How to Remove Chicken Hair

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Whole chickens and chicken pieces often retain a few pinfeathers or fine hairs.
Whole chickens and chicken pieces often retain a few pinfeathers or fine hairs. (Image: Lucia9/iStock/Getty Images)

Unless you only ever work with boneless and skinless cuts, eventually you'll encounter chicken pieces that still contain a few pinfeathers or hairy "filoplumes" clinging to the skin. You'll see them on both mainstream factory chickens and premium free-range birds from local producers, and they're harmless -- though disconcerting. Vintage cookbooks usually advise singeing them off, which is a quick and easy technique.

Things You'll Need

  • Pliers, tweezers or paring knife
  • Creme brulee torch, propane torch, matches or barbecue lighter
  • Paper towel
  • Oil

Pluck out any remaining pinfeathers first -- the small stubby "featherlets" usually found on the chicken legs and wingtips. They're roughly the size and shape of rosemary leaves, and can easily be removed with pliers or tweezers. You can also pinch each one between your thumb and the flat side of a paring knife, and pull them out with a gentle pressure.

Move your chicken or chicken pieces to a well-ventilated area, such as a counter under your window. If the weather doesn't favor open windows, work on your unheated stovetop and turn on the range hood fan for ventilation.

Use a small creme brulee torch, a larger propane torch or -- in a pinch -- a match or barbecue lighter to singe off the small hairs. With a large torch you can simply pass it in wide swaths over the chicken, singeing the entire skin. With a smaller torch or lighter, you'll need to pick out the hairs individually and singe them one at a time.

Wipe any discolored areas with a lightly oiled paper towel if the singeing process has left any small patches of soot behind from the singed hairs. When you're satisfied that all the hairs have been removed, the chicken is ready to cook.

Tips & Warnings

  • Pin feathers can also be singed, if you wish, but because of their larger size they produce a lot more smoke and an objectionable burnt-hair smell.
  • Older cookbooks often suggest using your stove's gas flame to singe the bird. If you wish, use tongs or carving forks to hold the chicken over the burner, moving it back and forth and rotating it until you're confident that all the hairs have been singed away.
  • If you plan to grill or broil the chicken, the hairs will singe away naturally during cooking. It isn't necessary to remove them beforehand.
  • Whenever working with an open flame, exercise caution and be mindful of any flammable substances in your area. Shoo away any children and pets, and take care not to burn yourself while singeing the chicken, or on the hot torch after you're done.
  • Work quickly, to minimize the time your chicken spends at room temperature. It should never be on the counter for more than two hours in total, counting singeing time and preparation time, before it's cooked.

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