So I've done several cockerels lately and feel like (actually, I KNOW) that I'm wasting an awful lot of meat. I hang the bird by the feet with a cord hanging from a nail in a tree. I use loppers to kill & dehead, then let them drip out. Then I carry the bird to my work table and cut the skin at the breast and try to tear it off. This is where I run into trouble. I'm not too strong and today's cockerel was 23 weeks old, wow was that connective tissue strong! So I tear a little, then use a knife or shears to cut the connective tissue. They're so fluffy and feathers are everywhere. I can't get a good grip, so I just get a hunk of skin and feathers away from the carcass and then cut this chunk off and move on to the next section. I must be terribly slow, because I'll see the flesh starting to dry out so I decide to hurry and cut off the leg sections as I get them skinned. The skin's on so tight that I can't get it off the wings and back, so I end up using my shears to cut along the sides and get the breast clear, then toss the rest into the waste bucket. I'm wasting the wings and lots of side and back meat. Should I just go ahead and pluck first? At least then I could see what I'm doing. So far I haven't cut into any guts that would cause a problem (other than the crop) but I just hate to be so wasteful. I'm concerned about the warmth of the innards while I'm struggling with the skin and taking so long. I'm not too concerned about the liver, etc, for food at this point--I just want to get the meat cleaned, detached and cooling more quickly.
Question about skinning
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OK , I have done 2 or 3 partial processings (as I call it) according to what a friend sent me below. Definitely not an expert by any means. I think it gets most of the meat without doing the full processing which would include the plucking and gutting. Yes, you do waste a bit, but not enough for me to really worry about. Mine aren't meat birds, so I doubt there is really much that I'm throwing away. Probably would make nice soup stock though.
Like you, I do end up using poultry shears quite a bit and it does take some strength to get the skin off.
I also get feathers everywhere, sticking to everything.
Glad I'm not the only one who is in the learning stages, but we'll get better in time, I'm sure.
Yes, skinning is fast and easy and no need to eviscerate.
Kill and hose off to remove dust and soil. Slit the skin from throat to abdomen, and make a circle around the vent. Sever the neck at the base and the wings either at the root or the first joint depending on whether there is enough meat to use there. Sever the shanks from the drumsticks. Peel the skin back from the neck area and pull back toward the tail. Pull the skin off the legs and sever the tail.
At that point you can filet the breast meat off the ribs and remove the leg quarters without disturbing the abdomen. This is the fastest method and harvests most of the meat with the least mess and fuss. A fish filet knife makes the job easy.
And yes, it's best to let the meat rest, but in the case of pieces, you need only let it rest until it releases juices. Be sure to cover with plastic wrap or in a container to avoid drying it out. If stewing, it probably won't make much of a difference but at least let the meat chill before tossing it in the crockpot.
Slit the skin from throat to abdomen, and make a circle around the vent. Sever the neck at the base and the wings either at the root or the first joint depending on whether there is enough meat to use there. Sever the shanks from the drumsticks. Peel the skin back from the neck area and pull back toward the tail. Pull the skin off the legs and sever the tail.
That's my problem--as I slit the skin, I can't see what I'm doing for all the fuzz and feathers. My kitchen shears don't do much as far as severing the wings and legs, I tend to mash down hard at the wrong spot and cut bone but not at the joint. Peeling back the skin and pulling the skin off is also my problem--I don't seem to have the grip to do it well, so I just loosen it up and cut off a hunk, then move to the next section. I hose it all off after, but I still see fuzzy bits of feather on the meat, even after soaking in brine overnight. I'll never have another black chicken! At least the lighter ones you don't see the fuzz so much! I did read a link today where the guy says to gut them first, then work on skinning. I'll try that on the next ones. I still have 3 I need to do. The one yesterday came at me once too often and I did him even tho I wasn't prepared to.
I have one I'm going to do in a couple weeks too, so I've been reading up a bit. If I find a good you-tube video, I'll post it.
Still not sure I'll gut, since I'm pretty happy with just getting the breast and leg meat and OK with tossing the rest of the carcass. Maybe in the future when I do more than cockerel one at a time I'll attempt it.
My approach is different. I use practically everything I can for meat or broth. The first thing I do is cut off the feet. I use a knife to cut the skin at the joint just below the drumstick, bend it back to show where the joint is, then use the poultry shears to cut them off. That’s the secret to cutting off the joints, bend or break them back them so you can see where to cut. It takes some practice.
Then I cut a small slit across the breast, not along the length, and start pulling. That chicken skin’s strength is something like paper. If you take a piece of paper and just pull on it, it’s really strong. But if you try to tear it, it’s easy. If you were a structural engineer I’d say it is strong in tension but weak in shear. When I find myself pulling on it instead of tearing it, I cut a bit so I can get back to tearing it.
I generally go for a wing first. There are two tricks to them. On the side away from the flight feathers, in that bend, there is some connective tissue that makes it rough. I cut that connective tissue to the inside along the meat so I can tear it easier. That side of the wing isn’t too bad once you cut that tissue. The side with the flight feathers is much worse. I cut along the meat a good portion of the way to make pulling them off easier, sometimes I cut most of that away. Then, with the shears, I cut the wing tip off and throw it away.
Next I do the leg on that side. Normally with the feet gone it comes off fairly easily but sometimes I wind up pulling instead of tearing, especially at the end. I sometimes cut that skin so I’m tearing instead of just pulling.
Next I usually pull the skin off the neck. Then I flip it over and do the other wing and leg.
Next I pull the skin back off toward the rear end so I can see to make the cut to gut it. The skin comes off in big chunks while I’m doing all this, there is not a lot of feathers and skin left on the carcass at this point. I use a lot of water from a hose under pressure all through this process to keep rinsing it off, plus often rinse my hands. I still have several feathers and fluff I have to pick off by hand. Hang on to it tightly when you hit it with the hose, you DO NOT want to knock it into the dirt. Dirt really sticks to the tissue around the meat and is really hard to clean off.
After I gut it I cut off the wings, thighs, and drumsticks. I cut the entire carcass into useable pieces. Some people like the carcass whole, but that’s not how I cook it.
Next I use the shears to open one side along what will be the breast section and remove the insides, gizzard, liver, heart, all that. Then I flip it over and make the cut along the other side. I use the shears to cut it loose up where the wing connects. That joint is not one I bend back to find the place to cut. You probably could after you open up both sides, but I’ve learned where to cut.
Next I pull the breast section off, clean it up by separating the crop and such, and cut it into wishbone and breast sections. If you want the breast whole, leave it whole.
Then I further clean out the inside of the back, removing what’s left of the digestive track all the way off the neck. I remove the testicles and lungs at this point, then cut the neck off. I’m done with this one.
I cook the thighs, drumsticks, wishbone, and breasts for the table. I use the wings, neck, back, gizzard, heart, and feet for broth. A trick to cleaning the feet is to scald them. Everybody will always over-scald them so the skin just shreds, that makes them a pain to clean. But once you learn to not over-scald it’s pretty easy to twist the toenails off and skin them. After I make broth, I pick the meat out and use that as cooked chicken meat. It’s great for tacos, salads, casseroles, or just to make a sandwich for lunch. The liver either goes to the dogs or is used for my lunch.
As I process the birds I have two buckets handy. One is used for the parts I’ll bury, the head and feathers mostly. The other is bits and pieces of fat, meat, and organs that I feed to the remaining flock. This includes intestines cut into four or five inch pieces, testicles, lungs, and the crop and the rest of the digestive track. I only save enough of this that I think they can clean up before dark. I don’t want left-overs attracting predators.
When I’m processing I split some of the intestines open lengthwise, looking for tapeworms or roundworms. I’ve never seen any but it’s a great time to check.
How long all this takes me varies some depending on the age and sex of the bird. Not counting set-up and clean-up before and after and ignoring how long it takes to age, brine, and package for the freezer, it usually takes me around 25 to 30 minutes from when I take the head off one bird until I take the head off of the next. I’ve been doing this a while though, there is definitely a learning curve involved. I try to use every part of the bird that I can. I’ve even been known to save some feathers off an old rooster for someone that uses feathers for jewelry. You can speed this process up by not using everything or leaving the carcass whole.
I would not worry about the heat and the guts left in while you are doing this spoiling the meat as long as you don’t take real long breaks. Rabbit, squirrel, and bird hunters will often wait until they get home to clean their game, sometimes that’s a few hours.
Hopefully you can get something out of this that helps you.
Thanks for the step-by-step instructions. I've been doing it sorta like that--tearing the skin off in chunks, cutting it away from parts. I'm pretty sure my knife isn't sharp enough, tho, because what should be a simple cut isn't. I've been doing a long-ways cut on the breast side first, then tearing away towards the wings. I don't have good shears, I was using small hand-pruners to cut off the wing tips and feet but the skin wouldn't cut all the way off and then I'd have broken bones, not jointed ends. I'm not concerned about making it pretty. Do you think that it would help with the fluffiness if I dipped the bird in water (not hot, but enough to wet it) so the fluffs not flying around? I think I have a good setup, I have one of those fish cleaning tables with a sink, but I don't hook the hose to that because I don't want to haul off buckets of nasty water. I don't think the sink faucet would be a strong blast of water, anyway. There's a link somewhere I saw that showed a guy skinning, very informative, but you are right, the learning curve is steep for me. Then I get in a hurry worrrying about the heat. This saturday should be cool, so I'll have to give it a go. I'll let you know how it goes.
http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-to-skin-a-chicken this guy cuts side to side, not lengthwise
Edited by trudyg - 2/24/16 at 4:25pm
Just a question for consideration: If, like the guy in that last link, I kill, bleed and then gut the bird, could I put that gutted bird (with skin & feathers) into a cooler with icewater and then finish skinning later? If that would work, then I could pluck the bird off the roost, get it gutted and in the cold water later Friday night or before dawn Saturday morning and then, after volleyball, finish the job. I'm not seeing a reason not to do it this way, but maybe this would be too messy or harder to get the skin off due to rigor?
There are often unintended consequences to our actions when we do something like this, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Would the meat pick up flavor from the feathers? I don’t know. Would that be hard on your fingers, handling cold meat instead of warm? With my arthritic hands it might. From a perspective of the meat being safe to eat, it would work. It’s usually easier to come up with reasons to not do something than to try it. I just don’t know how it would work out for you.
Well, I messed up another one. I couldn't get started til later in the day, first mistake. He got loose and all 9 birds got to squawking. Once again, my knife was not close to sharp enough for the job and I made a real mess. But-- wow was he tasty!. Only got the breast and both legs, let him rest until the next day at noon and put him in a baking dish with herbs, covered and 285 for 2 hours, falling off the bone. Dark meat and delish. I'm needing to carry better lunches to work, so pieces of chicken, mayo and dark wheat bread, yum, and easy to toss in the lunch box.