In U.S. poultry production, the primary cooling method is to submerge chickens into a chlorinated water bath after slaughter. But as the name suggests, air-chilled chickens are cooled with blasts of air. The two methods do about equally well at retarding bacterial growth. The main difference is that water-cooled chicken absorbs liquid—especially in the skin—while air-chilled chicken loses some water content. Air-chilling chicken is also more expensive. Does the flavor difference justify the expense? Many Chowhounds say yes.
The flesh of an air-chilled chicken is denser, juicier, and has more flavor, Tudor_rose says. lcool, who raises poultry, says the extra cost is worth the better texture and taste. Other Chowhounds buy air-chilled chicken exclusively. But ipsedixit doesn't notice a difference in the meat, only a perceptible one in the skin, which cooks up crispier.
Discuss: Air chilled chicken vs. regular