Air Chilled Chicken Vs Regular: What’s the Difference?

Do you know that 99% of regular frozen chicken is water chilled, and it’s only 1% that’s air chilled? 

And, the latter is way more expensive? Why is the difference so big? 

Is it only the cost or several other things that make air-chilled chicken such a better choice?

This article will explore all differences between air chilled Vs. frozen chicken, besides the basic freezing technique.

Airchilled Chicken Vs. Regular Chicken: What’s the Key Difference

Air-chilled and frozen chicken differ primarily in the method used to cool and preserve the meat after processing. Before freezing the chicken, it’s chilled by using 2 methods; water or air chilling. 

Below is a quick overview of both chilling methods: water chilled, AKA frozen chicken, and air-chilled chicken.

What is regular frozen chicken (water chilled) chicken?

“Frozen chicken” can be about any chicken, no matter what has been used to chill it.  Yet, since when the companies started to label their chicken as air chilled, “frozen” is commonly referred to as water-chilled chicken. Water chilling is a method of cooling and processing poultry after slaughter and before freezing it. 

In the water-chilling process, chickens are submerged in a large tank or vat filled with ice-cold water. It brings down their temperature to a safe level for storage and transportation. Further, the frozen chicken is stored below 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

This method is commonly used in the poultry industry due to its efficiency and lower cost compared to air-chilling. The cold water quickly absorbs the heat from the chicken carcasses, reducing the overall processing time.

What is air-chilled chicken?

Air-chilled chicken refers to a method of cooling and processing poultry after slaughtering. It’s fresh chicken refrigerated at a 0°C to 4°C temperature range.  In the air-chilling process, the chickens are cooled by cold air.

During air chilling, the chickens are individually hung and moved through temperature-controlled chambers with cold, purified air circulating around them. This process can take several hours to lower the chicken’s temperature until it’s safe to store. 

Air-chilled Chicken Vs. Regular: Which is Better and Why?

Differentiating between frozen and air-chilled temperatures is a long story. So, we can’t cut it short.


Both methods have several advantages and disadvantages. 

Let’s get into the details.

Texture and taste owing to water absorption.

The water-chilled chicken absorbs 2-12% water of its total weight. It’s why the frozen or water-chilled chicken loses its taste to some degree owing to water absorption. 

Then, the freezing and thawing process washes deprives the chicken of its moisture. This results in a washed-out taste and drier or tougher texture compared to air-chilled chicken. 

It’s why water-chilled frozen chicken has a diluted flavor. Furthermore, water is typically added during the freezing process to prevent freezer burn, which can affect the taste and texture. Awfully, water-chilled frozen chicken is more susceptible to freezer burn if not stored properly, which can negatively impact the taste and texture.

Contrarily, the air-chilled chicken tends to have a more natural and intense flavor because of no added water during the chilling process. Likewise, it typically has a firmer and more tender texture due to the lack of added water during the chilling process. 

This is why they tend to brown and crisp better when cooked, particularly in roasting or frying applications.

Risk of contamination

Since frozen or water-chilled chickens are cooled together in a communal water bath, there is a potential risk of cross-contamination between the birds if the water is not properly sanitized or replaced regularly.

Since the chickens are not submerged in a communal water bath, there is a lower risk of cross-contamination between the birds during the chilling process.

Environmental friendliness 

Air-chilling uses less water compared to water-chilling methods, making it a more environmentally friendly option.

Water-chilled chicken is less environmentally friendly than air-chilled chicken, primarily due to the water usage involved in the process. 

Water-chilling requires large amounts of water to cool the chickens. It increases the overall water consumption in the process and can put a strain on water resources.

Additionally, the water used for chilling can become contaminated. So, before disposing of this water, it must be treated before being released into the environment. This further adds to the environmental impact of the water-chilling process.


The air-chilling process is generally more expensive, which may result in a higher price for consumers. Despite the higher cost, some consumers prefer air-chilled chicken because of its perceived superior quality, taste, and texture.

On the other hand, water-chilled chicken remains a popular and cost-effective option for many consumers. Proper handling, storage, and cooking practices can help to mitigate some of the risks associated with this chilling method.

Final Thoughts: Air chilled Vs. Frozen Chicken, Which is Better?

Apart from marketing tactics, the chicken labeled as the air chilled is really a great taste for the money. You can only confirm it after tasting it. Give it a try. If you find it super expensive at your nearby grocery store, go to Costco.




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