Air Chilled Chicken – Does it Really Make a Difference?


Air Chilled Poultry vs Water Chilled Poultry – what’s the dish?

Have you seen chicken labelled as “air chilled” in the store or online?

Have you wondered what it means?

Have you wondered if there is really any difference at all?

The breakdown of the methodology is here, and yes, there is a difference.

Water Chilling

The Canadian Department of Agriculture mandates that, for safety sake and the prevention of bacteria growth leading to food borne illnesses, all poultry must be chilled immediately after evisceration to a temperature of 40F. 

Most processors, in the interest of speed and lower cost, use vats of ice-cold water – and, while effective, this does allow the chickens to absorb water – mostly in the skin.  Studies have shown that water-chilled chicken does absorb 2 – 12% of its total body weight in water as an average. 

While there are some who may believe that adding water (moisture) to chicken is a good thing, it actually dilutes the flavour, makes the meat soggy, prevents the skin from crisping when roasted (who doesn’t love the look of that golden brown skin?), and actually adds weight to the bird – which you, the consumer then pay for! 

There is also the risk of cross contamination, because multiple birds are cooled in the same vat of water.  To counteract this, food-safe chlorine (bleach) is added to the water – which can also then be absorbed into the chicken, which can further affect the end taste of your recipes.

For this reason, ButcherBox.ca chose long ago to only provide air chilled chicken – read on for the benefits!

Air Chilling

Air chilling involves suspending the birds individually from a track that moves through several chilling chambers. 

There can be 2 or 3 chambers used, each continuously cycling cold, purified air through the room and over the birds.  The entire process can take up to 3 ½ hours, which is much longer than the water chilling process, but many industry leaders, professional chefs and home kitchen masters, including us at Butcher Box feel it is worth the longer time for the higher quality end product.

Not only is no water absorbed with the air chilling process – which does add up to an average of 2 – 12% body weight to the bird; no chlorine is needed or absorbed, and no cross contamination can occur, as each bird is suspended individually – they don’t touch! 

No added weight means you pay for the chicken you are actually getting, and there is none of that reddish pink watery liquid that you often see in many packages of grocery store chicken. 

Crispy Golden Skin

Air chilled chicken tends to cook faster and more evenly than its water-chilled counterpart, after all, there is no excess water to steam out of it before it cooks.  Best of all is the skin – crispy, golden brown, picture perfect, mouth watering – the saliva of everyone looking at your roasted chicken is the only water you want….

 Better for the Environment

Air chilling also brings environmental benefits.  The method uses much less water, which saves tens of thousands of gallons on a given day.  

Estimates are that, if every processor used air chilling, the country as a whole could save billions of gallons of water a year.  While more energy is used for air chilling than for water chilling, there is nothing that shows it is anywhere near the same amount as water used for water chilling.

Butcher Box is proud to be a provider of air chilled chicken, not just for quality, but also because we believe in doing every single thing we can to preserve this world for future generations, and practicing greener behaviours whenever we can.

Make the Change

Air chilling has been a practice in Europe since the 1960s, but only introduced in North America in 1998.  There are many chefs (and amateurs) who believe that air-chilled chicken simply tastes better.  And food scientist Harold McGee (author of “On Food and Cooking”) agrees with them.  The natural juices are not diluted, so the meat has a true “buttery” flavour and texture.

Over the last several years consumers have become more concerned about how chickens are raised, looking for free range, naturally raised, local product.  To be truly thoughtful, we should consider the processing of the product, as well.  That’s why at Butcher Box we are proud to offer locally farmed, naturally raised, free range poultry that never sees any added hormones, steroids, antibiotics or GMO product AND is air – chilled, too! 

Healthy, safe, better tasting, better cooking, environmentally friendlier, locally sourced, this is how chicken should be.