Welcome to the second post in our Help Handling the Whole Chicken series!
In case you missed the first post on debunking 6 objections to buying a whole bird (including the myth that it’s more expensive than buying cheap boneless skinless chicken breast from the store), you can find it HERE.
The goal of today’s post is to show you how to easily remove the chicken breast from a whole chicken.
My Story (Also Known As: I Hate Touching Raw Meat)
Now, you need to know something about me. I have a phobia of touching raw chicken meat. Just thinking about it has literally made me shiver.
It’s wet. And slimy. And gooey. And slimy. And has bacteria on it. And it wiggles.
Which is why I declared to myself that I would label 2014 as The Year of the Chicken.
For the last several years I had been only buying whole chickens from local farmers. My disdain for touching raw chicken meant I roasted or boiled every. single. chicken we bought. But after 2 years, I was beginning to miss eating chicken breast.
If you’re still looking for more info on cooking the perfect chicken every time, check out Craftsy. Their classes are awesome because the instructors are professionals and once you buy the course, you may view it at any time (no expiration!) and can pause and repeat to make sure you catch everything. I highly recommend checking it out! ~Katie
You know it’s bad when you go to a restaurant and the first thing you hunt for is grilled chicken because you can’t get it at home. Ahem.
So I made a commitment in January that I would learn how to debone a chicken. And … like all good resolutions … I got around to it. In August.
I had no experience in ever seeing someone debone a raw, whole chicken. My mom is a fantastic cook, but she mostly used boneless breast when I was growing up. For years, I let that excuse keep me from trying.
So finally I googled a bunch of YouTube videos to see what the secret was to deboning a chicken. I figured if boneless skinless chicken was so popular in America, surely it meant that deboning a chicken had to require special training?
It was embarrassingly easy.
I deboned my first whole chicken EVER in August. By October, I was processing a batch of 22 chickens from my local farmer (to have meat on hand for the winter).
Why Debone Your Own Chicken?
As I alluded to in the first post in this series, it is much more economical to buy a whole chicken than purchase chicken parts. In November, National Geographic ran a fascinating article on how Americans mostly like to eat chicken breast meat.
That leaves a LOT of leftover parts. So the chicken industry is literally exporting MILLIONS OF TONS of chicken parts to places like South Africa, Indonesia, and Russia. You can be sure that cost trickles back down into that package of boneless skinless breast.
Deboning your own chicken has several benefits:
- It saves you money. (Pastured chicken breast for $3.50/lb? YES PLEASE!)
- It allows you to harvest the breast meat and keep the other parts for other meals.
- It saves storage space in your fridge/freezer.
Saving storage space was an unexpected blessing. I’ve tried storing 10 whole chickens in my freezer. Imagine trying to stack 10 giant (frozen) bowling balls. HA! By removing the chicken parts, you can have a FLAT package of breasts, a FLAT package of thighs/legs, and a much more compact carcass that you can flatten as well.
Before We Begin
There are some supplies you are going to need before you begin.
- KNIFE. You’re going to need a sharp knife. You don’t need a meat cleaver, a deboning knife, or any other fancy tool. Just a good SHARP knife. I really love using this handy knife from Amazon. America’s Test Kitchen has rated it as their #1 pick for years. And at around $10, it’s something every kitchen can afford!
- CUTTING SURFACE. My technique really doesn’t require a cutting board. I just use a large plate from my kitchen to help hold in all the juices. Actually, I use 4 plates: A large one to cut the bird apart on and three others to put the finished breast, legs/thighs, and carcass.
- STORAGE OPTIONS. If you aren’t cooking your meat same day, you’re going to need a way to store it. I like to use ziplock freezer bags. I put the breast in a quart size bag, the legs/thighs in a gallon, and the carcass in a gallon bag. (Sometimes I will throw the carcass right into the pot to make broth.) When I store it, I put it on a cookie sheet to lay flat so it doesn’t freeze in a weird shape and take up space.
- MARKER. Label what you have bagged up, along with the month and year: CHICKEN 1/15. Actually, if you want to be really smart, label the bags in advance before you get your hands gooey with chicken.
- TRASH CAN. Make sure yours is available and nearby.
- MOVIE. If you have young kids, you know why this is essential. 😀
- CLEAN UP. Don’t overlook your preparation for this part! I like to wash my surface with soap and water, then finish with a vinegar spray. I recently discovered how well a good-quality microfiber cloth does with cleaning up bacteria, so that’s also a consideration. Note from Katie: see my new-found tip for cleaning up after raw meat!
I’m not a professional chef. And I’m not a professional videographer. But I have gotten pretty fast at cutting up a whole chicken. If you have 4 minutes, check out this video.
(It takes me about 120 seconds to cut up a whole chicken — which still amazes me even now.)
Step-By-Step Instruction: How To Cut Up A Whole Chicken
While it’s really best to watch a video of someone cutting a chicken, I recognize not everyone has the time to do it. So here’s a step-by-step photo tutorial:
1. Remove the chicken from its packaging. Throw the packaging away. Watch out for any liquids that may pool in the bag!
2. Lay the chicken breast-side up. Pull the lower leg away. Cut through the skin, rotating the chicken around until you can remove the leg. See those white lines in the meat? Those are the fat lines. They also make handy-dandy cutting lines!
3. Pop the hip out of the chicken. Cut through the remaining cartilage of the joint. Remove the thigh and set aside.
4. Remove the other leg and set aside.
5. Locate the breast bone. Gently cut into the meat just inside the breast bone, pulling it away from the bone. Remove breast and set aside.
6. Repeat with other side.
7. Once the breast and thighs have been removed, push down on the carcass to crack it – allowing it to condense in size.
Two Other Tips
- If you really are interested in saving money, trim all your breasts into cutlet size pieces. There’s actually a fun bit of food psychology in this. People become full based on the size of the meal on their plate.
- If the meat is 1” thick or 3” thick, it really doesn’t matter. They will still have that same feeling of fullness.
- Restaurants know this psychological secret. So save some money and make your breasts into cutlet thickness. Plus, it’ll cook more evenly.
- Cut up more than one chicken at a time. Batch-cooking is a great time saver in the kitchen. You’re already going to spend the same amount of time cleaning up. Why not do three chickens instead of one?
So, now you’re all motivated to buy a whole chicken and cut it up, right?
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out the other posts in this series!
This post contains affiliate links to Amazon and Craftsy from which I will earn a commission if you make a purchase.