Delivering high-quality pasture-raised meats is our top priority here at Maple Wind Farm. And one of the ways we ensure that you get the best quality Vermont chicken is by using air chilling.
The USDA requires that the temperature of a chicken carcass be lowered to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (or below) in just a few hours. This helps prevent the growth of bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses and is an important step to ensure food safety.
So how do we manage this temperature reduction? In our industry, there are two ways to cool birds: water chill and air chill.
Air chilling is a common method that’s been used for decades in Europe. But most poultry processors in the United States still use ice water to chill their birds (though air chilling is starting to trend more here in the states).
Air chilling is the method we use for our birds, and you may have noticed the “air-chilled” label on our chicken packaging. But what exactly does air-chilled chicken mean?
What is Air Chilled Chicken?
Most chicken producers use ice water baths to cool their chickens, which requires dunking the chickens in vats of ice water. And while cooling chickens in water does the trick, it also causes the chicken to absorb excess water.
It might seem like added moisture would be a good thing in a chicken, but this added water can negatively impact the quality of the meat.
We stopped cooling our chickens in water baths years ago and now we only air-chill our chickens. We’ve already given so much energy to raising our chickens on fresh Vermont pasture -- why reduce the meat quality at the very end of the process?
When a chicken is air chilled, the carcass is blasted with purified cold air in a designated air chill chamber. No water. Only cold air.
Here’s exactly how it works on our farm.
Once our birds are killed, defeathered, and cleaned, we put them in plastic crates with holes that allow for optimal airflow. These crates are then moved to our carefully monitored temperature-controlled air chill chamber in the barn. They stay there overnight until they are properly cooled and ready for packaging. Our team oversees this process from start to finish to ensure proper food safety.
We’re proud to offer you the added quality and value of air-chilled chicken. When you learn exactly what air-chilled chicken means, you’ll start to notice the difference.
We’re dedicated to air chilling our chickens because the added value is worth it. Here are five reasons why air-chilled chicken is better for your body, your pocketbook, and the planet.
#1 Better Flavor and Texture
Water chilled chicken absorbs portions of water that alter both the flavor and texture of the meat. But air-chilled chicken perfectly preserves the tender, flavorful quality of our pasture-raised chickens.
Once you start cooking it, you can tell the difference between water-logged chicken meat.
When a water-chilled chicken retains water, it dilutes the natural flavors of the chicken. This water also makes it more difficult for the chicken meat to take on added spices or marinade flavors.
An air-chilled chicken is just pure chicken meat, packed with the natural goodness from the pasture and ready for your favorite seasoning.
The added moisture in water chilled chicken also evaporates out of the meat during cooking, creating tough, dry meat. Air chilled chicken is much more likely to stay tender and juicy. This is especially true on a hot cooking source like the grill.
But one of the most delicious benefits of air-chilled chicken is the bird’s skin. Since air-chilled chicken skin stays taught and doesn’t get soggy from the water bath, it’s ideal for getting the crispy, golden exterior that all cooks aim for. You should always choose air-chilled chicken if you’re roasting a whole bird or craving crispy drumsticks and chicken wings.
#2 Faster Cooking Time
Water-chilled chickens fill up with extra moisture that can impact the chicken’s cooking time. As this water evaporates it can take longer for the chicken to cook and leave the meat shrunken with a rubbery texture.
The air-chilled chicken will cook faster because it doesn’t have this extra moisture in the bird. So if you’re tight on time for dinner or looking for quick and easy meal prep, air-chilled chicken is your best choice.
And the result will taste better, perfect for those time-saving leftovers.
#3 Better Value
When you buy air-chilled chicken, you’re only paying for chicken. We don’t want to sell you anything else but pure pasture-raised meat.
Meanwhile, water-chilled chicken absorbs the extra weight of the water (up to 8% by weight!) in the cooling process. If the meat is priced by weight, this added water factors into the cost. With water-chilled chicken, you end up paying extra for the water weight in the bird.
We’re here to sell you chicken, not water. So you can always trust that our air-chilled chickens are the best value for you and your family.
#4 Lower Risk of Contamination
Water-chilled chickens are cooled together in an ice bath. But there is a risk associated with this.
Because if any one of those birds in the water bath has a contaminant like bacteria, it’s likely to affect the other birds in the communal water bath. The risk of cross-contamination is much higher in water-chilled chickens.
Air chilled chickens are cooled individually, avoiding this risk of cross-contamination. Air chilling makes it much less likely for bacteria to spread among the chickens.
This safer method seems like a no-brainer. We put in the extra effort to limit contamination so that we can all have peace of mind when it comes to food safety.
(A note: our team is always monitoring our chickens, even in the air chilled process, for contaminants. We dedicate extensive time to cleaning the bird, taking temperatures, and following other extensive USDA protocols in our certified meat processing plant. Proper food handling and inspection is a top commitment of ours on the farm.)
#5 Conserves Water
Water is a valuable natural resource that is becoming scarce for many around the world. We choose to conserve water whenever we can because it’s the right thing to do for our environment.
Transitioning from water-chilled chicken to air-chilled chicken has saved thousands of gallons of water at the farm.
Every drop of water is precious. Air chilled chicken allows us to conserve water while still meeting the same safety standards for our meat.
We hope that this small decision will make a big difference, whether that’s today or someday down the road.
Air Chilled Chicken, Always
Our Maple Wind Farm chicken is always air-chilled in our USDA-certified facility in Richmond, Vermont.
This process may seem like a small part of what we do here at the farm, but it makes a big difference.
Air chilled chicken preserves the unique flavors from our Vermont pasture, creating an exceptional product for you and your family. And all while prioritizing the health and safety of our products and the planet.
So next time you see “air-chilled” on a Maple Wind Farm label, we hope you’ll have a better understanding of what air-chilled chicken means and an appreciation for its added value.
And if you haven’t tried our air-chilled, pasture-raised chicken yet (or you just need a re-stock), you can place an order for our air-chilled chicken on our website.
As always, we’re here for you if you have any questions about our chickens, our meat processing facility, or our air chilling methods. We want you to feel connected to where your meat comes from, and we’re always happy to keep you in the know.