Cutting up a whole chicken may seem intimidating if you’ve never done it before. However, it’s a straightforward process that gets easier with practice, whether working with a raw or cooked chicken. Mastering this simple kitchen skill provides many benefits.

Breaking down a whole chicken yourself saves money and reduces waste by utilizing more of the bird across different dishes. You also gain more control over portions.

Once broken down, the chicken parts allow for flexible meal preparation. You can cook various pieces in optimal methods and incorporate them into diverse recipes throughout the week. Over time, you’ll gain confidence wielding a knife and tackle increasingly advanced cuts.

What You’ll Need

Besides the obvious (the whole chicken), a few kitchen tools will make the job a whole lot easier and safer.

  • Cutting board – Large enough to fit the whole chicken with extra room around it.
  • Sharp Knife – A boning knife is preferred because of how maneuverable it is, but you can use the knife you are most comfortable with, as long as it is sharp, you can make it work. A cleaver is handy for chopping the carcass for stock, or cutting through the bones if needed.
  • Nitrile gloves – Wearing gloves makes the job much cleaner and more sanitary.

The Steps

The easiest way to learn is to follow along with the video (above). The process involves separating the chicken into its main components – wings, breasts, thighs, and drumsticks. The key is to cut cleanly along the joints and the backbone while removing as much meat from the bones as possible.

  1. Prepare Your Workspace and The Chicken – Make sure your cutting board is secure to the counter and your knife is sharp. Remove the chicken from the packaging, remove the giblets and neck (reserving for another use) and pat the chicken dry with paper towels for easier handling.
    Tip: Place a damp kitchen towel under your cutting board so the board stays secure and doesn’t move around on you.
cutting the wings off a whole chicken
  1. Remove the Wings
    • Pull one wing away from the body to expose the joint.
    • Cut through the joint to remove the wing.
    • Repeat on the other side.
cutting the leg and thigh off a whole chicken
  1. Remove the Legs
    • Lift one leg and locate the joint where the thigh connects to the body.
    • Cut through the joint to remove the leg quarters (the thigh and drumstick).
    • Repeat on the other side.
  2. Separate Drumsticks and Thighs (optional)
    • Find the joint between the drumstick and thigh.
    • Cut through the joint to separate the drumstick from the thigh.
    • Repeat on the other side.
cutting the breasts off a whole chicken
  1. Separate the Breast
    • Locate the breastbone that runs down the center of the chicken on the breast side (meatier side).
    • Make a vertical cut along one side of the breastbone, as close to the bone as possible.
    • Continue cutting, following the ribcage to release the breast.
    • Repeat on the other side.
      Tip: You can leave the drumette attached to the breast and make it “airline chicken.”
A Whole Chicken Cut Up on a Sheet Pan
  1. Optional: Debone the Thighs
    • If desired, you can debone the thighs by carefully cutting around the bones with the boning or paring knife.

Save the carcass and any other scrap bones for making chicken stock.

Double-check each piece to ensure no bone fragments remain.

Benefits of Buying Whole Chickens

There are so many reasons to buy a whole chicken, here are a few of them.

  • Saves Money – Buying a whole chicken is cheaper per pound compared to buying chicken parts separately.
  • Better Cuts – You get a variety of superior cuts when you buy a whole chicken, including breasts, thighs, drumsticks, and wings that you can prepare in different ways.
  • Better Portions – When you buy a package of chicken pieces, the sizes of the cuts are all over the place, so they cook at different times. When you cut them yourself, you can control the size.
  • Optimal Cooking – Different chicken parts cook best at different temperatures and durations. Cooking a whole chicken allows you to prepare white and dark meat to their ideal doneness.
  • Less Handling at the Processor– A whole chicken has been handled less than chicken parts, meaning it has been exposed to fewer contaminants that can lead to foodborne illnesses.
  • Less Waste – Buying a whole chicken allows you to fully utilize every part of the bird efficiently. The bones can be used to make homemade stock. 

What to do now?

  • Make stock with the leftover bones. I like to wait until I have the carcasses from two chickens before making stock, which will __ about 2 quarts of stock.
  • Vacuum seal and freeze what you don’t need for this week’s meals.

Browse All the Recipes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.