Dateline: 15 July 2012
Updated: 26 June 2013
Updated: 26 June 2013
|Our Planet Whizbang poultry shrink bags can be used to make and package smaller poultry parts like shown here.|
The poultry bags we sell are sized and sold for bagging whole birds, as explained in This Photo Tutorial. However, we have recently discovered that our standard shrink bags can be made into smaller bags with an inexpensive impulse heat sealer, and small packages of poultry parts can be shrunk in hot water or in a hot oven. I see no reason why the techniques I’m about to show you can not be used to shrink-bag other kinds of meat, from pork chops to steaks and venison (but this technique is still in the experimental stages).
Toss The FoodSaver!
|This is our FoodSaver® vacuum sealer. It's a Professional II Turbo model. I wish I could say it is a dependable machine, but it isn't.|
In past years, my wife (Marlene) and I have used a FoodSaver® vacuum sealer to package meat for the freezer. A FoodSaver® is an expensive device that uses expensive bags. But worse than the expense, we have found the FoodSaver® to be a very tempermental machine. It will work great for awhile and then it refuses to suck air out of the bags, or it just stops working altogether because it has overheated. If you have a FoodSaver® you know the satisfaction and the frustration these machines can bring into the bagging operation.
The shrink-bagging techniques that follow came about after Marlene informed me that our FoodSaver® was, once again, on the fritz (and we bought the Turbo model!). After fussing with it for a few minutes, I wondered why we couldn’t just use our amazing Planet Whizbang shrink bags for packaging smaller parts.
I should explain that we had helped a friend process some of his pastured poultry and brought home ten chickens. After aging them in the fridge for three days, we decided to cut the chickens into legs, wings, and breasts, as I show in This Photo Essay (Marlene uses the necks and backs to make chicken stock as I explain in This Photo Essay). Here’s a picture of a beautiful pasture-raised chicken breast, ready to be bagged.
|A picture-perfect, pasture-raised chicken breast, ready for bagging & freezing|
How To Make Small Shrink Bags
Out Of Big Shrink Bags
Out Of Big Shrink Bags
Our round-bottom chicken shrink bags measure 10” x 16”. That’s a whole lot larger than a chicken breast. Not wanting to waste a whole bag for one little piece of meat, I decided to try using an inexpensive impulse heat sealer to see if I could make one chicken shrink bag into two smaller bags. Here’s a picture of the heat sealer.
|I used a 12" heat sealer just like this.|
I bought my heat sealer on Ebay a couple years ago for another purpose. The same model is currently available on Ebay for only $40 (and that price includes the cost of shipping).
It so happens that the impulse heat sealer does a great job of sealing the shrink bags. Here’s a picture of the chicken breast in a whole bag, and the bag over the sealer, ready to be heat-sealed.
|Here's a chicken breast in the bottom of one of our round-bottom chicken-size shrink bags, about to be heat-sealed.|
The impulse heat sealer has a dial with settings from 1 to 8. I put the dial at 5 and it seemed to do just fine there. To heat seal a bag, simply hold it over the heat bar, as shown in the picture above, and push the handle down against the bag. A small red light over the dial will come on to indicate that the heater is working. After the bag is sufficiently heat-sealed, the light goes off and you let off on the handle.
In order to get a good seal, the bag needs to be positioned flat (no wrinkles) on the bottom bar. It’s best to hold it in place with two hands. Then have someone else press down on the arm. Or, if you’re by yourself, you can use your chin to press the arm down (where there’s a will, there’s a way).
After the seal is made, cut away the excess bag material, leaving about 1/2” of bag beyond the seal. The section of bag that you cut away (approximately half the bag) can then be sealed on one end, thus creating another bag to hold your next chicken part. We were able to get two bags out of each chicken-size bag. Here’s a picture of three pairs of chicken legs bagged up and ready to heat shrink.
|Three bags of chicken legs, ready to shrink. You'll notice that we heat-sealed the bags up closer to the meat in this picture, making tighter bags. (click any of the pictures on this page to see an enlarged view)|
Heat-Shrinking Small Bags
With Hot Water
Before shrinking a bag in hot water, it is absolutely necessary that you pierce the bag with a knife (an approximately 3/8” long slice works well) in order to provide a way for air in the bag to escape when it shrinks.
|The sealed bag must be pierced with an air-vent hole prior to shrinking. A 3/8" long knife slice is ideal.|
Here’s a picture of me putting the bagged chicken breast down into the 190 to 200-degree water.
|Here I am dunking the chicken breast into hot water to shrink the bag tight. I like using the steamer basket, and the big spoon served to hold the package down while dunking.|
And here is a close-up of the shrunk chicken breast.
|That's a perfectly packaged chicken breast for you!|
As you probably know, the underside of the underlying bone that the breast meat is attached to is concave. The shrink bag did not shrink into the concave shape, as a vacuum bag would be more inclined to do. So there is a small hollow section with air in it on the underside of the bagged breast. But I don’t think that’s any problem.
Here’s a picture of a hot-water-shrunk bag of chicken legs.
|Two shrink-bagged legs. This is chicken packaging at it's very best.|
Shrinking small, heat-sealed bags of chicken parts in hot water worked well, but there is definitely a learning curve, just as there is when shrink-bagging whole birds. You want to submerge the bags in the hot water only long enough for the air bubbles to escape out of the bag, and no longer. If you leave the bag in the water any longer, some water may seep into the knife-sliced vent hole. And that’s not what you want, especially if your chicken parts were nicely air dried as was the case with the chickens we were bagging.
Small Bags of Chicken Parts
As I was shrinking bags in hot water I wondered if I might be able to accomplish the same results by placing the bagged chicken parts in a hot oven. That would be a whole lot easier than heating up a pot of hot water and dunking the bags. And there would then be no chance of introducing any water into a bag through the air-vent slice. And the outside of the bag would not need to be dried off before applying the freezer label (our freezer labels are not waterproof). So I set our kitchen oven to 450-degrees and waited for it to heat up.
I put a bagged chicken breast on a small cookie rack, pierced a vent-slice in it, opened the oven door, put the rack on the top shelf, and closed the door. The plastic immediately shriveled up. Fifteen seconds seemed like a good length of time, and I removed the rack with the bagged breast on it.
|Here you can clearly see the difference between chicken breasts shrink-bagged in hot water (left) and in the oven (right).|
The result was not exactly what I had hoped for. Instead of shrinking up smooth and tight to the skin of the bird, the oven-shrunk bag shrunk up less tightly and with ripples in the surface. Evidently, the pressure of water on a submerged bag serves an important smoothing function that can not be achieved by just applying oven-heat to the bag. The eye-appeal of a hot-water-shrunk bag is excellent, but the eye-appeal of an oven-shrunk bag is comparatively poor.
|Two chicken legs in an oven-shrunk bag.|
Nevertheless, under that wrinkled plastic exterior, the meat was still the same wholesome meat as under the better-looking bag. And, even with the wrinkles, the bags were shrunk and sealed very nicely. Marlene and I concluded that, for our own use, we don’t care if the outside appearance of the package is less appealing. The sheer convenience of oven shrinking small bags was enough to convince us that this is the way we’re going to do this from now on.
|Ten chickens were reduced to a big pan of packaged parts, all nicely shrink-bagged.|
Another Oven-Shrinking Session
A couple weeks after our first experience with oven-shrinking bags of chicken parts, we cut up and shrink-bagged 13 more chickens using oven heat. Eight of the chickens were for our friend, Sandy, who came to watch and help. Sandy was impressed with how easy it was to seal and shrink the bags of parts. And she didn’t seem to mind that the bags had some surface ripples. Here’s a big bag of Sandy’s chicken wings that was oven shrunk, in 15 seconds.
|This bag of wings was oven shrunk... 15 seconds is all it takes.|
We did have a little problem with the impulse heat sealer during the second bagging session. It was not sealing the bags very well. I’m not sure what the problem was but the sealer came with two spare heating strips. So I installed a new one, and the machine worked perfectly again. The replacement required only a phillips screwdriver and took about 5 minutes. I should point out that the heat sealer was used quite a bit a couple years ago and I haven't had any previous problems with it.
Also, after the bagged chickens have been in the freezer for awhile, I've noticed that the freezer-adhesive labels are not sticking as well to the oven-shrunk bags. The rippled surface isn't the best to stick a label on. But the labels have not fallen off—they are just loose. I think that if we make a point of smoothing them down real well (something that wasn't done) with finger pressure when they're first applied, that will help them stick better.
16 July 2012
|Our poultry shrink bags work nicely for blueberries too, and the heat gun seems to work better than an oven.|
After reading the above essay, my friend Tom Quinn e-mailed me to suggest that a heat gun might work to shrink the bagged chicken parts better than a hot oven. I didn't have any more chicken parts to shrink, but I had 20 pounds of blueberries that Marlene and I picked this morning.
Marlene usually puts the blueberries in quart-size ziplock bags, and then into the freezer. I was keen to try the heat gun/shrink bag idea.
I can tell you that one chicken-size shrink bag will make two bags that will each hold a quart of berries. And they shrink up real nice with a heat gun. If you heat more on one side of the bag than the other, it will have a curl to it, but that's just a cosmetic thing. The berries are not damaged by the shrinking or the heating, and there is less air in the shrunk bag than in a sealed ziplock bag.
I will definitely be trying the heat gun on my next batch of chicken parts for the freezer. I think the bags will shrink smoother than they do in the oven.
26 June 2013
After further experimentation with the heat gun, I have come to the conclusion that it is the absolute best way to shrink-bag chicken parts. Click Here to read a photo-essay with more details about using a heat gun for shrinking.
If you want to shrink-bag chicken parts (or blueberries) I hope this little report has inspired you to do some experimenting on your own. I think you’ll be pleased with the results. I’d love to hear about any discoveries you make in this area of shrink bagging meat for the home freezer. Contact me at: email@example.com
|Close-up of shrink-bagged blueberries.|