Paul is a barbecue enthusiast. He is currently grilling and smoking on a Komodo Kamado Ultimate 23.
Cleaning Small Game Birds
With small birds like doves, quail, and squabs (baby pigeons), it usually not worth plucking the entire bird like it is with a chicken, duck, or turkey. The reason is the amount of meat on wings and legs is very small. We don't like to be wasteful, but on small birds the breast meat is the significant portion of meat. So the process we use to clean small birds is called breasting. Breasting leaves you with the majority of the meat. Cleaning small birds this way is fast and easy!
What You Need to Clean Small Game Birds
You will need a few tools to get started:
- Small sharp knife
- Kitchen shears
- A paper bag for waste
- Running water to wash off birds
- Plastic freezer bags if you're going to freeze the birds once cleaned
Step 1: Remove the Wings
Take the kitchen shears and cut the wings off the bird. Put the wings in the paper bag. (Note: It's good to clean up as you go, otherwise feathers can get everywhere and make quite a mess that takes much longer to clean up at the end.)
If you don't have kitchen shears, the wings can be twisted off with your hands by holding the bird in your hand and wringing the wing off close to the body.
Step 2: Remove the Head (Optional)
Remove the head by pulling it off with your hands, which involves putting the head between your index and forefinger and while holding the body of the bird in your other hand, twist and pull.
Alternatively, you can use the kitchen shears and cut the head off at the base of the neck.
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This step is optional, but I find it the breast pulls out more easily with the head of the bird removed.
Step 3: Pluck the Feathers From the Breast
Flip the bird over so that the breast or underside of the bird is facing you. With your thumb and index finger, pluck the feathers from the breast. Make sure your hands are dry, otherwise the feathers will stick to your hands.
The breast feathers pull out easily, and this step takes just a handful of seconds.
Step 4: Insert Thumbs Into the Cavity of the Bird's Body at Breast Bone
Where the breast bone meets the back, it forms a point. Put both of your thumbs on the point and press to break the skin.
Step 5: Remove the Breast
Insert your thumbs about one inch into the cavity of the body, and pull the breast up and out toward the head. This will separate the breast from the back.
Remove the innards of the bird and place them in the waste bag. The large red organ is the heart. Some people save and cook these as a delicacy.
Step 6: Rinse the Breast
Clean out the guts, pellets (if it was shot), and wash with cold water. Place the cleaned bird in the pot and do the next one. If you're not going to eat them right away, place the breasts in a plastic freezer bag and freeze them for up to four months.
This process of dressing birds is called breasting. It's a quick process for cleaning lots of small birds to eat.