Air Chilled Chicken: Taste Above the Rest

If you’ve yet to experience the rich flavor of tender Air Chilled Chicken, you’re missing out on the enjoyment of some the best tasting all natural chicken you’ll ever have.

Production 101

Chicken processed at a poultry plant are subject to USDA inspection, just like beef or pork, and temperature control is an important part of the process.

The temperature of chicken carcasses after processing is about 100°F. Per USDA regulations, the carcasses need to be quickly chilled to 40°F or less for four to six hours to prevent growth of bacteria that cause it to spoil.

The whole processed chicken carcasses are then aged under refrigerated conditions to allow muscle fibers to relax which helps make chicken become more tender.

Water Chilling

Most chicken processors in the U.S. use a process called water chilling to quickly cool down the chicken.

Post inspection, the chickens are immersed in an ice cold bath of water mixed with chlorine and remain there for about an hour. The water in the bath is continually refreshed and it takes an average of seven gallons of water to process each chicken.

A chicken can absorb as much as 12% of its weight in added moisture during the water chilling process.  This is why there is little sponge like pads in fresh chicken packages – they are put there to absorb leaky water.

Consumers ultimately pay for this extra water weight which evaporates during the cooking process.

Air Chilling

An alternative cool down process called Air Chilling, standard in Europe and other parts of the world for decades, is now gaining popularity in the U.S.

In Air Chilling, chickens are individually hung by their feet to a rail system which moves through refrigerated chambers to quickly cool them down with cold dry air. The chickens “ride the rails” for over two hours and tenderize during the process.

Cleaner, Better Taste

Prior to cooking, Air Chilled Chickens look different with a more matte appearance and tighter skin. They have a cleaner taste that people describe as, “tasting like the way chicken used to taste”.

Research shows that air chilling leads to a better quality of breast filet meat. “In addition to improving meat quality,” says Dr. Julie Northcutt of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, “air chilling [also] provided higher cooked-meat yields than immersion chilling. Color and texture of skinless breast fillets were similar for both chilling methods.”

Northcutt’s research team believes that the lower cooked yield of the immersion-chilled fillets is the result of high moisture absorption during chilling, which is later cooked out of the product.

Air Chilling also reduces the spread of bacteria because the chickens are separated from each other when hung on the rails. It is estimated that air chilling saves about 30,000 gallons of chlorinated water a day. Roughly, 4.5 billion gallons of water per year could be saved if all chickens processed in the USA were air chilled – a definite plus for the environment.

Where to Buy

There are only a small number of companies that produce Air Chilled Chicken today so it can be hard to find in some areas. Consumers can buy it at specialty grocers such as Whole Foods Market, and through select boutique internet retailers.

Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions serves the commercial markets with Bell and Evans Air Chilled Chicken. We choose to represent them because their poultry is superior in quality and because they raise their chickens humanely in minimal-stress environments without hormones or antibiotics. Bell and Evans also has one of the most sophisticated air chilling systems in the country.

According to the National Chicken Council, the average American eats more than 90 pounds of chicken a year, yet many of us have yet to experience the natural flavor of Air Chilled Chicken. Restaurants can merchandise Air Chilled Chicken as a premium menu item; it has a unique story that will upgrade your poultry offerings as well as your profits.

Differentiate yourself with Air Chilled Chicken.

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From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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