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why do we rinse chickens before roasting them?

  • l

It's something I always do (rinse then dry with paper towels) but I suddenly wondered why. If there are germs in/on my chicken, will a brief cold water rinse really get rid of them? It's not like I scrub them with a brush or anything. Surely oven heat is more likely to kill them than cold water? Or am I supposed to be rinsing off dirt? I buy chickens from my butcher, so they're not already all wet inside vaccum-packed plastic. The chickens usually look pretty clean too...

Anyone know if there's any good reason to be rinsing a perfectly clean-looking chicken?

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  1. We had a discussion about that a while back (Kitchen myths or something.) I think there were two camps:


    and the more laid back

    "It probably doesn't matter but it washes off anything that COULD be on there and any chicken gunk still in the cavity."

    For me at this point, it's more part of the routine - I don't think it matters, as I sometimes don't do that rinse and i'm still alive (as are my guests).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jonathan Saw

      I'm of the George Carlin school of sanitation, i.e., it's good to exercise your immune system so it stays tough. By doing such things as eating something that has dropped on the floor or not washing your chicken, you give your immune system a good workout!!!

      Kidding, of course, but I have been known to pick up something from the floor and eat it. Of course it depends on what floor and what food.

    2. Actually, i believe that the USDA recommends NOT rinsing chickens before roasting. Apparently the risk from the raw chicken juice that gets all over your sink, hands, faucet, soap container, etc. during the rinsing process creates a greater risk of contamination than cooking an unrinsed chicken. That being said, I think rinsing just feels better to most of us, and I still do it.

      1. I was assisting a chef in a cooking class and he did not rinse the chicken which upset a couple taking the class. It had been drilled into their heads that chickens had to be rinsed for sanitary purposes. He said "why do you want to contaminate your sink?" They kind of lost it there and I have never rinsed a chicken since.

        1. i'm guessing it's a practice that developed from factory processed meat. a chicken from a local butcher comes in a paper wrapper, but one that's travelled thousands of miles and been frozen/refrozen and is wrapped tightly in plastic will have some stickiness or sliminess on it that I always like to rinse off. As for contamination, well...I get to know my chickens (and turkeys) pretty well, what with the butter massage, occasional cutting-up, leg tendon removal, and all that. A boiling-water rinse or a mild bleach solution will clean your sink and counters if things have gotten messy or unusually complicated.

          chicken sanitation takes some weird turns when you start slaughtering and butchering your own. At what point does your bird become "unsanitary"? I still haven't figured that one out.

          Link: http://www.pdbd.com/henwaller

          1. This thread has already covered the subject regarding sanitation vs raw chicken, but there is a related point that hasn't been mentioned. Inside a whole raw chicken (and very often on leg-thigh pieces) there will be little bits of dark red kidney or liver or some such giblety stuff, still attached. If you like it, fine, but we happen to detest the flavor and if you leave it there it will make everything taste the way it does. If you use the chicken to make broth, the whole pot of broth will have the flavor of giblets. So one reason I put my raw chicken under running cold water is so I can gouge out this stuff with my thumb and send it down the drain. Yuck. Be advised.

            1. Hi LarryK-san,

              This is a very interesting question!

              I'm in my second month of culinary school. During the first month, when we were learning all of the basic techniques for cooking animal proteins, it was drilled into our heads that we rinse, and pat dry ALL proteins, whether it is a rib-eye steak, chicken, veal, poultry, shellfish, etc.

              The word "sanitation" never once came up. The reason we were rinsing was to remove any existance of that little slimyish coating, ("rinsing off the shmooge", as the Chef instructor called it) that develops on these proteins, which MIGHT add an unwanted dimension to the desired flavor profile.


              3 Replies
              1. re: Andy P.

                thats some bizarre sh*t. Unless you are trying to pass off inferior, outdated product, why would you subject it to a water bath? Of course clams and mussels may need a scrub, but your "instructors" are fos. Yes, i do play Chef in real life.

                1. re: dano

                  Dano could not be more correct. You're in some two bit fake cooking school and might as well have flushed your tuition down the toilet. Call your state Attorney General and see if you can get your money back. Larry's gut is correct: their is never a need to wash chicken (or any other protein). Any recipe that starts with "wash chicken and pat dry" should be immediately discarded as it was authored by someone with zero knowledge of the culinary arts/science.

                2. re: Andy P.

                  The best way to avoid the slimy "schmooge" is to buy and use the meat when it is fresh.

                3. Aside from the other reasons cited (well, some of them anyway), I rinse all my meat because I want to towel it dry, and I prefer to use clean cotton towels intead of paper...and I don't want bloody schmutz staining my towels, even though I use these particular ones only for such chores.

                  Okay, it makes perfect sense to me...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Will Owen
                    La Dolce Vita

                    You probably know this already, but if you use bleach when you wash your towels, it will remove the blood and disinfect them. I do this with all my towels, and I throw in the kitchen sink sponge, too, when I'm washing a "bleach load."

                    1. re: La Dolce Vita

                      With just two people in the house, both semi-sedentary adults, we don't generate enough bleachable laundry in a week to justify a "bleach load". And the last time we did, it didn't begin to affect the stains in the towels...but then said towels are about ten years old. Maybe it's time to go back to IKEA...

                      I use the dishwasher for sponges, though (again) the only time I run that is after a dinner party!

                  2. What if you dropped the chicken before you put it in the oven, and it rolled across the floor. Would you rinse the chicken then?

                    Whatever your answer is to that question probably dictates whether you should rinse the chicken or not in other cases. Just because heat kills the germs doesn't mean I want to eat whatever can stick to the skin.

                    1. I am not as concerned about the germs on the surface of a raw chicken as I am about the germs that may develope if the chicken doesn't roast uniformly. I have noticed that many times I get chickens that although they were refrigerated they seemed partially frozen. Therefore I prefer to wash my chickens in tepid water to ensure that the chicken is uniformly the same temp.

                      1. Athough I'm not Kosher, I always heaving dust chicken with Kosher salt, let it sit for a few, then rinse it off in cold water, pat it dry. All of the stale juices and crud wash off, and I find it makes for a better tasting chicken dish.

                        1. The New York Times this week said to avoid washing the Thanksgiving turkey, which in my book is just another bird. The heat of the oven, The Times said, kills pathogens, and washing the bird beforehand simply splashes these pathogens through your kitchen.

                          So it is like mushrooms. You can eat shit provided it is decontaminated, whereupon it becomes `dirt.'

                          Whereupon `dirt' on your bird becomes the aesthetic question.

                          1. Wow. Thanks for all the responses. I think from now on, if I buy a chicken from the butcher and it looks spotless and is dry, I won't wash it. If I buy a chicken and it looks a bit worse for wear, or it comes from a sealed plastic bag and it is wet, I will wash it.

                            As for the invisible germies, who probably enjoy a nice bath, I figure the oven will blast the hell out of them, either way.