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Cooking Skills
How to Break Down a Chicken
Some of our recipes call for chicken parts and recommend cutting up a whole chicken. Here's why we recommend this (yes, it's really worth the work!) and how to do it.
01-03-2018
Cook's Country

CUTTING A CHICKEN INTO parts is not difficult, but it does take a little know-how and you do get better at it with practice. (Our favorite way to practice is with fried chicken recipes, of course.) 

We recommend breaking down a whole chicken into parts for three main reasons: It’s cheaper; the parts will be of a similar size and thus cook more evenly; and you get to save the wingtips and backs for homemade stock (we like to keep them in a bag in the freezer until we have enough for a big batch of stock). We found a 4-pound bird gave us 3 pounds of parts if we included the wings in that weight, as we often do in our fried chicken recipes. However, a 4½- to 5-pound chicken was necessary to yield an average of 3 pounds of pieces without the wings.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Butchering a whole chicken into parts isn’t hard and has many benefits to the home cook, but does take a little know-how. Use these steps to do practice this important skill.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    1. POSITION CHICKEN
    Orient bird on board breast-side up with wings away from you.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    2. START TO REMOVE WINGS
    Bend wings out from body, and use a sharp knife to cut through the skin to free the wing.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    3. REMOVE WINGS
    Use boning knife to slice between joint and breast to free wing. Repeat on other side.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    4. RETURN TO STARTING ORIENTATION
    The chicken should look like this.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    5. CUT SKIN ON TOPS OF LEGS
    Pull drumstick away from chicken and use small strokes to cut skin and loosen leg from body.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    6. REMOVE LEGS
    Bend leg quarters down to “pop” and expose joint. Maneuver tip of knife around base of joint and cut leg free. Repeat on other side.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    7. RETURN TO STARTING ORIENTATION
    The chicken should look like this.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    8. REMOVE BACKBONE
    Flip chicken breast side down with cavity facing you. Using shears, cut on both sides of backbone to remove it (and save it for stock).

  • Breaking down a chicken

    9. FOR BREASTS WITH RIB MEAT
    Orient breasts as shown.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    10. REMOVE RIB MEAT
    Use a heavy chef’s knife to cut through rib meat and remove from both sides.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    11. CLEAN BREASTS
    Orient breasts as shown.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    12. START TO SPLIT BREASTS
    Carefully cut through skin on top of center of breasts and work your knife into and through the meat.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    13. SLICE THROUGH BREASTBONE
    Using both hands on the knife, cut through the breastbone to split breasts in two.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    14. CUT BREASTS IN TWO
    Again with both hands on the knife for controlled power, cut each split breast in two.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    15. SEPARATE DRUMSTICKS FROM THIGHS
    Use a chef’s knife to cut at the seam that naturally separates the drumstick from the thigh. Repeat with other leg.

  • Breaking down a chicken

    16. REMOVE WINGTIPS
    Cut through wingtips; they can be saved (along with the backbone) for stock.

Looking for more information on working with chicken? Check out our archive of chicken-related articles. Don't see what you're looking for? Leave us a comment!

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