How To Properly Pluck A Chicken
There is a right way and there is a wrong way to pluck a chicken in a tub plucker. If you don’t do it the right way, you’re apt to end up with damaged birds. As much as I appreciate all the YouTube movies showing the Whizbang plucker in action, I cringe when I see the birds being improperly plucked. In one movie a chicken with a broken and dangling leg is picked out of a fine-looking homemade Whizbang plucker. Yeow! It doesn’t have to be that way. If you want the absolute best poultry plucking experience with your Whizbang plucker, follow the 6 simple guidelines below.
But first, let me make it clear that some broken wings and legs are to be expected when using a mechanical tub plucker. Such damage should, however, be minimal—not more than 2% to 4%. That is the tradeoff for speed and ease, and those damaged birds are not a total loss by any means. They still cook up and taste great, even with a broken leg. Now, here are the 6 Guidelines
A Good Scald is Absolutely Necessary
A man from Oklahoma once called me to say that his newly-built Whizbang plucker did not work very well. He was mighty discouraged. He told me he was so disappointed that he left a chicken in the plucker to tumble for five minutes. It came out all busted and torn—and still had most all of its feathers. Yep, that’s mighty discouraging, and I’ve heard this failure-to-pluck lament from more than one person over the years.
The good news is that this problem is easily remedied. All you have to do is properly scald the chickens before plucking them. I told that fellow from Oklahoma the secret to perfectly scalding a chicken. He tried it and e-mailed me later to tell me his plucker worked great.
If you want to learn the secret to perfectly scalding a chicken, every single time, you can find it here: My Never-Fail Chicken Scalding Technique
Keep It Short & Sweet
When I watch those YouTube plucker movies (one in particular) where the chicken comes out with a broken leg, I can’t help but notice that the birds are being plucked way too long. If your chicken is properly scalded, it will pluck clean in a few seconds—15 to 20 seconds should do the job. Some people find that hard to believe, but it’s true.
If the chickens are not sufficiently de-feathered within 30 seconds at most, they were not properly scalded. If this is the case, don’t continue to pluck the birds. Stop the plucker, hand-pluck the remaining feathers, and scald your next victims better.
A perfect scald and a short plucking time translates to a successfully-plucked chicken. A less-than-perfect scald and a short plucking time can still result in success, if you finish plucking the birds by hand. The common denominator is a short plucking time. The longer the birds tumble, the more inclined they are to break.
I should point out that, even with the perfect scald, it is not uncommon for a few odd feathers to remain. Not many, but a few. This is okay. Do not continue to beat the bird in order to get two or three stubborn feathers. It’s not worth it. just pluck them by hand.
One more comment along these lines: Do not “polish” the birds by leaving them in the plucker longer than needed. I don’t see where chickens need to be “polished.” They just need to be plucked—keep it short and sweet.
Pluck More Than One Bird At A Time
The Whizbang plucking action is necessarily violent. One bird by itself really slaps and rolls and slams about. Plucking two chickens at a time reduces the extreme action and, thus, the possibility of such extreme action doing extreme damage. As a backyard processor, I typically pluck two chickens at a time in my Whizbang. I’ve also plucked three. If you’re plucking three at once, you can safely give them a bit more time in the machine. Here’s a YouTube Movie of three big chickens getting Whizbanged at once. in my opinion, they pluck the birds a bit too long in that video, but my point is... pluck at least two chickens at a time and you will be more pleased with the results.
Another thing I’ve seen on those YouTube movies (the ones that make me cringe when I watch them) is a lack of water spray when plucking the birds. As soon as the birds are in the tub and tumbling, you should spray water on them. Water from a hose, or even a watering can, will help lubricate and, to a degree, soften the plucking action. The water also serves to flush away the plucked plumage.
The picture at the top of this essay shows my wife, The Lovely Marlene, directing water into the plucker while my son, James, places the birds in the tub. By the way, they're having FUN plucking those chickens. That's the beauty of Whizbang-plucking chickens....It's a real hoot!
Pluck ‘em Warm
Pluck your birds immediately after scalding. Do not let just-scalded birds cool down for long.
I suspect that more than a few birds are damaged before they even make it into the Whizbang plucker. If you struggle with the birds prior to stuffing them in your killing cones, or they are not properly restrained during this procedure, wings can dislocate and legs can even break.
In my internet essay, Backyard Poultry processing With My 11-Year-Old Son, I explain a "chicken whisperer" technique for picking the chicken up and placing it into the killing cone. Then you need to restrain it from flopping out. Believe it or not, all of this can be done with a gentle technique. It is less traumatic for the bird and does not cause carcass damage.
Turkeys up to 45 pounds have been successfully plucked in the Whizbang Plucker—one at a time. They will require more time to get plucked than a chicken, but they are tougher and can take the abuse. Cut the feet off and they will pluck better. Also, turkeys do not tumble around as well as chickens, You may have to reposition them to get the feathers along the back, or just pluck those feathers by hand.