How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken

When considering ways to save at the grocery store, a way not often thought of is to take out the step where someone else processes your chicken for you!

Not only is it much cheaper to cut up a whole chicken at home than to buy pre-processed chicken, but it’s incredibly easy as well.

With a sharp knife, a good set of kitchen scissors, and a little know-how, you’ll be well on your way to savings.

Not only is it rewarding financially to cut up a whole chicken at home, but cutting up a whole chicken can also be a satisfying experience that opens your eyes to all sorts of things you wouldn’t know otherwise.

I really do believe that processing a whole chicken at home is something every home chef should do in order to better familiarize themselves with where their food comes from and why it is the way it is.

Let’s get down to business!

Tools

In order to do this properly, you’ll need the following tools at your disposal:

  1. Sharp Chef’s Knife
  2. Large Non-Slip Cutting Board
  3. Kitchen Scissors
  4. Large Bowl

The knife you choose should be long and sharp. A standard 7 or 8 inch chef’s knife will do just fine, so long as it is sharp and you feel comfortable with it.

The cutting board you choose should be quite large, as chickens can be rather difficult to fit on smaller cutting boards in entirety.

The kitchen shears are incredibly useful for cutting the backbone out of the chicken and need to be strong enough to handle cutting through bone.

Lastly, you need somewhere to place your processed chicken, and a large bowl is a good place to store it while you work.

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Step 1: Thighs

Start out by placing your chicken on your cutting board on its back with the legs facing you; we’re going to begin by removing the thigh and the chicken leg.

Beginning with either thigh, slice from the tailbone to the wing diagonally. Continue to slice until you expose the bone so you can find the joint, where the thigh bone meets the hip socket.

Once exposed, grab the thigh with one hand and torque it until you pop it out of the hip socket. Now you can run your knife cleanly through the joint to separate the thigh and leg from the hip of the chicken. Repeat these steps for the other side.

Step 1.1: Thigh and Drum

Next, you’ll want to separate the thigh from the leg.

First, slice into the crook of the leg behind the knee joint to expose the bone. Then, grab the thigh with one hand and the leg with the other, pulling against the join to pop the socket apart.

Now you can slice between the joint with your knife to separate the thigh from the leg entirely.

Step 2: Wings

Next, we’re going to separate the wings from the shoulders of the chicken.

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Moving on, you’ll want to rotate the chicken on your cutting board so the wing is now facing you with the whole chicken still on its back. Start by slicing under the armpit of the wing in order to expose the shoulder joint.

Once exposed, pull the wing upward until you pop the shoulder joint open. Apologies, but I didn’t get an excellent photo for step 2, but the principle is the same for popping the thigh joint above!

You can now slice your knife between the shoulder and the wing to separate the whole wing from the shoulder.

Step 2.2: Drum and Flat

If you want to make party wings, you’ll want to separate the drum from the flat (also called the drumette and wingette respectively).

To do so, find the crook in the elbow between the drum and the flat and slice inward to reveal the joint. Once revealed, grab the drum and the flat with one hand each and pull the joint backwards to pop the joint open.

Now you can slice through with your knife and separate the drum from the flat entirely.

Step 3: Backbone

The next step in cutting up our whole chicken is to remove the backbone of the chicken. Have the bottom of the chicken facing you and the chicken facedown on its breast.

Take your kitchen shears and find the seam on wither side of the backbone that connects to the breast on the side. Cut farther away from the centerline of the backbone to make things easier. Do so for both sides of the backbone.

Once done, you should be left with a whole backbone that can be freely removed from the chicken torso. Some chickens will also come with the organs still inside them if you want to do anything with them, otherwise discard those now.

Once removed, you can either discard or save the backbone. If you want to save it in order to make your own chicken stock out of it, then you can easily cut it up into pieces and place it in a sealed plastic baggy.

Put the date on the baggy so you can make sure it’s still fresh and place that baggy in your freezer and pull it out when you need it again!

Raw Whole Chicken Backbone in Bag

Step 4: Breasts

Lastly, we’re going to want to split our breasts up by cutting down the middle.

With the breast skin and meet facing downwards on the cutting board, take your knife and slice downwards to reveal the breastplate and cartilage.

Now forcefully chop downwards to cut through the bone and cartilage, thus splitting the breasts from eachother.

Step 4.2: Breast Quarters

You now also have the option to quarter your chicken breast. Do so by cutting crosswise between the point where the thick part of the breast starts to thin out.

I unfortunately don’t have photos of this, but this article by Rachel Roszmann over at Eating Well has photos and instructions on Step 7 if you want to check out how to do that.

Step 5: Cook

Last of all, you’ll want to cook all that chicken you worked so hard to prepare!

I recommend using some of my own recipes, which are generally geared towards chicken wings, but I think will work incredibly well for whole chickens!

Check some of them out here:

Denver Green Chili Wings Recipe
Denver Green Chili Wings Recipe

Denver Green Chili Wings seasoned with cumin and coriander, deep fried to golden perfection and smothered in a green chili sauce made with roasted peppers and butter. A decadent southwestern treat!

Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken Recipe
Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken Recipe

Learn what makes the best buttermilk southern fried chicken recipe out there! Get the crispiest, juiciest results with this recipe.

Best Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing Recipe
Best Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing Recipe

Learn how to make the best homemade blue cheese dressing recipe that you’ll EVER try!

Unforgettable Teriyaki Chicken Wings
Unforgettable Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Learn what makes these unforgettable teriyaki chicken wings so incredibly addictive!

Lemon Pepper Wings
Lemon Pepper Wings

Learn how to make the absolute best lemon pepper wings at home, step by step!

3 Ingredient Cajun Fries Recipe
3 Ingredient Cajun Fries Recipe

Learn how to make simple and easy Cajun fries as good as any leading fast food chain does!

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed making it. There’s some kind of unfiltered fun you can have by doing things with your hands, and this is it.

Let me know how my instructions helped you in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

Best,

C.J.

How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken

Prep Time 10 minutes
Learn to easily cut up a whole chicken in your own home in 5 simple steps!
Course Main Course
Cuisine World
Keyword Chicken prep, How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken, Whole Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 Whole Chicken

Instructions

Step 1: Legs

  • First slice diagonally from the tailbone to the armpit to reveal the hip joint.
    Raw Whole Chicken Thigh Joint Cut
  • Grab the thigh with one hand and torque the hip bone until it pops.
    Raw Whole Chicken Exposed Thigh Joint
  • Slice through the hip joint to separate the leg and thigh from the hip. Repeat for both legs.
    Raw Whole Chicken Whole Thigh and Leg

Step 2: Wings

  • Slice under the armpit of the wings to reveal the shoulder joint.
    Raw Whole Chicken Exposed Shoulder Joint
  • Grab the wing with on hand and pull against the joint to pop the shoulder out.
  • Slice between the shoulder joint to separate the wing wholly from the shoulder. Repeat for both wings.
    Raw Whole Chicken Whole Wing

Step 3: Backbone

  • Using the kitchen scissors cut up one side of the spine from tail to neck.
    Raw Whole Chicken No Wings or Thighs
  • Cut down the other side of the spine and remove it from the torso of the bird.
    Raw Whole Chicken Spine

Step 4: Breasts

  • Breasts facing down, slice down the center of the breastbone between the breasts to reveal the breastplate.
    Raw Whole Chicken Breast Sliced at the Breastbone
  • Drive your knife strongly through the breastplate the separate the two breasts down the middle. Place all chicken in large mixing bowl or large plastic bags for storage.
    Raw Whole Chicken Single Breast

Step 5: Cook

  • Choose a great recipe and cook your chicken to its fullest! Reserve the tailbone in the freezer until you want to make stock out of it, or discard. It's up to you!

Notes

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