Cutting Up a Whole Chicken

Chicken Pieces

I hope that everyone had a safe and happy New Year… we enjoyed an amazing meal and had a fantastic time with friends, most of which were my husbands old teammates so it’s always great getting to catch up. One of my resolutions this year was to share more of my everyday home life and personal pictures on my Facebook and Twitter pages, so if you want an even closer look at what I’m up to be sure to follow them. Last month I learned how to cut up a whole chicken (it’s more butchering a whole chicken but when you say that to people they get a totally different idea in their heads lol) and I have to say it was seriously life-changing. Whether you had new year’s resolutions to eat healthier, be more frugal or to try something new… this home tip will help you to do all three! Learning how to do this has given us serious bang for our buck… a whole chicken costs between $3.00 and $5.00 depending on the size at our grocery store and from that we get thighs, drumsticks, wings, breasts and tenderloins. Not only does this give you endless options of recipes (I’ll link to my favorites at the end) because you can tailor the pieces of meat towards what you want (skin on, skin off, bone in, bone out, whole legs or thighs separated, etc.) but it saves you SO much money. Our grocery store sells the breasts alone for $4.79 a pound so for the same price as 1lb of breasts you can get everything shown above (not including the stock, learn how to make that here)! Since we learned how to do it, we buy a couple of whole chickens at a time, cut them up and keep them in the freezer so we always have whatever we need on hand. The first time you do one it will take what seems like forever because you want to follow the steps exactly but once you get the hang out it, it literally takes just minutes! Things get a little graphic at parts, so keep that in mind as you follow the jump to see the step-by-step pictures!

Start off with your chicken, the one here is a 3 pound whole chicken but since then we’ve been getting 5 lb chickens because you get so much more meat from them. Rinse it with water and pat dry, make sure it’s completely defrosted too. Make sure your knives are sharpened (this will make things so much easier for you) and if you have a pair of kitchen shears those can be helpful to have as well. 

The first step is to remove the wings. Place the chicken breast side down and pull one of the wings away from the body. Make an indentation with your knife, clipping the skin and then pull the wing out further to make the joint visible. Once you have a clear view of the joint in the bones, use your knife to cut in between it to separate the wings. Repeat on the other side to remove the other wing.

Chicken Wings

Next you’re going to remove the legs. Lay the chicken on it’s side and pull the leg back and forth to see where it naturally separates from the body. This is important because if you cut too low, then you won’t end up with enough skin on your breast and if you cut too high then you won’t have enough for your thigh. Once you’ve found the natural separation, cut the skin only right at the seam. Lay the chicken down breast side up and pull the leg away from the body while continuing to cut the skin as you go. Now you can remove the leg by cutting as close to the back as possible. Repeat on the other side to remove the other leg.

Chicken Thighs

At this point you can choose to leave the leg intact, or you can separate the thighs from the drumsticks. To do this, pull the skin off the thigh towards the drumstick to reveal the joint, cut right in between. If you want to leave the skin on the thighs, then simply leave it as is and cut right at the joint (you may need to flip it over to see the joint easier when leaving the skin on). There will be a bone in the thigh, you can choose to leave it in or remove it. Sometimes you can roll your knife right around the bone and remove it while leaving the thigh intact, sometimes you have to cut on either side of the bone making two pieces out of the thigh.

Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks

Here’s where things get tricky/pretty nasty because you have to remove the back in two pieces. To remove the large back piece, bend the chicken in half and it will snap in the center (as seen in the first picture below) use your knife to cut this larger back piece away. Now all that’s left is a small piece of spine and the breasts. Lay the chicken breast side down and with either your knife or a pair of kitchen shears (I like to use the shears) cut along one side of the back bone and then the other to remove it. Keep these two back pieces for making stock!

Chicken Back

Now it’s time to cut the breasts off of the bone. Place the chicken skin side down and use the point of your knife to cut the wishbone in half. Now use your hands to open up the breasts and the breast bone should pop out at one side. Use your thumb and run it down the breast bone on that side to free up one of the breasts. Use your knife to cut the breast of right next to the breast bone. Cut off the piece of rib that’s still attached (you can keep the rib meat but I usually just use it for stocks). Cut the breast bone out from the other breast and repeat to free the other breast up. There will be a piece of chicken on each breast that naturally pulls right off, these are the tenderloins… you can leave them attached or pull them off. 

Chicken Breasts

You’re done! Keep the backs and ribs for making stock (I use the wings for that too) and package up the rest in bags to use for any number of recipes:

Keep the skin on the thighs and use them to make my One Pot Chicken and Brown Rice (get the recipe here):

One Pot Chicken and Rice

Roast any of the meat and use it to make my Chicken Salad and then serve it in endive (get the recipe here):

Chicken Salad in Endive

Leave the skin off the breasts and make by Stuffed Chicken Wrapped in Pastry (get the recipe here):

Inside of the Pastry

Pound out the breasts to make cutlets and then make my Lemon Chicken Cutlets with Homemade Buttermilk Dressing (get the recipe here):

Lemon Chicken Cutlets with Watercress Salad and Buttermilk Dressing

Or use the cutlets to make my Chicken Milanese with Tomato Fennel Sauce (get the recipe here):

Chicken Milanese with Tomato Fennel Sauce

Grill the breasts without the skin to make Chicken Tacos (get the recipe here):

Chicken TacoUse any of the meat to make my Buffalo Chicken Stromboli (get the recipe here):


Keep the leg intact and substitute it for the turkey leg to make my Apple Braised Legs (get the recipe here):

apple braised turkey thighs

Use the drumsticks to make Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin (get the recipe here):

Platter of Coq Au Vin

Use the wings or drumsticks to make the Sweet and Spicy Chicken wings (top left) we made for my niece’s beach bash (get the recipe here):

beach bash food