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Slaughtering your own chicken ... how to de-feather?

This weekend, a friend and I will attempt to slaughter our first chicken and hopefully make the best roast bird that either of us have ever tasted.

The cooking part we can take care of.

We can also handle grabbing the chicken, knocking it out cold, and cutting its throat.

It's the next part that is giving us a bit of a pause.

How to de-feather the chicken?

We've seen videos of operations using these large washing machine like structures with rubber fingers that essentially spin and strip the chicken of all its feathers.

Well, we don't have one these contraptions.

So, my question to the Chowhound gurus, are we left to our own devices (hands and shears) to de-feather this bird?

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  1. As I remember from my grandmother, you shove them down into a pot of hot water to soften up the quills, and then go at it with your hands. It sounds like as much fun as scaling a fish with a butter knife, so have a glass of wine on the ready, and play some favorite tunes.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Veggo

      Just like veggo says. a pot of hot water helps get the feathers out. It is somewhat important that it not be boiling water. There is a video on UTUBE where a chef demonstrates it for a class of want tobe chefs. She kills the bird, defeathers it drains the blood (Which she saves!), butchers it completely and it is still warm.It ook her about 7 minutes, I think.

    2. I've never cleaned a chicken but when we clean waterfowl (ducks and geese) we just start picking the feathers. When you get down to the pin feathers and down that is hard to get out you can dunk the bird into melted paraffin wax. You then scrape the wax off. We didn't actually melt an entire kettle of wax. We actually melted it in a coffee can on the gas grill and poured it on the bird out in the backyard.

      1. Like Veggo said: http://www.ehow.com/how_2067572_pluck...

        I've heard people say that pliers are good for pulling pinfeathers.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          I've only tried my hand at plucking a turkey. No one offered pliers. It's *very* hard on your finger tips!

        2. Sounds like a great opportunity to make a real rustic "Beggar's Chicken". No need to pluck the feathers at all. The real version start with unplucked chicken, caked all over with mud/clay, buried in leftover camp fire ashes. When done, you throw down the whole piece to break the clay, and as you remove the pieces, the feather gets plucked with it....

          otherwise, yes, what everyone else says, hot water bath, quick pluck... Not sure you'd want to eat anything after smelling the feather+hot water for however it takes to do the job though.

          1 Reply
          1. re: HLing

            Thanks for the Beggar's Chicken idea.

            We've got two chickens. One is ready to be slaughtered (this weekend). The other one still needs some feeding, so maybe next weekend ( which means more homegrown egg omelets!).

          2. yep hot water.

            cut chicken inverted, drain blood in a bowl with half cup of water+1tea salt to make "chicken blood" you can saute that in some chilipaste, black bean sauce, onions/leeks, spring peas and any other nasty bits (gizzard, heart, kidneys, etc) from the chicken. just let the blood set for a few minutes and cut in cubes.

            not sure if you know this already, we always cut the oil gland from the chicken butt. it is the part that stick up in the middle of the triangle. just dig in a bit with your paring knif and cut it off. we think it make the meat taste better.

            1. If you think this is going to be a regular thing, you can invest in a plucking tool that attaches to an electric drill - it's just a bunch of rubber fingers on a spindle. You put the drill in a jig or vise with the plucking tool in the drill and have at it. When the feathers really start to fly, you can pretend you're at a sorority house pillow fight. You'll have to have a pretty good imagination to conjure up the coeds, tho.

              1. As others have indicated, a quick dip in scalding water makes the feathers fairly easy to remove; just pull 'em out by the handful. I'd recommend against the glass of wine, though. The smell of wet chicken is one of the less pleasant experiences out there. Anything other than a shot of rotgut isn't going to stand up to the stink.

                Once you've pulled out as many feathers as you can, you're still going to have quite a few residual quills in the skin. Some folks use a stout pair of tweezers to remove them, others use needle-nose pliers. I find that a hemostat does the job better than anything else.

                Also, there's no need to knock the bird on the head. Just hang it upside-down for a minute or so and it will relax nearly to the point of passing out. Then it's a simple enough matter to slit the throat using a very sharp knife. Just be careful not to sever the spinal column; the resulting involuntary movements make a bloody mess.

                1 Reply
                1. re: alanbarnes

                  My grandmother used to tell stories about hanging the chickens, with clothespins, by their feet, on the clothesline before they went to meet their chickeny destiny.

                2. just curious, my sister usually only slaughter her chickens when they are getting too old for egg production. these are only for stew as the meat is borderline rubberized.

                  how old are the chickens you were having that is roast worthy?

                  1 Reply
                  1. May I put in a plug for hanging the bird?

                    I acquired some pheasant over the winter and did a little comparison of a freshly killed bird vs. a bird hung for a week in a 35 degree garage. The hung bird was outstanding; tender and flavorful. It wasn't gamey, mind you, it just had a fuller flavor. Compare well-aged beef with a crappy cut from the grocery store.

                    I strongly suggest that you consider letting the bird hang, unplucked and undrawn (gutted) for a few days in a cool place before eating. I think that you will be quite pleased with the result.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Ernie Diamond


                      I totally agree with the hanging, but given where we are and the time of the year, this is not going to be possible, unfortunately.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Shame. I had read about it for years, dismissed it as an English affectation but was just stunned at the difference it made when I finally tried it. Pheasant went from a dry, fairly uninteresting fowl to something thrilling.

                        Plucking is a pain in the ace, though. A plucker tool mounted on a drill, as one poster mentioned is a very good investment. Easy to find at a hunting store (Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops, etc.).

                        1. re: Ernie Diamond

                          The hanging (or air drying) is also the reason why authentic Peking Duck is so damn delicious.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I think that is one area in which a home-reared bird will excel; the bird won't be jacked with brine and slush, making for a better roast bird.

                            Hanging meat isn't quite the same as air-drying, though. A friend felt that leaving breasts of meat in the fridge for a few days would accomplish the same thing. It doesn't.

                            Be sure to give a full report. I want to know how the meat birds do for the home fancier.

                    2. I hand plucked a lot of chickens in my younger days, never used hot water. Sit on an upright chair. Start by holding the bird by the feet just inside the mouth of a large refuse sack. Pull the feathers in the opposite direction to which they lie, ie straight down into the sack. You'll need to vary how you hold it depending which part you are plucking. Use pliers or some such to tidy up. First time will probably seem like a lot of work, but like most things, you'll find a way that works for you.

                      1. So how did it turn out? What's the verdict?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Ernie Diamond

                          It was actually fabulous.

                          We made a bloody mess of ourselves trying to slaughter and defeather the chicken. If the authorities had dropped by they would've called in the CSI unit.

                          But, back to the bird, I fear that if eat too many of these fresh chicks, I may never be able to go back to "supermarket chickens" ... Tender, juicy and (get this!) flavorful.

                          The darn thing actually tasted very "chicken-y".

                          I'm never ever going to say, "well, it tastes just like chicken" ....

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Thrilled to hear that it worked. Good fat? what was your method, ultimately?

                        2. Here's what mother did.

                          -- Lay the bird across the chopping block and chop the head off.
                          -- Let the headless chicken fly around until it drops - one or two minutes.
                          -- Dunk the bird in steaming hot water. This also kills any fleas or lice.
                          -- Pull off the feathers by hand.
                          -- Singe off the pinfeathers with a piece of lighted newspaper.
                          -- Cut it open and pull out the innards, saving what she wanted and giving the rest to the pigs or dogs or cats.

                          1. Was it a pet, or a bird purchased expressly for the experiment?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ricepad

                              Purchased it specifically to kill and eat. Between buying the chick and feeding it, it was definitely more $$$ than buying a similar bird from the market ...

                            2. Glad you had a successful endeavor!

                              We do this every year with my MIL. It's an annual event that most people think we are strange/nuts/gross for doing, but we really look forward to it! We process about 30 chickens in one morning, and then vacuum seal them for the freezer throughout the year. Instead of plucking, though, we just skin the birds. It hasn't made a bit of difference when it comes to having a moist roasted chicken, but I do have to admit that I miss the crunchy, golden goodness of the roasted skin. But when you process that many chickens at once, there really isn't time for plucking.

                              There is a vast difference between a homegrown chicken and grocery market chicken. Soooo worth the extra effort!

                              Oh, and a note on how we handle the, um, actual "moment"... we take a gallon milk jug, cut off the bottom, make the top opening larger, and then hang it upside down from a tree with a nail or two. Essentially, it is the really red-neck way to make a killing cone. The chicken is placed with its head through the bottom opening (which was originally the top) and the jug helps to keep the wings pinned for the moments after the throat slitting when there is the protest and wing flapping. We have a large garbage container lined with a bag to catch all the blood and heads. It's always interesting to watch people's reactions when they ask about the whole process....

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: DomesticityNouveau

                                I may never look at a milk jug the same way again...

                                1. re: ricepad

                                  The milk jug killing cone works very well I have used it on Guinea Hens, and we did not cut off the heads but had a small knife,(from a poultry supply co.) looked similiar to a paring knife and punctured the brain through the mouth, then made a cut on the side of the neck, much neater, let the birds hang and drain for about an hour, then gutted, plucked and packaged.