By Kimberly Willis, Robert T. Ludlow

If you’ve ever considered butchering your own chickens, there are a few things you need to know. After you butcher your chickens, you need to package the meat so it stays fresh and wholesome in the freezer.

Types of packaging

You have these common choices for packaging home-butchered poultry:

  • Plastic freezer bags: The most common packaging for freezer meat is the plastic freezer bag. Make sure you select freezer bags, not general storage bags. Get bags just big enough to hold the portions you want to freeze. For a whole chicken, look for a 2-gallon bag. You may have to specially purchase larger plastic freezer bags if you can’t find them in your local store. Some freezer bags have zipper-type seals; others you seal with a twist tie.

    For chicken parts, you need quart- or gallon-size bags, depending on how many parts you plan to store in each bag. For organs, necks, tails, and so forth, pint-size bags are best. Some people prefer to freeze organs in plastic freezer containers.

    Always use new, food-grade freezer bags to store your meat. Don’t use garbage bags, bread bags, plastic shopping bags, or the bags your newspaper comes in for this purpose. If you recycle plastic containers for organs or small parts, first wash them with hot soapy water and make sure their lids still fit tightly.

  • Vacuum-sealing bags: Many new vacuum-sealing bags are on the market (you can find them in stores that sell small appliances). You put your meat in the bag and remove the air with a machine that sucks out the air through a specially designed hole. Most machines then heat-seal the bag. These appliances are good for preserving the quality of meat, but they’re more expensive to use than regular bags.

  • Butcher paper: Some people still like to freeze meat in butcher paper. Butcher paper is heavy, plastic-coated white or brown paper. It works quite well for parts, but the shape of a whole chicken makes it hard to wrap. The paper packages are either tied with string or sealed with special freezer tape; duct tape or regular tape comes loose under freezer conditions.

Packing it in

Place your selected parts or whole chicken in the bag. Fill the bag as full as you can without making it hard to seal. The less air space is in the bag, the better the meat will keep. If you’re using a zipper-type closing bag, try to keep the seal area clean so that it seals well. Put the bag on the table and partially seal it; then use your hands to push as much air out as possible. You want your bags to look flat and molded to the meat, not puffed with air.

Freeze chicken parts in amounts that you’re likely to cook for one meal. Or if you like to use just a few pieces of chicken at a time, you may want to freeze chicken pieces on a cookie sheet and then transfer the frozen pieces to a large bag. This strategy keeps the pieces from sticking together and allows you to remove just what you need.

Use a waterproof, permanent marker to label the bag with what’s in it — three chicken breasts, for example — and the date you packed it. Some bags have a special area for this info. Labeling is very important so you can rotate your packaged meat and use it by the best date.

Properly frozen chicken is safe to eat for at least 6 months. After that time, the flavor may diminish and the texture may be tougher, but the chicken is still generally safe for at least 2 more months.