PSA: Boiling Chicken in Yellowstone’s Hot Springs Is a Crime

Who wants to boil a turkey in Old Faithful next?

Who wants to boil a turkey in Old Faithful next?
Photo: Daniel Slim (Getty Images)

Three men have been banned from Yellowstone National Park for boiling chicken in the park’s hot springs. That’s because it’s against the law to approach the springs, but really boiling is not a good way to prepare chicken at all and should be considered a crime on its own.

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In August, three middle-aged dudes brought some big pots into a remote part of the park to make a meal for themselves and some friends and family. They set them into one of the Shoshone Geyser Basin’s geothermal hot springs, and then dropped in two whole chickens, each of which they’d brined for a few days and double-bagged in burlap sacks and roasting bags in an effort not to spread contamination. Winner, winner.

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Except not, because they got caught. The three men were sentenced to two years probation and fined between $500 and $1,200. They have also been banned from the park, and two of them even spent a couple nights in jail.

As a person who is not a huge fan of the carceral state, I don’t think jail is the appropriate response to their actions. That said, it is illegal to go off trails into the kinds of remote areas the men were in. It’s also illegal to throw shit into the parks’ hydrothermal springs. Doing so can be extremely dangerous and can cause life-threatening burns given the scalding temperature and sometimes acidic nature of the water that’s been super heated under the Earth’s surface.

For the perpetrators’ part, one of them told the New York Times that he’d read the park’s regulations, which state “throwing anything into thermal features” is prohibited, though they do not specifically mention chicken.

“The way I interpreted it was don’t be destructive,” he said. “and I didn’t feel like I was.”

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It doesn’t seem like the men got to try their illicit dinner because a ranger found them before they got the chance. But I have to wonder if it would have been any good. Since I was a vegetarian until recently and have very little experience cooking meat, I asked Claire Lower, senior food editor at Lifehacker, to weigh in.

“Poached chicken can be very nice,” she said. But this chicken was definitely boiled—my research tells me that poaching requires food to be submerged in a liquid that is kept at a gentle 160 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (71 to 82 degrees Celsius). The park’s geysers, by contrast, can reach 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius).

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Could chicken dunked into temperatures that high possibly be any good? Lower said that brining, to add moisture and flavor, was a good move. But she’d never use water that hot on purpose because it could ruin the birds. Ultimately, she said, “it’s really a matter of how long they left it in there.” Leave the chickens in water that hot for too long, it could end up being tough, chewy, and generally overcooked. Lower said 40 minutes would have been a safe bet, because that’s about how long she pressure cooks chicken.

All that said, we do not endorse the boiling of chickens in Yellowstone National Parks’ hot springs. If you want a guide to poaching chicken, check out this recipe that works just fine at home instead.

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