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How to Cut up a Whole Chicken Step by Step
How can cutting up whole chickens be both an underappreciated skill and a boost to your budget? Read on to find out.
In the online homesteading community, there’s a big emphasis placed on learning “lost” skills or remembering old ways of doing things. This “lost” descriptor usually refers to baking sourdough bread, growing tomatoes, or the like. While I’m glad to see the simpler life in vogue, I also have some reservations. Baking sourdough bread isn’t a “lost” skill. Neither is growing tomatoes. Lost, after all, refers to something missing that needs to be found. Growing and baking may have become less popular than they were in generations past, but by no means did either stop entirely.
In the same vein, less glamorous but equally “uncommon” or “unpopular” skills don’t get the same online traction. Washing laundry by hand, sharpening knives, milling flour, or cooking from scratch (not baking- cooking) didn’t receive the same fanfare that sourdough bread did during covid. I consider butchering skills- including cutting up whole chickens- to fall into this “less glamorous but equivalent in needing a revival” category.
Cutting up whole chickens is not complicated. It’s quick, intuitive, and requires literally 1 tool. But somehow, we’ve become divorced from that knowledge. Why break down a whole chicken in your kitchen when Tyson sells trays full of nothing but your preferred cut? Why bother trying to find recipes or uses for less-loved pieces (looking at you wings) when you can avoid buying them altogether?
That’s a fair critique. But it assumes that you’re buying your chicken. (If you’re slaughtering your own chickens, and then breaking them down, you can read my simple chicken slaughter tutorial here)It also assumes that your store has your preferred chicken cuts in stock to buy at all. The pandemic-response-induced supply chain hiccups should still be recent memory for all of us. As well as the panic-buying. As well as mass euthanization of commercial farm animals. “Well that’s all over with now.” Is it?
Another consideration (again, post-pandemic) is the rising prices of everything. From gasoline to heating oil to lumber- everything has dramatically risen in price. Rising grocery prices just so happen to hit extremely close to home, 3+ times a day, 7 days a week. Which means that any techniques for saving on your grocery bill are vital skills these days.
Cue cutting up chickens at home.
The price of a whole chicken is significantly less per pound than buying individual cuts. I ran a few basic google searches to quote the nearest walmart on their chicken prices.
As of 12/30/22 in Redding, CA:
A whole chicken is $1.46 per pound.
Bone-in, skin-on thighs are $1.62 per pound.
Boneless, skinless thighs are $2.96 per pound
Drumsticks are $2.84 per pound.
Wings are $3.98 per pound.
Boneless, skinless breasts are $2.94 to $4.97 per pound- depending on how big the package is.
(Worth noting that a quart of chicken broth is $3.68)
Whole thighs (with the bone and skin) aren’t much of a savings over the cost of a whole bird. But the more “choice” cuts like boneless, skinless breasts? That’s a huge price increase! It is certainly worth learning how to breakdown a whole chicken yourself. Fortunately, this isn’t a very complicated process. You’ll start by cutting off the wings, then legs, then each breast. From there you can cut the legs in drumsticks and thighs, dice the breasts, breakdown the wings, etc. From there, you can freeze, cook, or even can those chicken pieces. (Learn all about canning meat here!)
How to Breakdown a Whole Chicken in Your Own Kitchen
A cutting board
A knife (my favorite knife- here)
A whole chicken
A stockpot- optional
Step 1: Begin by standing the chicken up on its wishbone/neck end. Hold the bird upright with your working (non-knife-wielding) hand.
Step 2: Pull one wing away from the body, looking for the armpit-like crease where the wing and body connect. This is the separation point.
Step 3: Use your knife to follow this create downward, pulling the wing away from the body as you go. Once the joint is exposed, cut between the bones, then finish the cut through the skin and muscle. Repeat on the other side.
Step 4: Next, we’re going to remove the legs. Set the bird on the cutting board, breast up. With your working hand, grab the joint connecting the drumstick to the thigh. Push this joint away from the body of the bird, stretching the skin and dislocating the leg.
Step 5: Take your knife and cut straight downward- through the skin, matching the angle of the breast and rib cage. Continue to fold the leg backward as you go, finishing by cutting through the muscle and skin connecting the back of thigh to the chicken’s back. Repeat on the other side.
Step 6: To skin the breast, grab hold of the skin at the end of keel bone with one hand. Steady the chicken with your other hand, as you lift the skin and push it forwards towards the chicken’s neck. Cut through any fascia as needed.
Step 7: To cut the breasts off the bird, begin by setting the bird on its side. Take your knife and follow the seam between the breast muscle and the chickens rib cage. Follow the seam between bone and muscle until you reach the keel bone (breast bone). Finish this cut downwards, separating the muscle from bone. Follow the cut forwards, removing the wish bone from the front of the breast.
Step 8: Optional: Cut through the joint on each leg quarter to yield a drumstick and thigh apiece. Cut the tip of the wings off at the smallest joint for party wings. Utilize the skin, keel, back, and wing tips for broth. Each carcass can easily yield a quart of broth.
There you have it- a simple, and quick way to breakdown a whole chicken into individual parts. These chicken parts can be cooked individually, frozen into like packages, or loaded into jars and canned. When we grow meat chickens every summer, I process about half of them into parts rather than leaving them whole.
I hope that you’ve found this tutorial helpful, and that you’ll give this skill a try yourself. You can’t go wrong with the money savings of DIY butchery and homemade broth. Thanks for reading & happy homesteading!