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Air chilled chicken vs. regular

I go out of my way to buy air chilled chicken. I feel it's "denser," tastes better, is moist, and has more flavor. It also does not retain any of the chlorinated water that regular chicken is dunked in. BTW, organic does not necessarily mean "air chilled." Does anyone else have opinions on this subject?

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  1. I've never heard the expression "air chilled chicken". What does it mean, please?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      This is an explanation from Bell & Evan's website, but I buy air chilled chicken through other vendors. The process is the same though.


      1. re: Tudor_rose

        Thanks for the information. Our legisiation can't require producers/retailers to state which method they use as chickens are never labelled one way or the other.

        1. re: Harters

          You're welcome.

          True, but you can find chickens labeled 'air chilled.' However, always assume water chilled if it's not labeled. Air chilled also costs 2 to 3 times more than water chilled, so air chilled chicken should always be labeled, so you know why you're paying the higher price.

          1. re: Tudor_rose

            No, as far as I can see, chicken here is never labelled about chilling method (which is probably why I'd never heard the phrase until your post).

            Perhaps air chilling is simply the norm here, as I see a report from 2008, saying several American producers were changing to air chilling as it may help with importing into the European Union.

    2. I raise ducks,geese,turkeys and capons on a small scale for a short list of restaurants and individuals.My killer,slaughter house of choice (I refuse to modernize to "retired" or "re-purpose")
      is an air chilled operation.You get a better texture and taste in return for the extra cost.

      1. Skin is different. No difference in the meat.

        6 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          I disagree.Most if not all of the processors using the wet method submerge the birds in chlorinated water long enough to know the difference.

          1. re: lcool

            That's why you see something on the package stating that "such and such percent of the weight is water." If they were just dunked in quickly, then I would assume there would be no added extra water. You do not see this comment on air chilled birds.

            1. re: Tudor_rose

              It is the water "content" and how much chlorine used and time in solution has a WIDE variable.Often they have to cover the odor with minimally processed and "natural" ingredients etc.
              Hell our cats and mynahs know the difference AND WON'T EAT IT.We had some family visiting last week and SIL Sue decided to be helpful,take the pressure off one night by purchasing good chicken.Out on the counter,for room temperature prior to seasoning, all checked it,all rejected.This was a revelation to her,now a convert.We had my farm birds and her purchase 50/50 on the table,all 10 adults discerned a difference.

              1. re: lcool

                It has a denser texture too. Some chicken is so engulfed with water, it tastes wierd. Good chicken should have a tender steak like texture.

          2. re: ipsedixit

            What is the difference you notice in the skin?

          3. I started buying the air chilled a few years ago and now that's all I buy. I feel is has better flavor and texture.

            1. I concur. Air chilled is definitely better both in flavour and texture. I never buy anything else; luckily it's very easy to find :)

              1. Totally agree. Air chilled is noticeably superior in flavor. We only ate regular chicken growing up and buying air chilled was a revelation. It's worth the extra cost.

                1. I really like air-chilled poultry. I find it dryer and not gummy.

                  1. I propose a croud-sourced taste test. Go buy some air chilled chicken and the best water cooled chicken you can find. Invite a few friends over and prepare both sets of chicken using whatever recipe you like and compare. Keep them separate of course so you can see any difference. Blind test your friends and see what they say. Report back!
                    For those of you who haven't found air chilled chicken, its places like Harris Teeter or Whole Foods that sell air chilled bird. Depending on where you are, you might have available truly fresh local chicken that can beat air/water or whatever chilled chicken.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: GeneTee

                      So, where you are you can't find air-chilled in every grocery store? Interesting, as it is extremely common where I live.

                        1. re: CanadaGirl

                          Geography matters in what's available.Of the 9 processors reasonable distance to me for my birds or purchase,only 3 air chill.

                        2. re: GeneTee

                          I think doing this as a blind taste test is actually missing one of the huge advantages of air chilled chicken, which isn't necessarily that it tastes better, but that you aren't starting with a crapload of water that has to be cooked off. The end result is less of a flavor improvement than a texture improvement, in my experience. I also find air chilled easier to cook without overcooking. It seems countertintuitive to me -- I would have expected all that water to somehow soften the cooking process and make it more forgiving, but it doesn't seem to.

                          Around the time air-chilled chicken was just becoming a thing in Canada (Maple Leaf was running those ads with a woman pouring a jug of water on top of dinner, for Canadians who remember that), I had some water and some air chilled chicken that I had purchased at different times in the freezer, and I needed to use both packs of chicken to complete dinner for a small group. I seasoned it all, and arranged it in the frying pan half on one side and half on the other, less by design than simply because that's how I took it off the trays and set it down. It was a crowded pan -- serious chefs would not have approved -- with everything touching.

                          By the time the chicken was ready to be turned, it was crazily obvious which was which -- the air chilled side of the pan was still full with the pieces touching or almost touching, while the pieces on the water chilled side had shrunk down so that there were half inch or more gaps between each piece of chicken.

                          I had kind of laughed off the commercials up to that point, but it was a pretty clear difference, and I've preferred air chilled chicken since that time. I don't know if the economics of it really work in my favour -- if I could calculate actual meat content from one kind of chicken to another, it might demonstrate that per gram of actual chicken, I'm paying more -- but the startling difference in cooking results was enough to convince me that air chilled must be better. Even if it isn't.

                        3. I liken it to dry-aged vs wet-aged beef. Straight from the market, the meat is firmer, denser and the taste is more "natural." But, just because it's air-chilled, doesn't mean it wasn't injected, which is a different process. I've made simple stock with some air-chilled chicken and there was a savoriness that can only be attributed to injecting. Along those lines, any benefits of air-chilled, perceived or otherwise, are mitigated by brining. Like many, I always brine my chicken before I roast them. In that case, air-chilled doesn't really make a difference. What does make a difference is whether or not the chicken was free-range.

                          Cost-wise, air-chilled can be the same or only slightly higher, especially if it's on sale. Whole Foods, for example, will periodically have a sale where air-chilled is anywhere from $.99 to $1.29 a pound. Compare that with Costco's everyday price of $.99 per pound for a twin-pack of conventionally chilled chicken, which is a good deal no matter where you go.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: jscout

                            IME, bribing doesn't do the same thing to texture as using the water chill method after slaughter. I find brined air-chilled chicken to have a much better texture than water-chilled chicken.

                            ETA: in Canada, Costco's chicken is air-chilled

                            1. re: CanadaGirl

                              From just the science aspect you are correct.The chlorine solutions used,how strong,how long result in something different than a brine.

                              1. re: lcool

                                Wait, you don't use chlorine in your brine? How do you get your chicken bright white? Kidding aside, I purchased an air chilled chicken last night, gave it a quick bath in boiling water (my usual trick for crispy skin), and baked it as I usually do, and the skin was incredibly crisp and tasty, it was almost unreal.

                          2. Have any of you tried organic conventionally chilled chicken to air chilled non-organic. I still like air chilled better. If you ever had organic air chilled, it's an amazing eating experience.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Tudor_rose

                              referring to my reply to you back on 15 October
                              90% here is "farm",pasture bird,chicken,capon,duck & goose with a pea,guinea or wild fowl tossed in the cats love.Wet birds are snubbed unless brined and cooked.

                            2. Today I bought Bell Evans Chicken from Wholefoods. I cannot stand that chlorinated smell taste. I did notice that wholefoods have air chilled chicken. I'm going to try both. Otherwise, I'm going to quit eating chicken.

                              1. If water cooled chicken only picks up 3-5% water why do they charge 200+% the price of regular chicken? I think it's another case of bilking the consumer for products considered "healthier".
                                Also, if water chilled chicken has that much moisture in it already, why brine? Isn't that the point to brining, to add water?

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: zackly

                                  At my grocery store, "water chilled" vs. "air chilled" isn't the choice I'm making. The "water chilled" chickens also have "10-15% salt solution." I would rather dry-brine my air chilled chicken. Tonight's specimen came out juicy WITH a crispy skin, which is something I never get from the cheaper birds I have access to.

                                  1. re: Wahooty

                                    Not all water chilled chicken is injected, search around there are a few stores in my area that carry just chicken.

                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                      I'm not arguing that point. I'm just stating what's available in my area, and in my market, there is definitely a reason for the price differential. I live in a small town, with only a couple of stores. There is only so much shopping around to be done unless one is willing to drive an hour each way. ;)

                                      1. re: Wahooty

                                        Of course I wasn't disagreeing. I wanted to buy a turkey after Thanksgiving and take advantage of all the low prices I was reading about but nearly all were injected and that's in a major city.

                                    2. re: Wahooty

                                      I never heard of commodity raw chicken injected with solution. Turkeys, like Butterball yes but not chickens. Do any of the major brands like Purdue, Tyson, Cooking Good do this? If they do I'm shocked I haven't noticed. I only recall seeing the 3-4% added water from the cooling process.

                                  2. I've tried both and don't notice any difference.

                                    1. The air chilled chicken at Bristol Farms is the best you can get. It's fresh and always exceptional. Never disappointed.