Best Practices: Poultry Handling, Planning & Prepping

Know The Grades

  • Grade A. Birds must be plump and well formed. Keel bone (breast bone) may be slightly crooked, there may be minor discolorations, a few pin feathers and short tears in skin. There must also be showing of fat over breast and thighs.
  • Grade B. Must have good appearance though it is allowed a slightly crooked keel bone. Will probably not be as well fleshed as grade A, is allowed a few short skin tears, minor discolorations and pin feathers that don’t seriously detract from the appearance.
  • Utility. A bird in this category must grade at least a B quality but has one or more parts missing such as wing, drumstick, section of skin, etc. This can occur during processing.
  • Grade C. Usually used for canning. Is fairly plump and may have large skin tears, pin feathers and prominent discolorations.

Estimating Quantity To Buy

  • Wings: Two to Three servings per pound. Number of wings will vary according to size. If serving alone, count on a pound per person.
  • Breasts & Legs (thighs and drumsticks): 1/2 to 3/4 pound per person depending upon how prepared and what else is served with them.
  • Small Whole: 3 to 3 1/2 lbs. usually halved for broiling or barbecuing. Four servings per bird.
  • Whole Chickens: 3 to 4 lbs. may be divided into wings, legs, thighs, breasts and back providing 5 to 8 servings, per bird, depending upon size.
  • Roasting: 4 lbs. and up — approximately 2 servings per pound depending upon what is served with them.

One serving per pound usually allows for leftovers to be added to casseroles, salads, etc.

What Does It Mean?

  • Eviscerated, Oven Ready, Ready-To-Cook, Pre-dressed, all these terms are synonymous. They all refer to chicken which has been drawn and is ready for use with a minimum of preparation.
  • “Dressed” means poultry from which blood and feathers only have been removed. Dressed poultry is always undrawn though butchers may remove head, feet, and viscera as a service to customers at the time of sale.

How To Store

  • Fresh unfrozen chicken should be stored in the coldest spot of the refrigerator and cooked within two to three days.
  • Frozen chicken should be kept frozen until time to thaw for cooking. It is preferable to thaw in the refrigerator. Once defrosted, cook within 24 to 48 hours if chicken can be refrigerated, otherwise prepare at once.

How To Safely Thaw

  • It’s best to place the frozen bird (whole or in pieces) in the refrigerator and thaw overnight (do this the morning before so there’s plenty of time to thaw completely, especially if a it’s a whole one).
  • If it’s a large one (especially a turkey), you’ll likely need two days to thaw.

Tip: To avoid cross-contamination with other items in the fridge, I always wrap it first in a plastic grocery bag to catch any leaks just in case there’s a hole in the packaging. Toss all packaging & bags in the garbage afterwards (not the recycle bin).

If you need to thaw it quickly, here’s what to do:

  • Wash the kitchen sink well with hot soapy water, rinse to remove all traces of soap.
  • Fill sink with cold water then place the package of poultry in the water and keep submerged for about an hour. It should be completely thawed and ready to work with in about an hour (for pieces/breasts/thighs/etc.), whole birds will take 2 to 3 hours depending on the size (turkeys will be even longer, about 30 mins/pound).
  • If doing this takes longer than an hour, check water frequently to ensure it’s cold at all times. Drain & refill as needed.
  • For pieces, break them apart after 30 minutes or so to speed up the process (if you’re in a rush, otherwise just leave them be).
  • Important: Keep the bird completely waterproof during the whole time (you may have to place in a ziploc bag if you’ve opened the package).

How To Prepare

Chicken is best cooked in a fresh or thawed state though it is possible to do so from frozen (follow times and directions as instructed in recipes).

There is some debate whether to wash meat/poultry first or not. Handling raw chicken has its hazards since there is a high probability of contaminating kitchen sinks and counters with bacteria. Food poisoning anyone?

Once that bacteria touches hands, sink taps, utensils, dishes, etc., it easily finds its way into someone’s mouth. Salmonella is not people friendly! All it takes is a splash of water and the damage is done.

Many food & agriculture departments from around the world advise to NOT WASH raw chicken first, instead cooking it to a safe temperature (which is 165°F) and this will kill any bacteria on the flesh.

Some of us old-timers have a hard time giving up the habit though. If you’re one who insists on washing first, be very aware of all surface touch points and immediately wash well with a bleach/water mixture and keep a good soapy cloth on hand at all times. I use about a teaspoon of bleach per full spray bottle of water, leaving the spray on surface for several minutes before wiping up. I’ve never killed anyone yet, but really it is best to go with what the pros say and not take any chances.

Why Are Some Of The Joints Red Once It’s Cooked?

  • Red blood corpuscles are manufactured in the long bone marrow and as the joints are porous in young birds, ice crystals containing red corpuscles pierce the joints and cause discoloration. This is quite harmless.

When Is Chicken Done?

  • To judge when poultry is ready to eat, wiggle a leg. It should move easily at hip joint. Or protect fingers with clean cloth and pinch drumstick and breast. The meat should feel soft.
  • As a final check, flesh will be fork tender and juice will show no pink tinge. However, avoid frequent “stabbing” with a fork during cooking — it causes loss of juice.
  • The best way to tell: Use an instant read digital thermometer and pierce at the thickest part of the breast and again in the thigh. Do not touch bones. The internal temperature should be at least 165°F to be safe to eat according to the USDA.

To ensure perfectly prepared chicken every time, here’s a nice chart showing times for Roasting, Grilling, Skillet & Breaded for the different cuts.

Source: Adapted from vintage poultry booklets (Canadian)

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