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How to Cut a Whole Chicken (With Video)

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Here’s How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken for Homemade Nose to Tail Eating

The word “butcher” can conjure some pretty frightening images.

On one hand, the idea of butchering an entire animal is exciting. It’s a great way to feel like you’re one with your primal ancestors or could provide for yourself if you are ever stranded in the wild (or more likely, during a holiday family dinner).

But, cutting chicken also seems complex and difficult. Something that only a trained artisan like a butcher can do.

Well, learning how to butcher chicken is a skill anyone can learn. And it will save you money. A whole chicken costs $2.49 per pound at my grocery store. Chicken breasts cost $4.99 per pound. That is less than half the price.

If you’re like me, you love to do things yourself. Because the sense of accomplishment and independence you get from learning how to provide for yourself and loved ones is priceless. So, learning how to cut a chicken up is a perfect skill for you to learn.

And with a bit of practice, you’ll never have to worry about finding the exact cuts of chicken you want. Because if you know how to cut a chicken, then you can make whatever cut you want.

You’ll be raising and feathering your own chickens in no time.

How to cut a whole chicken

Cuts of Chicken in A Whole Chicken

Breaking down a chicken will give you a bunch of different edible cuts. The edible parts of a chicken are always the same: breasts, legs, wings. But, there are a few additional cuts and variations you get (or can get) when cutting a chicken yourself.

The Cuts From This Method

This method will give you 7 pieces (including the carcass). Here are the cuts you’ll be left with:

  • Breasts (2): Each chicken has one breast with two halves. This is the leanest, healthiest, and most expensive part of the chicken. Breasts can be cooked in a variety of ways such as baking, grilling, pan-frying, braising, or even microwaving (which I don’t recommend).
  • Legs (2): The entire leg made up of a drumstick and thigh. We’ll leave the leg intact for this method.
    • Drumsticks: Bottom part of the leg with a bone surrounded by meat.
    • Thighs: Upper part of the leg. The most fatty part of the chicken and arguably the most flavorful.
  • Wings (2): These tasty little guys don’t always need to be fried. Grilling and baking are two great options. There are two different parts to each wing: the drumette which looks like a smaller drumstick and the flat which is two small bones surrounded by white meat.
  • Carcass: To make homemade chicken stock, keep your chicken carcass. Store it in the freezer if you aren’t ready to use it or until you have another one or two for making a big batch. Add the carcass to a large pot, then fill the pot with some water and aromatics like onion, garlic, and herbs, and simmer away.
Chicken pieces

The Variations to This Method

There are a few slight variations or additional cuts your can make. Here are some:

  • Cut leg into the thigh and drumstick – If you want the leg to cook a bit quicker and be more eater friendly, consider cutting the leg between the joint where the thigh and drumstick meet.
  • Cut wing into flat and drumette – I love the whole wing intact. But, if you want, you can separate the flat and drumette by cutting between the joint where the two pieces meet. Similar to the leg.
  • Bone-in chicken breasts – This is my preferred method. Bone-in breast are juicier and more flavorful than boneless. But, boneless are easier and quicker to cook and use. Cut out the entire backbone along the height of the chicken. Then cut directly through the breastbone to separate each breast.

How to Buy a Whole Chicken

Types of Whole Chickens

On chicken packaging, you’ll sometimes see a specific type of chicken. Honestly, I don’t really pay attention to the type much. I just more look at the size and cost when picking the chicken I am going to buy.

There are a bunch of different types that you can read more about in this chicken 101 guide, but these are the most common whole chickens you’ll see:

  • Broiler or fryer – A young chicken less than 10 weeks old that weighs between 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 pounds. This is the most common type that you can find at most grocery stores.
  • Cornish Hen – A small broiler/fryer that weighs between 1 and 2 pounds.
  • Roaster – A young chicken between 8 and 12 weeks old and weighs 5 pounds or more. Yields more meat per pound than broiler/fryer.

Chicken Labels

A chicken label can be pretty confusing. There are tons of different options in your grocery store. Organic, air-chilled, vegetarian fed, cage-free, free-range, the list goes on…

So, I wrote all about how to read a chicken label and buy chicken in this chicken buying guide article.

Ultimately, you can rely on your taste buds because happier, healthier chickens product tastier meat.

The best chicken you can get is from a local organic farm. It will taste better, be better for the chicken, and be better for the environment. But, it will cost you.

At the grocery store, the best chicken you can buy will be organic, free-range or pasture raised, antibiotic free, and air-chilled.

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, I suggest trying out different varieties from different grocery stores until you find one that tastes great at your price point. You can then research the producer online to learn more about their farming techniques if you’re interested.

whole raw chicken

Other Chicken Buying Tips

Start With the “Best Buy” Date

The “best buy” or “sell by” date is always the first thing I look at when buying chicken. If it’s coming up quick, I may pass. If not, I’ll move on to some other characteristics to check for.

Check For Coldness

Select fresh chicken that feels cold to the touch when buying. The colder, the less chance for bacteria growth.

Check For Color

Look for chicken with a pinkish hue. Fresh chicken will always be this color. Avoid gray or transparency. These indicate that the chicken has been sitting out at the market for some time.

Look for White or Yellow Fat

Chicken fat should be white or yellow. Never gray or pale.

Make the Meat Aisle Your Last Stop

Get your chicken last at the grocery store to minimize the amount of time it is not under refrigeration. In addition, hit up the grocery store last before heading home. You don’t want your chicken sitting in a warm car.

Where to Buy Chicken

As stated above, if you can afford it, your local farmer’s market has the highest quality chicken.

Whole Foods has several high quality options. Plus, they offer free grocery delivery if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

Another option is getting your chicken delivered directly to your doorstep. Crowd Cow connects consumers to small farms through their online marketplace. They offer high quality pasture raised, free-range, and organic chicken from small farms and co-ops that you can get delivered directly to your home. Order your meat from Crowd Cow here.

How to Cut a Whole Chicken

Tools You Need

You don’t need much to cut up a chicken. But, you do need these things:

  • Knife – Ideally, you’d have a fancy boning knife like this one. But, I don’t have one. And unless you’re cutting a lot of raw meat and fish, I don’t recommend getting an extra knife to clutter up your kitchen. A chef’s knife like this one will work just fine.
  • Cutting board – It’s very important when working with raw chicken to keep your workspace clean. I like to use a separate small cutting board that can be easily cleaned and tossed in the dishwasher like this one.
Whole chicken pieces
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How to Cut a Whole Chicken

Learn how to cut a whole chicken into 7 pieces. Step-by step instructions plus video so you can be your own butcher.
Active Time10 mins
Total Time10 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Yield: 1 chicken
Author: Nick @ walktoeat

Equipment

  • Knife
  • Cutting board

Materials

  • 1 whole chicken

Instructions

  • Position: Lay chicken on a cutting board, breast side up. Remove any giblets or other pieces inside the carcass.
  • Thighs: Pull leg away from body and slice through the skin where it attaches to the breast.
    how to cut a whole chicken thighs
  • Thighs (continued): Bend the hip joint back to pop it out of its socket. Cut through the broken joint as close as you can to the back to separate. Repeat for other leg.
    how to cut a whole chicken thighs
  • Wings: Grab a wing and bend it back from the breast. You should be able to see the joint. Cut through the joint to separate. Repeat for other wing.
    how to cut a whole chicken wings
  • Breasts: The breastbone runs down the length of the breast, separating it into halves. Cut along the bone is smooth strokes to detach the breast meat.
    how to cut a whole chicken breasts
  • Breasts (continued): Continue working your way along the bone. Repeat for other breast half.
    how to cut a whole chicken breasts
  • Carcass: Reserve for stock. Freeze if not using immediately.

Video

Notes

Additional Cuts
  • Cut leg into the thigh and drumstick – If you want the leg to cook a bit quicker and be more eater friendly, consider cutting the leg between the joint where the thigh and drumstick meet.
  • Cut wing into flat and drumette – I love the whole wing intact. But, if you want, you can separate the flat and drumette by cutting between the joint where the two pieces meet. Similar to the leg.
Variations
  • Bone-in chicken breasts – This is my preferred method. Bone-in breast are juicier and more flavorful than boneless. But, boneless are easier and quicker to cook and use. Cut out the entire backbone along the height of the chicken. Then cut directly through the breastbone to separate each breast.

Ready to Be Your Own Butcher?

It’s great doing things yourself. Now that you know how to cut up a chicken, you’ll always have the cuts of chicken you need. And you’ll save money.

Now you can add “Butcher” to your resume.

Use Up Your Chicken With These Chicken Recipes

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