Do you pluck or breast? Most folks usually do one or the other, but there are times when one method works best. So here are the upsides of each, the basic procedures, and some handy tips.
The Perfect Pluck
The Upsides: It looks pretty. You use the whole bird. Leaving the skin on helps retain moisture in the meat during the cooking process.
When Not to Pluck: Your bird is so full of holes it wouldn’t be pretty anyway. You’ve shot an early-season bird with lots of pinfeathers, which are difficult to remove. You’re in a hurry.
The Procedure: You can wet pluck your birds (dunk them into a pot of 140- to 160-degree water until the wing feathers pull out easily, then pluck), or wax birds (roughly dry pluck, dip into a pot of hot water and melted wax, chill, and peel). Both work great…and both are a pain in the neck. That’s why I dry pluck. As for the few wispy feathers usually hanging on after dry plucking, I singe them off with a small torch.
Bonus Tip: Wings are difficult to pluck, so if you can handle a minor departure from the classic whole-bird presentation, cut them off. Lift upward on the wing and clip through the joint with sharp game shears.
The Basics of Breasting
The Upsides: It’s quick and easy. And let’s face it, some legs taste like leather.
When Not to Breast: You’ve got time and want to do things up fancy. You’ve cleanly shot a big, fat, fully plumed bird, and it’d be a shame not to whole-roast such an animal.
The Procedure: Run the point of your knife under the skin above the breast for an inch or two. Stick your fingers in and pull the skin away. Make a long slice tight along the breastbone. Turn your knife on its side and lift the meat as you cut it free, close to the rib cage. Clip the wishbone with shears or just work your knife around it to remove one half of the breast. Repeat on the other side.
Bonus Tip: If you like the breasts whole, try this technique: For ducks, cut the wings off close to the body. (Don’t do this in the field, as you may need an attached wing to show to a game warden.) Peel the skin away from the breast. Lift up the bottom of the breast to loosen it from the rib cage. Hook a finger under the top of the breast, hold the neck, and pull down. Done.