’ll be pretty good at it
If you scrape or poke out the lungs it’s a lot easier if you have help from a water hose. It helps remove the lungs as well as flush out any bits and pieces of guts. Put the sprayer into the neck and let it blast while you use your fingers to clean out the innards.
Step 9 – Clean and Chill
After dressing the bird I give it a good rinse and inspection. Use lots of cold water.
Then toss the bird into the cooler with ice water.
Now you have to deal with the other part my wife won’t talk about….
You have to deal with the contents of your gut bucket. There are a few different disposal options.
1. You can compost the guts. Layer them in a pile with lots of straw, sawdust, grass clippings and other veggie matter. If you do this you attract all the neighbor dogs and other animals.
2. Make a big bonfire in the backyard and burn the guts.
3. Dig a hole and bury the guts. Lots of work…
4. Haul the bucket to somewhere where people aren’t going to complain about. Toss it, Out of sight, out of mind. Wild animals will love you when they find all the material. Of course if your doing this on someone else’s land, or your processing lots of birds this may actually be illegal. So check your local laws please.
All that is left is to cut up your fresh chicken. Mostly we roast ours whole and use the leftovers for pulled chicken. Later we may do a segment on cutting up a chicken, but this was a long post, and frankly I want to put my leghorn on the grill….