Are Air Chilled Chickens Better?
Consumer's buying chicken in the grocery store have a wide range of choices including: "free range", "organic", "fresh", "no antibiotics" and increasingly, "air chilled."
Air chilled chickens are still fairly uncommon in the U.S but they are increasing in popularity and are making there way to some of the fancier supermarkets. So what is "air chilled" chicken and is it better?
After chickens are slaughtered they need to be rapidly cooled in order to keep bacteria levels to a minimum. The U.S. Department of agriculture requires that chickens be cooled to 40 F within four to six hours. Typically, this is done by immersing the chickens in a bath of chlorinated ice water.
However, in Canada and much of Europe, the preferred process is to place the chickens on a conveyor and move them through a refrigerated chamber. With air chilling, the chickens don't get placed in water, they remain dry. To see a video of air chilling, check out this video of an air chilling room
Advantages of Air Chilling
Many studies have shown little difference in pathogen levels between water immersion and air chilled chickens. From the perspective of a consumer, perhaps the most important reason to prefer air chilling is that they are said to taste better.
Chickens processed using water immersion absorb water from the bath. This can account for anywhere between can 2-12% of their final weight at the supermarket. The additional water is said to negatively effect the flavor of the meat and the ability of the skin to crisp up in the oven.
Chickens Put To The Test
In an article published on September 1, 2012, Cook's Illustrated Magazine showed taste test results for various brands of whole chickens available in grocery stores. Eight large national or regional brands were purchased at supermarkets, seasoned lightly and then cooked. The two brands that received the highest marks among testers were Mary's Free Range Air Chilled and Bell & Evans Premium Air Chilled.
What's Your Opinion
We routinely purchase Mary's Air chilled chickens and do find that they taste better. If you have tried air chilled chicken, let us know your opinion by posting a comment.