How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken

Photo of a whole, raw chicken on a cutting board for How to Cut Up a Whole ChickenThere you are standing in the meat department looking at all of the possible options for dinner that night. After deciding on chicken, you then have even more decisions to make. Do you need chicken breasts? Legs? Just the thighs?

Being able to purchase just a certain part of the chicken is very convenient, especially if you need a specific part of the bird in a larger quantity. If you a buying chicken for just—you or maybe just for two of you—more often than not, buying a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself is the most cost-effective option.

Learning to cut up a whole chicken will save money in the long run. First, you won’t be paying for the butcher to do it for you. Second, buying a whole chicken gives you the option to make more meals than just that one. If, for example, you only need the legs you can save the breasts for later in the week or, you can wrap them well and put them in the freezer.

Knowing how to cut up a whole chicken also gives you the ability to make your own stock with the backbone and other leftover bones. This saves you money since you won’t have to purchase chicken stock.

While some people may find the idea of wielding a knife intimidating, once you get the idea of how to do it, you may wonder why you waited so long. The most important thing for successfully cutting up a chicken is to make sure you are using a sharp knife to avoid injury.

Directions for How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken
This great New York Times video takes you through the process visually. Once you have done it a couple of times, you can refer to the step-by-step list of instructions below.

Remove the legs
Find the space between the thigh and the breast bone and make a slit through the skin so you can see the joint.

Pull the leg away from the breastbone and pop the bone out. Cut through the joint to separate the leg. And, repeat on the other side.

Separate the drumstick from the thigh
Flip the chicken leg over and look for the fat line at the top of the leg (see video)—this shows you exactly where the joint is. Cutting through that line of fat will cut right through the joint.

Remove the wings
Use your thumb to feel the ridge that indicates the joint between the wing and the breast. This is where you will cut. Lift the wing up and let the weight of the chicken help you remove the wing.

Cut off the backbone
You can use a knife or you may find kitchen shears easier.
Look for the fat line (see video) alongside the breast and cut along that line through the ribs. Do this on both sides. When you get to the end you can break it off the rest of the way, cut around it, or a combination of both.

This backbone is great for making stock.

Separate the breasts into two halves
With your knife make a little slit in the breastbone (see video) so that you can flip over the breast and break it into two. Bear down on the breast bone to separate the two halves and then cut down the middle. Because you have already separated the bone, it should be easy to cut right through.


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