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Cutting Up a Chicken

It's essential knowing how to cut up a fresh chicken if you like to cook and if your family likes chicken.  It makes economical sense to buy a whole chicken for breasts, legs & wings because it saves a lot of money in the long run.  Yes, it's convenient to buy parts already prepackaged at the supermarket, but cutting your own at  home is fast and easy.  The whole process of cutting up a chicken shouldn't make one squeamish whatsoever.  The most important thing to consider other than buying a good quality chicken (I always buy a humanely raised chicken from either Whole Foods or my local farmer's market), is having a very sharp knife.  Let me show you how I do it.  It may differ slightly from what your butcher does, but it gets the job done.    

Before you begin, either cover your counter with butcher paper (parchment also works) or place the whole chicken on a cutting board used exclusively for cutting poultry or meat to prevent cross contamination.  I like to keep cutting boards for specific jobs; one is for chicken, one is for vegetables, another for baked goods, and yet another just for breads. 

This is a free range, organic chicken.  I usually get one that weighs between 3 1/2lbs. to 4 1/2lbs., known as a broiler or fryer.  I always begin by removing the pocket of fat that hangs from the cavity opening.  This can simply be pulled off. 

Begin by making a cut down the left & right legs; slice down, don't hack it.  Separate them from the breast area & cut down until you hit the bone. 

When you get to the bone, pop the joint to separate; notice where I'm pointing to.  Continue cutting through the joint until you separate the entire leg.  Repeat this process on the other side.  By the way, it's a good idea to use food safe gloves when doing this; it prevents having to go back & forth between counter & faucet.

A perfectly separated leg.

I'm pointing to the connective tissue which runs up & down between the thigh & drumstick.  This is where you're going to make your cut to separate these pieces.  Do so quickly & with a steady hand.  They will separate rather easily.

You will end up with this when you've finished with the legs.  The breast & wings are next.

Turn the chicken breast-side down.  Begin cutting between the wing & back.  Again, when you hit the bone, pop the joint (where I'm pointing).  Slice down quickly & separate the wing; repeat on the other side.  The wing tips can simply be cut off (don't throw them away!).

For boneless chicken breasts, find the breast bone & begin slicing on either side (above) to separate the meat from the ribs. 

If you wish to keep bone-in breasts, keep the bird breast side down & separate the spine with the knife or kitchen shears.  Then break the breast bone down the middle & separate the rib cages. 
When removing the breast from the rib cage, slice very close to the bone. You want to keep as much meat as possible.  This is why it's imperative to use a sharp, slicing knife that is NOT serrated.  A serrated knife would simply tear the flesh & make an unsightly mess.

Do you see how cleanly I've left the rib cage on the left?  That chicken breast is perfectly cut.

This is what you'll have when you're done.  The process just takes a couple of minutes.  Simple.  Easy.  These eight portions can be used any number of ways or frozen for later. 

The chicken carcass with a bit of meat here & there is just the thing to use for making chicken stock.  I sometimes freeze these & use 2 carcasses whenever I want to make a big batch.  Don't forget to include those wing tips!  After about 45 minutes of simmering the stock, the carcass can be removed from the pot and have the meat separated from the bones when cool enough to handle; return the carcass to the simmering stock.  You may have enough for 1 chicken salad sandwich.

One can, of course, have the butcher at the local market cut up a chicken in no time if you don't wish to bother.  As I just showed you, though, the whole process is quick (it takes no more than 2 minutes) as long as you have a very sharp knife and a steady hand.  Buying a whole chicken not only provides many servings to feed a family, it also has the added bonus of saving one money and of supplying meaty bones for a deliciously rich stock.  Knowing how easy it is to do at home, why not try it yourself if you've never attempted to? Happy Eats! 


  1. This is useful information. I like the fact that you don't throw out the bones when you're done cutting up the parts.

  2. Never Never throw away those bones. Making chicken stock is the easiest thing in the world and so much healthier than store bought. Enjoy!


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