Until researchers find a solution to mankind’s greatest challenge — namely, breeding bald poultry for easier cleaning — we’ll have to defeather our fowl the old-fashioned way: by rapidly tumbling their carcasses about a mechanised vertical drum while rubber fingers beat the feathers off.
The art of “processing” your Christmas bird turns out to be pretty gruesome. The first step is to kill it (thankfully, for everyone involved). Then it’s “New York-dressed”, also known as Confucian slaughter, wherein the birds retain their entrails, head and feet after being dispatched. They are then immediately scalded — dunked in 61C water for up to two minutes — in order to heat the follicles and loosen their feathers. The birds are then transferred to the plucking tub. This is known as wet plucking — as opposed to dry plucking, which doesn’t involve first scalding the bird bodies.
Automatic tub plucking machines are pretty simple devices. They look like upright washer machines, except the inner drums are lined with long, pliable rubber fingers. The bottom of the tub, known as the “feather plate” rotates, tumbling the birds about. The rubber fingers gently rub the feathers off without damaging the bird’s skin or bruising it. A water line mounted at the top of the drum sprays water into the machine as it works to keep loose feathers from flying around and keep the fingers from getting clogged. After the birds are clean, any remaining feathers are typically taken off by hand before the filoplumes are burned off with a torch and the bird is eviscerated and chilled for transportation.
The Ashley Sure-Pick 38 is the Cadillac of turkey pluckers. It employs a 38-inch-wide stainless-steel drum powered by a three horsepower motor. Users simply toss up to 60 pounds of scalded poultry into the machine, set the timer and let her rip. A full batch takes all of 30 seconds. Once a defeathering cycle is complete, the machine will automatically eject the processed birds onto an attached catch table. A week or so later — after it’s been dressed, frozen, shipped, defrosted, gussied up and roasted — it’s on your table.
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