Step 8
Remove The Viscera

In the previous step I showed you how to open up the back end of the chicken. Now it’s time to remove the viscera, which is to say, the internal organs, which is to say, the guts. It would be nice if, once the chicken was opened up, you could simply tip it up and shake everything out, sort of like dumping out the contents of a bag of potato chips. But it doesn’t work that way. Unless you happen to develop some sort of homemade Whizbang Vacuum Gut Sucker (and I want to see it when you do), you’re going to have to reach your hand into the body cavity of the bird and pull the guts out. It’s not nearly as fun as pulling potato chips out of the bag, but it’s something you must do and, trust me, you can do it!

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In the above picture, I am about to plunge my hand into the body cavity of the bird. And you will notice that my plunging hand is bare. Gloves are for sissies.


Please note also that there is no bright yellow chicken fat on the flap of skin I am holding up in the top of the picture. There was a pad of the fat on that part of the chicken in the previous step, where I made a knife slice (go back and look). But I removed the fat from the upper flap of skin. I did not remove it by cutting it off. Instead, I simply inserted my little finger along one side of the cut, into the body cavity, up behind the pad of fat, and pulled it loose. That yellow fat seen in the picture above, in front of my fingertips, is the pad of fat that was on the flap. You don’t have to remove the fat before you eviscerate the chicken. You could do it afterwards too. Or, if you like chicken fat, you could just leave it there.

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When I first started butchering chickens, I couldn’t imagine that my hand would ever fit into the small bird’s body cavity. But it does. My hands are not small and they are not large. They are average man’s hands, and they will, indeed, fit into the chicken. Even larger hands will too.

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You want to insert your flat hand, fingertips first, up into the top of the bird (which is on its back) as shown in the pictures. Keep your fingertips tight to the bird’s breastbone (also called the "keel.". The objective here is to reach in slow, deep, over the top of the guts, towards the front end of the bird.

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When you have reached in as far as you can go, curl your fingertips down, so you are grasping a good handful of guts. Then, pull out slow, straight, and steady. Don’t squish your fingertips around because you don’t want to break the gall bladder (more about this shortly).

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In the picture above, I am extracting a handful of guts. Here’s another, more graphic, angle on the handful of guts:

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I understand there are people who can reach all the way into the chicken and pull all the innards out in a single, deft scooping movement. I’m not one of them. But I typically get most everything. The biggest organ in there is the gizzard. You can’t miss it. One of the smaller organs in there is the gall bladder. It is a little green-colored sac located between the two lobes of liver.


As you are slowly and steadily extracting the handful of guts, you should be looking at what you’ve got in your hand. Yes, you must look. What you are looking for is the green gall bladder. You are looking for it to make sure it is not broken and that you do nothing to break it. Here’s some guts with the gall bladder:

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I’m pointing at the gall baldder. It is a distinctive green color (the only green organ you’ll encounter) because it is full of green fluid. The fluid is bile. The liver makes bile and stores it in the gall bladder. If you break the gall bladder inside the bird, the thin green fluid will quickly run out and contaminate the meat.


If you reach in far, and you are gentle and steady in your reaching, grasping, and gut-extracting, you are not likely to break the gall bladder. I’ve never broken a gall bladder inside the bird.

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The above picture shows what you are faced with at the chicken carcass after you have extracted your handful of guts. The handful of guts is just out of sight on the left of the photo.


That thing over my thumb in the picture is the crop which was loosened back in Step 4. The crop, you will remember, is connected to the gizzard, which is out of sight in my hand. The crop has pulled right down through the neck and out the back end. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and that’s the way it will work if you loosen the crop before removing the viscera.


Also visible in the picture above is the bird’s large intestine. It is still connected to the vent, and that’s exactly where it should be. Once the guts are clear of the bird, and the intestine to the vent is clearly visible, you need to lay the gut pile down, away from the bird, and cut around the vent.

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The picture above shows the gut pile separate from the body on the left. In my holding hand I have the intestine (out of sight) and am grasping above the vent. I have already used the knife to slice down to one side of the vent, being careful not to cut into the intestine (that’s why it’s in my hand), and I am finishing by cutting down and under on the other side of the vent.

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And there you have it: gut pile, intestine and cleanly detached vent. No FEMAT (Fecal Material) has escaped and contaminated the bird.


Now we need to attend to the removal of the remaining internal organs…

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With everything removed, there is now all kinds of room inside the body cavity. But everything really isn’t removed. The heart and lungs are still there.

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Reach in and you will find the heart in the center of the bird’s chest. Pull it out. The heart is roughly the size of the end of a man’s thumb. My little finger in the picture above is pointing to a removed heart. The two darker organs by the heart are livers. In my hand I am holding a lung. Lungs are bright pink.


Lungs are not easily grasped because they are spongy and molded tight to the ribs of the bird on either side of its backbone. You can scrape lungs out with your fingertips or a lung removal tool. However, I have found that, instead of scraping to remove the lungs, they come out much better if I use a finger to slide down under each lung and lift it out. That is easier said than done. But it can be done and after a few dozen birds, you’ll be better at it.


Regardless of how you remove the lungs, the task is a whole lot easier with a blast of fresh water.

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A sink faucet comes in mighty handy when removing lungs AND for flushing out all the other little bits and pieces that cling to the inside of the bird. With the faucet in the neck opening, as shown above, I let the water blast and use my finger tips to scrape and swish and clean.

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You can also run a flushing stream of water into the posterior opening, like shown above, but I don’t recommend it. The water does not flow out the neck as well as out the back end, and little pieces of viscera tend to cling to the skin around the neck, thus requiring more cleaning on your part.

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That’s the gut bucket. It is positioned right next to where I am butchering the bird. I’ll tell you what to do with the contents in Step 9.

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And there is a picture of the gutted chicken. Notice how the skin drapes down over the opening so nicely? If I had made my initial opening slice in the bird (Step 7) higher up (further away from the vent, that nice flap of skin would not be there. That’s why I make the cut where I do. Also, you’ll find that flap of skin makes a real nice handhold, as can be seen in the first picture in Step 9.

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Before finishing this step, I want to show you the chicken’s gizzard. The picture above is of three gizzards. A whole gizzard is on the bottom. It comes out of the chicken with some fat stuck to it. I’ve cleaned it off for the picture. The middle gizzard has been cut open and you can see the contents. There is grass and stones in there.


Sometimes you’ll find surprises in gizzards. Chickens peck and swallow all kinds of things. I’ve found small pieces of metal and rounded bits of glass. Whether you eat the gizzards or not, if you have kids, show them inside the gizzard and let them cut a few open.


The top gizzard has been washed out. The yellow you see is the tough inner lining. You can peel the tough lining off and cook the gizzards. People also eat the livers and hearts. My family does not eat these organ meats. If times ever got hard, we would eat the organs (and probably the feet too), and we’d be glad to have them. But, until then, we just enjoy the body meat.


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Click Here to go to Step 9:Clean Up & Chill
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Click Here to read Herrick Kimball's other poultry-related essays.
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20 comments:

Jo said...

We learned from a conservative Mennonite family who used to butcher our chickens for us, to cut a horizontal slit in that hanging flap of skin and tuck the legs inside (if we're not planning to cut them up). It makes them look nice and they fit in the bag better too.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Jo,

Nice tip.
Thanks for posting it!

Randy said...

We didn't eat the organs on the first batch of meat birds we processed. Then we learned about The Weston A. Price Foundation (www.westonaprice.org), they strongly advocate the nutirion in traditional diets which includes organ meats (such as chicken livers, hearts, and gizzards).

When we slaughtered some old layers recently, we saved their livers. I would never eat a store-bought chicken liver, but I gladly ate ours with super high vitamin A and D content.

Last night we slaughtered 9 of our meat birds (9 more this Saturday) and our friend helped us identify the heart and gizzard to showed us how to prepare it. He said that the gizzard is where all the vitamins are absorbed into the bird from the feed. I guess that the heart would have a high volume of iron.

My wife was unsure about the livers, but she's a believer now. She's unsure about the hearts and gizzards, but if I like them, she'll give them a shot. I'll have some for lunch on Saturday. Apparently, some old-timers put fried chicken hearts on their scrambled eggs and said it tasted like sausage.

I was hunting for some how-to info a year ago, but I couldn't find anything online. Thank you for posting this, my friends that are getting into home grown meat because of us will be a leg up from where we were. But you can't knock the value of experience.

Thanks for your writing. Keep up the good work!

therealbrewer said...

Let me first say that I think what you are doing is great. Teaching your children things that most kids these days never learn is exceptional. We would all be healthier if more people raised more of their own food and stopped buying factory grown meat.

However, I have to say that I think it is wasteful and frankly disrespectful to the birds that you do not eat the hearts, livers and gizzards. Clearly you are not squeamish about doing it, otherwise you wouldn't be able to slaughter the birds in the first place. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but from what you have written it seems as though you simply feel that the organ meat is somehow a lower class of meat, something to be utilized when times are hard. The truth is that the organs of home raised chickens are highly nutritious and very tasty. You are frankly throwing gold away.

If you or your family don't care for the flavor of the organs, then you should invest a little time and effort into learning how to prepare them correctly. My kids literally will fight me for my breaded and pan fried chicken livers. And my wife, who never willingly ate liver as a child, is quite fond of them too. At the very least the hearts and gizzards should be added to your stock pot. (Liver will make it bitter.) Chicken liver pate is also great at parties - ask your guest to guess what it is and you might be amazed how many people love it, including those who might nt have tried it if you told them up front what it was.

I think the reason that so many people today are unfamiliar with and/or uncomfortable with eating organ meat is that they are so far separated from the butchering process. You are clearly not, so you ought to more fully embrace what you are doing. Plus it's another lesson for the kids - waste not, want not.

Thanks for the website, and keep up the good work.

Davis said...

I just finished butchering two of our chickens using the information on your website and it helped a great deal. I've never seen anyone butcher a chicken, this was my first time, it went fairly smoothly. But I do have some concerns. After I opened up the back end of the bird I was confronted with a great deal of yellow fat that wrapped the organs and filled the cavity. Looking at your pictures I don't see nearly as much in your bird. I want to make sure that the bird we hope to eat is healthy. Thanks.

linda said...

How can I thank you enough for helping us get the courage up to butcher our first rooster, before the nighbors butchered us. And you were right, It wasn't as bad as we thought, either.

Many thanks for the help

Linda Frost

Matt said...

Great website. You put a lot of work into it, and it really is well done. Your info is very helpful for people like me who don't live in the country and have no neighbors to ask questions about butchering chickens. Thanks so much for imparting us all with your knowledge and experience. Just had our first homegrown chicken dinner last night!

scott said...

I worked for a leading chicken processor on one of their R&D farms. I find this website great, and I find it great your children participate. One of my jobs was to dissect chickens to weigh the fat and breast meat for figuring feed conversion (how much feed the chicken converted to meat). Personally, I don't like the taste of liver, but I do love gizzards. They are great finger foods. Same with hearts. I eat them breaded and fried. Give them a try.

Jessica said...

Being raised vegetarian, I was unsure of how to even cook chicken until recently. I bought one from a local farm today and had no idea how to identify the internal organs before reading your post. Thanks for the great descriptions and pictures!

greendarkchocolate42 said...

throw the heart and gizzard into the stew pot and when the delicious broth is done to perfection you will have tender and tasty treats of heart and gizzard. i LOVE quick-frying the liver in a hot pan with just a hint of chicken fat or butter. mmm...
prepping to butcher this sat.

Tester said...

I want to thank you as well for the wonderful instructions, and photos! We have so far slaughtered 7 of our chickens. I had to send my partner into the house to re-check the visuals on your site when I eviserated the first one, and everything has worked as you desribed. And the first one we roasted was incredible! Oh, my, compared to supermarket factory farmed chicken... shudder. I do have a question similar to another poster... the last two chickens had large amounts of solid yellow fat in the abdominal cavity... that wasn't there in the first 5. Is this normal (perhaps because the birds are a little older?). Should I be concerned. Really really appreciate your web site!

Tester said...

I want to thank you as well for the wonderful instructions, and photos! We have so far slaughtered 7 of our chickens. I had to send my partner into the house to re-check the visuals on your site when I eviserated the first one, and everything has worked as you desribed. And the first one we roasted was incredible! Oh, my, compared to supermarket factory farmed chicken... shudder. I do have a question similar to another poster... the last two chickens had large amounts of solid yellow fat in the abdominal cavity... that wasn't there in the first 5. Is this normal (perhaps because the birds are a little older?). Should I be concerned. Really really appreciate your web site!

d.m said...

I learned the day I shot my one and only deer that liver is good the same day. I think the reason most people don't like liver is because any liver bought from a store is at least two or three days old. Butchering your own is about the only way to get a really fresh one. I'd be curious to hear if some of you try it.

dodacasper said...

To Tester. I'm thinking it is just abdominal fat. you had morbidaly fat chickens! Makes good stock. If its runny its bad. Thats what I get out of all I have read. Even the store bought chickens have abdominal fat and i cut that out.

Elaine said...

Well, that's kinda what I thought, but my chickens have hardly any other fat on them. They make terrific gravy from the pan juices and I never have to pour off the fat. That's why I thought this was so weird... can't find anything else on the internet...

Jill said...

I had some people "help" me the first time I butchered my chickens, saying that they were experienced. Turned out not to be so. We had a lot of mishaps, and several times the gallbladder was broken and spilled inside the bird, dying it green. I could not afford, nor even bear to give up as many birds as were improperly butchered, so I froze them all. Since freezing, I have only noticed discoloration on one bird. I cooked it anyway, and it tasted just like all the other birds.

moonkatt said...

Hello! I just wanted to say thanks for your helpful blog! im new to cleaning chickens, first i couldnt dare and now im getting better and identifying the parts thanks to what ive seen on your tutorial!(still have a hard time looking at the eyes and head) although i buy already quite clean carcasses for the dog i clean them and chop them up even more... and the viscera always seemed something to take out before serving it even to the dog! so looking for info came across your blog and was inspired hehe anyhow just wanted to thank you and congratulate you on your website! :)

Tom the Blacksmith said...

Thanks for the helpful information!

You wrote "People also eat the livers and hearts. My family does not eat these organ meats."

I think you are missing out on a real treat!

Here's what I do, you may want give it a try sometime: Clean out the gizzard, rinse heart and liver well. Peel the tough inner skin from the gizzard and discard. Cut all into bite-sized pieces. Marinate pieces overnight in a mixture of olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, a bit of "no-salt" seasoning mix, and a little bit of freshly cracked black pepper... or whatever spices you like.

Next morning, toss the pieces in a mixture of flour and corn meal and then saute them gently in a covered pan, using some of the marinade for cooking, just until the breading is browned. If cooked gently the heart and liver will be very tender, and delicious. The gizzard may be a little more chewy, but still delicious. You can also keep the different organ parts separated the first time, to see which you like best for next time.

If your mom ever fed you super tough "store bought" chicken organs that gagged you as a child, you will be really surprised... there is no comparison whatsoever to these flavorful and nutritious delicacies.

Michael Sterling said...

Very Educational. Good Work.

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