There’s always a ton of considerations consumers should consider when going to buy chicken. Shoppers have become accustomed to seeing buzzwords like “free range” and “organic” slapped onto most packaging. We’ve all become conditioned to believe that as long as something falls into one of these categories, that it’s the most healthy or ecologically friendly option available. And while it’s true that it’s important to consider most of these designations, one of the most important differentiators for fresh poultry is actually little known, yet hugely significant…certified air chilled chicken.
But what exactly is air chilled chicken?
Air Chilled Chicken, Explained
Simply put, “air chilled” refers to a step in the processing of poultry. It has nothing to do with how the chicken was raised or farmed. In a nutshell, it’s essential that within 4 hours of the slaughter of poultry that it gets cooled down to a temperature of at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This is done in order to prevent the growth and spread of dangerous bacteria like salmonella.
There are 2 ways to achieve this cooling process in the given timeframe; by air chilling the chicken, or by soaking it immediately in icy cold water.
Dunking the poultry in chilly water is the most common method used, especially in the United States. Large vats of cold and icy dechlorinated water are used to quickly cool down the poultry. It’s an efficient and easy procedure that has been the standard practice pretty much forever in the United States.
Air chilling the chicken is a slightly longer and more arduous process; it can take up to 3 hours to fully complete, and generally involves the use of freezers and/or blasts of purified air that serves to cool down the body temperature of the chicken below the 40 degree threshold, one bird at a time. This process was originally perfected in Europe for decades, and only recently have a few American companies become privy to the obvious benefits of air chilling chicken, and have started to implement it in farms and processing plants across the country.
The Benefits of Air Chilled Chicken
Air chilled chicken is the most sanitary option available when it comes to buying fresh poultry. With the water-cooling method, large amounts of chicken are soaked in the same vat of water, and the carcass and skin of the birds end up absorbing large volumes of the water itself, an intake of gross and unsavory fluids. Ever notice an odd, pinkish liquid sitting in the packaging of the chicken breast you purchased at the super market? Yup, it’s a disgusting byproduct of the water cooling process.
With air chilling, there is no such absorption risk. In fact, poultry that is air chilled will often lose water during the cooling process, which means that it can be prepared faster and is more tender yet juicy once cooked. Reduced amounts of moisture in the chicken leads to crisper skin, and just a better tasting chicken. For the tastiest chicken you can get, it simply has to be air-chilled.
Air chilled chicken also gets consumers better bang for their buck. With water cooling, up to 10% of the product that you’re buying can be saturated with excess water. You might purchase a pound of chicken at a marked up price, but in reality 10% of that weight will be lost once the absorbed water leaks out, and the chicken shrinks upon cooking. Not ideal. And while air chilling poultry is a longer, more manual process and can come attached with a bit of a higher price tag, it’s worth it.
Environmental benefits are also another major boon when it comes to air chilled chicken versus water-cooled birds. Thousands of gallons of water are wasted with the water cooling method, and when you think about the sheer number of chickens in grocery stores around the country, you get a better idea of just how much excess water waste is produced with it. Air chilled chicken wastes absolutely no water in the process.
For delicious poultry that is easy to cook and has an excellent and succulent flavor, there really is only one way to go. Just check the label to ensure that the chicken is air-chilled.
The environment and your taste buds will thank you.
Brands and Retailers that Sell Air Chilled Chicken
Ok, so you’ve become convinced that air-chilled chicken is the way to go. But what common brands found in stores air chill their products? Keep an eye out for these brands.
- Bell and Evans air chills all of their chicken!
- Whole Foods branded packaged chicken.
- Mary’s Chicken is a family owned brand that takes their poultry seriously.
- Trade Joe’s has packaged poultry that is air chilled, just check the labels.
- Perdue, one of the most popular chicken brands, also has air chilled chicken options.
- D’Artagnan has air chilled options in markets across the nation or directly for wholesale.
Don’t see an air-chilled label on the package? Chances are high that it’s been water cooled.