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Here's How
To Shrink-Bag A Chicken...

(you can click any of the pictures on this page to see an enlarged view)

sealed end view of a shrink-bagged chicken
If you have never shrink-bagged a chicken, it’s about time you learned. The following step-by-step photo tutorial shows exactly how it’s done. The same process applies to shrink-bagging larger birds.

First, you will need a big pot of clean hot water to dunk the bagged chicken into. A propane-fueled turkey deep-fryer, like shown in the picture below will do the job just fine.  

If you happen to have a thermostatically controlled Whizbang Chicken Scalder, you can clean and disinfect it after processing your birds, then refill with clean water, reset the temperature controls (proper temperature is discussed next), and use that for shrink-bagging your chickens.


The manufacturer of our shrink-bags recommends a water temperature of 180 degrees. I have successfully shrink-bagged birds at 190 to 200 degrees.


After processing your birds and cooling them down in some sort of cold-water chill tank, excess water must be drained off the bird and out of the body cavity. The picture below shows a batch of chickens draining on a homemade PVC drain rack (picture from WhizbangChickenPluckers).


In the next picture you can better see how the PVC rack is put together. This particular rack was made by Lewis Rave, of Jasper, Minnesota.


Once your chicken is sufficiently chilled and drip-dry, put it into the bag head-end first. You can, of course, also just put the bags over the chicken while they are propped up on the drain rack, as shown in the picture before last.


Bunch the open end of the bag together down tight to the chicken and twist the bag around several times as shown in the next picture. It is important to note that a chicken shrink-bags best when it is past the stiff (rigor mortis) stage of its afterlife—a stiff bird does not compress and bag as well as a flexible bird.


Some people use metal hog rings to secure the twisted bag. Hog rings work real well, but you need special pliers to crimp the rings. Another option is to use inexpensive 4” plastic “zip ties” as shown in this picture.


You can use a pair of pliers to get a grip on the zip tie and pull it tight...


This next picture shows the chicken all bagged and zip-tied


Once bagged and zip-tied the bird is NOT yet ready to dunk in the hot water. There is one more very important thing that needs to be done. The bag must be pierced to create a vent hole. 

Without this vent hole, air in the bag will not be able to escape as the bag shrinks tight to the chicken. Without a vent hole, you will end up with something like a chicken in a bubble, and you don’t want that.

A pin hole is not sufficient for proper venting. You need a slice about 3/8” long. A little bit less or a little bit more is okay. In the following picture I’m making the slice with a Chicago Cutlery 7” boning knife, which happens to be my favorite chicken butchering knife.

Some people employ an inexpensive, disposable wallpapering knife with the break-off tips to pierce the bag. These knives are available with a 3/8” wide blade, so you get a perfect vent slice every time.

Where you pierce the bag is important. I suggest you pierce it in the center of the breast, as shown in the picture below.


Now it’s shrink time! 
In the picture below, I am about to dunk the chicken down into the hot water. Those insulated rubber gloves are real handy around hot water. I use them for scalding chickens prior to plucking and they are kind of grimy. A cleaner pair just for shrink-bagging would be a good idea. The reason you might want to use insulated gloves is that the hot water tends to bubble up some as a bag is lowered in and air is forced out the vent hole. Be careful!

Lower the bagged bird down into the water slowly, leave it submerged for two or three seconds, and take it out. You want to dunk down past the twist tie but try not to dunk so far that the loosed end of the bag goes under water. This will assure that no water can channel down into the bag above the zip-tie. After shrink-bagging 3 or 4 birds, you’ll get the hang of it and be an expert.

Re-dunking is not recommended because it can introduce water into the bag through the vent hole.


Once the bag with bird has been "dunked and shrunked," trim off excess plastic above the zip-tie. Scissors will do the job. Leave a pigtail at least 1” long. And while you’re at it, snip the excess zip-tie tail down so it looks nice and neat.


The picture below shows the vent hole after the bag has been shrunk. This hole should be covered with freezer tape or a label with freezer adhesive.


Before applying tape or a label, the surface of the bag must be dry. A paper towel will absorb water and dry the area just fine...


The labels I used on the bagged chickens in this tutorial are not mine. They are sample labels that were sent to me by Stu McCarty at Grower’s Discount Labels. If you want custom labels with freezer adhesive for our poultry, I highly recommend Grower’s Discount Labels.

Freezer adhesive is important because you don’t want the labels to fall off when the chicken is frozen. If you don’t have a freezer adhesive on your labels, they will fall off.

It is important to note here that the freezer labels are not waterproof. Therefore, do not label the bird and put it back in a chill tank of water. If you do that,the label will fail and water will enter into the bag through the vent hole.


Here’s a beauty shot of the shrink-bagged chicken sporting the custom label from Grower’s Discount Labels...


This next picture shows the bottom of a shrink-bagged chicken, which is the head-and-neck end of the bird (without the head and neck, of course). This photo and the next few show another example label from the good folks at Grower’s Discount Labels.

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Update 1/26/13
For another shrink-bagging technique, be sure to check out Jaye Bergamini's "Good Idea #4" at This Link.  I've heard from a few people that Jaye's approach works better for them.
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Here's a view of the flip side of the chicken (the side opposite the label), which is actually the back of the bird...


In the next picture you can see the sealed end of the packaged bird. Clearly, these shrink bags do a remarkably nice job of packaging a chicken.


This final view shows the nice two-color label from Grower’s Discount Labels...


Beyond the good looks of a shrink-bagged chicken is the matter of reduced potential for freezer burn. When the thick plastic (60 micron) barrier bag is shrunk tight to the bird, there is very little air left in the package and that translates into a significantly better frozen product. 

The picture below shows a chicken that was sealed in a Food-Saver vacuum sealer. It lost it’s vacuum seal in the freezer and suffered from freezer burn as a result.


With our shrink-bags, the plastic is shrunk tight to the bird—you can’t lose the seal like you can with an improperly sealed vacuum bag. 

And, of course, shrink-bagging is far better than just putting the chicken in a loose plastic bag with a twist tie. Sure, a loose bag is a less expensive packaging option, but you haven’t saved any money if your chickens get freezer burn and look like this six months later....


Another option for shrink-bagging chickens is to put the bagged bird in an egg basket for dunking. The basket shown in the picture below is from Murray McMurray Hatchery. You can order one at This Link.


Here's the shrink-bagged bird after dunking....


If your turkey fryer pot came equipped with a steamer basket, it will serve very well as a shrink-bagging basket...


Once again, we have a beautifully shrink-bagged chicken. No mess. No fuss. It's easy! ....


So there you have it. As you can see, our freezer bags are not only simple to use, they provide you with a practical and beautiful poultry packaging option.