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Butchering Poultry

"You Killed It...You Clean It...Then I Will Cook It" Quoting Mrs. Rogue Turtle on this topic.

The following article is taken almost exactly as it appears on Morgan Creek: Butchering Poultry. I want to thank the author of this site, Chad Anderson of for allowing me to reprint it. It's one of the best I've seen on how to cut up and clean the birds (chickens, turkeys, or game birds) that you want to cook. We've all seen birds packaged in the grocery store, and probably most of us have prepared a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey. But they don't start out inside the plastic wrap. In a survival situation, unless you have run over it with your car, you got this bird by trapping or hunting. Some birds can be trapped alive..but I won't bet on it. They are too agile. So, if you are reading this article from the standpoint of a survivalist/hunter, your bird is already dead.

The first part of the article discusses how to hold and kill a domestic bird, usually a turkey or chicken inside a fenced yard. I left this part in because it could happen that you would run across an abandoned farm with birds up for grabs. I'm not saying that stealing them is good; you can leave a fair price for the owner to find if and when they return to the farm.

I say again, though, that you NEVER turn down food in a survival situation. I do NOT condone doing harm to another human to steal their food. Move on, you'll find other food somewhere else.

The assumption of this article is that you legally and skillfully obtained a live bird to eat. Now you have to kill it and butcher it for cooking. I have added numbers to the photographs in this article to make sure it just a little bit easier to follow.

Here's how you do it:


As much as we would like to avoid it, butchering is an inevitable step in the process of raising poultry for meat. It is not easy, and not usually fun, but it enables us to enjoy the wonderful flavour of home-grown pastured poultry in all of its natural splendor.

Step 1: Catching and Killing

I usually catch the birds by sneaking up behind them in an enclosed area. Logical enough, eh? Grab them with both hands - the thumbs holding down the wings, and the other fingers underneath. There are other methods and styles - one employing the use of a hook to catch the birds by the foot. This part of the process has only one rule: be gentle. There is no need to find after killing, scalding, and plucking that you have a badly bruised bird. It is much better to be gentle before than regretful after.

Though there are a variety of ways to do kill the bird, I prefer the use of an axe to quickly remove the bird's head. I believe that this is the most humane, and for me, easiest. Some people maintain that it is better to sever the jugular vein in the bird's neck and let it bleed to death. They say that it results in a better "bleed" which would occur when almost all of the blood leaves the bird. I have found, and so will you, that when using an axe, the birds do bleed quite well. So, if you prefer, try both ways, and then stick with your "favourite". It is important, though, when attempting to sever the jugular, that one knows just how to find it without torturing the bird first.

Everyone agrees that it is necessary to hang the bird from its feet for a time to enable all of the blood to flow out. When the blood flow slows to an occasional drip, the bird is ready for the next step in the process.

Step 2: Scalding and Plucking

Scalding is the process of dipping the bird in hot water to loosen its feathers and thereby ease the process of plucking. The recommended temperature for this water is about 85 degrees Celsius, or about 170 degrees Fahrenheit. The important point is that if the water is too hot (boiling, for example) it may burn or cook the skin and make it more susceptible to tearing during plucking. If the water is not hot enough, the feathers will not loosen to a sufficient level. Although there is commercial scalding equipment available for purchase, I just use a propane torch to heat a large canner pot. To achieve a proper scald, a detergent (any dish soap is fine) can be added to the water. There are special defeathering chemicals, but soap does fine for chickens and turkeys. This detergent breaks up the oils in the feathers, allowing the hot water to penetrate to the skin where it is needed to loosen the feather follicles.

Another way to help the water do its job is to agitate the bird so that an even scald is achieved. Even the use of a stick to rub the water into the feathers helps immensely. This photo shows me removing the bird from the water. During the scald, the entire bird should be submerged for about 5 seconds. I have found that, in a good scald, the bird can be removed from the water when the feathers on the thighs are loose enough to rub or almost wipe off with a stick. (Don't use your hands - that water's hot!) The bird should either be plucked or dipped in cold water immediately to prevent burning of the skin.

Step 3: Scorching and Cutting

After all the feathers have been removed, there may be some small hairs remaining. To rid the carcass of these, they can be scorched off. We use the same propane torch for this as we do to heat the water. Being careful not to scorch the skin, you can easily singe these hairs using any flame. When dry, even the slightest flame will cause them to shrivel down to a tiny black speck. These specks can then be quickly wiped off with your hand. We often butcher outside on a breezy sunny day, so to prevent the birds' skin from drying and discolouring, we regularly spray the birds with a little cold water. If left to dry, the skin can assume an unwanted yellow colour.

The bird's feet are very useful in the earlier steps of this process, but they have now outlived their usefulness. (Some people, though, use them for soup bones later!) Let's remove them. It's quite a simple task, if you do it right. Place the knife exactly where it is shown in the picture - in the little divot in the joint, and on the tendon that attaches the thigh to the foot. Then cut straight through, applying downward pressure to the end of the foot. You will feel the foot go limp after you cut that first tendon. It will quickly snap off and you will be done. To produce the nicest finished bird, remove the yellow-orange skin that advances past the joint, if necessary. If this is not easy to remove with your fingers, just use a knife to scrape it off. In an ideal situation, another person would take the bird from you now. There should be someone who does the "outside work" on the bird and a different person to do the "inside work". If this is not possible, you must wash your hands very often to maintain a good standard of cleanliness.

Step 4: Surgery

You can now look forward to evisceration, "evisceration" being a euphemism for other less scientific words like "gutting". This stage includes the removal of all internal organs. Don't worry, I don't show any "guts" here. I just show how to remove them with the least possible mess. As with the rest of the process, there are a few different ways of eviscerating. Some people start by removing the crop (the holding tank for foods that have just been ingested - the crop is outside of the body cavity, near the neck). Some people use a string to "tie off" the esophagus to prevent later leakage. I'm neglecting to mention some other methods, but I'll show you what I do. It seems to work. Remember: as soon as the bird has been opened, frequent washing of everything involved is needed to keep a sanitary environment. Oftentimes, we wash all the equipment with bleach midway through the day, just for safety's sake.

Firstly, we'll remove the internal organs via the abdomen. There are even a few variances on which cuts to make for this detail. Here are two different ways. Each has its own pros and cons.

This method is my favourite. It is fast and easy, and can be done with little finesse or talent. This method includes the removal of the tail, which some people disagree with - apparently they actually eat it. Since I have not yet developed a taste for the "pope's nose" I just cut it off. First, make cuts "1" and "2". These cuts must be done carefully to prevent any damage to the intestines inside. After awhile, you will have a good idea just how deep you can cut without causing problems. Next, insert your hand into the bird with your trimmed fingernails scraping along the top inside (the side nearest the breast, and top when the bird is on its back) of the bird between the intestines and carcass. When you feel the shape of the bird begin to curve down at the back of the bird (near the throat), carefully pull out to remove the innards. Let them hang out over the tail. The "innards" to which I am referring come out fairly neatly and easily. Again, with practice, you will be able to confidently do this with more speed. When removing these "insides", you can either leave the hose that attaches to the crop in the front intact or you can carefully sever it. I have found that if the birds have been eating good solid food up to the point of butcher, there should be no spillage. If you begin to have problems with that, however, it would be good practice to carefully remove the intestines without breaking the esophagus so that you can tie it off with a string before cutting it. This will prevent future spillage when removing the crop, which is connected to the other end of the hose in question. If you are unsure which hose I am referring to, you can find it if you realize that it is the only one solidly attached to anything inside the body (it is attached to the crop near the neck at the front of the bird, and will not pull through from this end).

Anyway, you should now have the bundle of intestines hanging outside the body (the intestines "hang" when the bird is held on the edge of a table so that the intestines are pulled down off the edge by gravity. Now this bundle is holding on by only one "hose" - the one that leads directly to the cloaca (bird anus). Now, without cutting anymore of this "plumbing", you can merely remove the entire tail with cut number "3" completely severing it. The intestines, complete with the tail, will drop into the container that you had earlier positioned below the bird. (Aren't you glad you read this ahead of time??) Note that cut "3" is begun from inside the bird.

Now for the second, more complicated process. It makes the job more work and, possibly, a larger mess. The first difficult factor in this method is the fact that a strap is left for the legs. This strap, though handy if you wish to stuff the bird later, is a hindrance to the easy removal of the internal organs. The second factor is the cut around the anal opening. Since the large intestine leads right up to this orifice, it is very difficult to cut around it without puncturing that intestine. It produces a somewhat nicer finished product, since the legs can be tucked into that "strap", and the tail is still present, but I prefer speed and ease to prettiness. For beginners, this method is not as easy. Please note that if you leave the tail, the oil gland must be removed from the top of it.

Step 5: Trimming and Scraping

Now, I should note, that many of you will want to preserve the gizzard for later consumption. In order to do this, it is preferable to remove it before it ends up in the scrap pail. The gizzard is the largest, firmest internal organ that you will find. It is one of the first items that you will discover upon entry into the bird. I have included a photo of it for your reference. This photo shows it after it has been detached from the intestines, and may not be actual size, depending on your monitor's resolution settings. You will remember that the gizzard is the bird's "teeth" where mechanical digestion takes place. This is where the grit is used to grind up their food. To process this organ, you must open it up from one end with a knife, cutting through the red meat until you cut deep enough to see a white tissue. This is the very-tough lining that protects the gizzard muscle from the grit inside. Beneath that is a yellowish sack. In this yellowish sack, you will find a mixture of food, gravel, et cetera. Some people can cut through the first inner white layer while preserving the yellowish sack which must be removed during processing. They remove the yellow sack of food and grit without opening or tearing it. This is the best way to clean the gizzard, but for many of us it takes too much time and practice to properly achieve. The gizzard-cleaning method that "the rest of us" revert to is to ignorantly split the gizzard in half lengthwise, to rinse it out very well, and then to peel away the yellowish layer I spoke of earlier. This method is a little messier, but somewhat necessary unless you are very skilled.

Now that the bulk of the internal organs have been removed, it is time to dislodge the remaining innards. In this before/after photo, I did some cutting and "flipped the lid" on this bird to give you a better look. That surgery is not necessary when butchering, all of the heart, lung, and kidney removal can be done from the same abdomenal opening that we made earlier. The heart is located between the wings - it is the dark oblong shape. The lungs are beneath the heart in this view - they are bright pink and spongy. The lungs and kidneys (the dark areas between the hips) are both "built-into" the rib cage. They can be removed by running the fingers down the fissures between the ribs. Each lung often comes out in one piece this way, but the kidneys usually end up crushed in many pieces. Anyway, do what you have to do to get them all out. When finished, the inside of the bird should look like the picture below, except from a different perspective, of course.

The bird will need to be flushed with clean, cold water to achieve the sparkling beauty that this one emanates. It is nearly impossible to remove all of the white membranes that you see in the kidneys' former location between the legs. These membranes hold some water, but are harmless.


Step 6: Poking and Pulling

We return to the front of the bird to remove the crop, which is the first storage tank for ingested food and water. As seen in this picture, a full crop is easy to spot. There is only one cut that needs to be done. Careful removal of the crop will result in the bird looking something like the picture to the right. You must also remove the trachea, which is the windpipe. Often, a quick pull will remove this offending hose. (It may be slippery, though, so get a good grip first!)


We're nearing the end of the process. "Aww. It's over so soon?" One of the minor finishing touches is to trim the heart. Often people prefer to see it without the aorta and other blood vessels attached. A slice just above the crowning layer of fat on the heart will make the heart look a little more elegant. Another "finishing touch" is to remove the neck from the body. After a while, you may develop a skillful way of doing this, but until then, it's a violent fight. I think the best way is to firmly grasp the neck a couple of inches above where it meets the back. Then bend it backwards to make it parallel with the spine. You should break it. If you can identify the broken link in the vertebrate chain, that would be the best spot to sever the neck from the body. If that method does not work, all I can say is "Do what you've got to do." To completely finish the neck, you can trim the end of the neck that once connected to the head. It is not very pretty because it was bruised by the axe. Usually the removal about a half-inch segment is needed to beautify the neck. You can make an art out of this cut, too, but brute force works fine, as well.

Step 7: Cutting and Cooling

At this point, you can toss the trimmed heart, cleaned gizzard, and nice neck into the bird, and then that whole thing into a clean plastic freezer bag of appropriate size. If butchering in batches, you need not bag each bird as soon as it has been finished. The birds cool at a faster rate if you place them in cold water, anyway. It is recommended that you keep the water quite cool - ice can be added to the bath, if the water will not remain cool on its own, depending on the weather. We used a regular household vacuum sealer to remove excess air and seal the bags. It worked very well, but a twist tie will do the job if you do not own a vacuum sealer. Remember when bagging, that the less air and water in the bag, the longer the bird will stay in the freezer and escape "freezer burn", which is merely a dehydration of the meat.

And the final step to butchering poultry - freeze the bird. The quicker, the better.

No freezer? Cook it and eat it NOW. RT

Last words from the Rogue Turtle:

Like any skill, your first job butchering a bird will be a messy, nervous business. After the 10th bird, you will wonder why you worried about it at all. I can't stress the need for cleanliness too much. You MUST insure that the large intestine/Anus area of the bird is removed INTACT and that the contents do not spill out and spoil the rest of the meat.

If you do contaminate the bird by accident, you "Should" throw the whole thing out, and decontaminate the entire area with bleach where you were butchering the bird. That's the "school solution"...unless you are starving.

At this point it is a gamble. The gamble is with your lives. If you continue to cook the bird, you risk all sorts of diseases, most of whom I cannot spell or pronounce. If you have other birds, or more food available, get rid of the bird and write it off as an educational experience. That�s the safest way. If you MUST eat this bird, then I think the best way would be to wash off (quickly) all the contamination from the intestine. Then, boil the whole bird until the meat just falls off the bone. A good, long rolling boil for fifteen minutes should kill all the offending bacteria. You now have chicken soup. (Or turkey soup, or pheasant soup, etc.) You MUST, however, decontaminate your butchering area and tools.

I prefer the boiling method because this way you are almost guaranteed that ALL the possibly contaminated meat has reached a safe temperature to kill dangerous bacteria. Frying or baking small pieces leaves open the possibility of "cold spots", where the temperature may not reach the level to kill all the bacteria. This is particularly true if you are cooking over a campfire. You have to judge this for yourself. Better safe than...dead.

NO MATTER WHAT: NEVER EAT RAW POULTRY OR FOWL. I really shouldn't have to tell you this, but I am anyway, to avoid future lawsuits.