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Help Handling the Whole Chicken Series: How To Cut Up a Whole Chicken {Plus VIDEO TUTORIAL}

How To Cut Up A Whole Chicken

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.

Help Handling the Whole Chicken: How To Cut Up a Whole Chicken {Plus VIDEO TUTORIAL}

(photo source)

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.

Have you ever wondered how to quickly get the breast meat off a whole chicken? Check out this post with step-by-step photo instructions AND a video tutorial to cut up a whole chicken.

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:

  1. It saves you money. (Pastured chicken breast for $3.50/lb? YES PLEASE!)
  2. It allows you to harvest the breast meat and keep the other parts for other meals.
  3. 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.

cut up chicken parts

Before We Begin

There are some supplies you are going to need before you begin.

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. TRASH CAN. Make sure yours is available and nearby.
  6. MOVIE. If you have young kids, you know why this is essential. 😀
  7. 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!

Video Tutorial

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!

cut up chicken whole bird

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!

cut up chicken remove leg

3. Pop the hip out of the chicken. Cut through the remaining cartilage of the joint. Remove the thigh and set aside.

cut up chicken remove leg

4. Remove the other leg and set aside.

cut up chicken remove leg

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.

cut up chicken breast

6. Repeat with other side.

cut up chicken breast

7. Once the breast and thighs have been removed, push down on the carcass to crack it – allowing it to condense in size.

cut up chicken crack carcass

Two Other Tips

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

Got a funny experience about cutting up a chicken? What’s your favorite way to serve chicken breast? Tell us in the comments below!
How To Cut Up A Whole Chicken

This post contains affiliate links to Amazon and Craftsy from which I will earn a commission if you make a purchase.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

11 thoughts on “Help Handling the Whole Chicken Series: How To Cut Up a Whole Chicken {Plus VIDEO TUTORIAL}”

  1. Great post! I like doing the wings – not for the end but but for the mini-drumsticks (especially with a larger chicken). Would also be great to see your technique with the thighs being divided as well into drumstick and thigh..thanks so much!

  2. This was REALLY helpful. Thank you so much! I’ve been roasting whole chickens weekly for a long time but always felt like lots of meat was getting left behind. And I’d actually rather touch raw chicken than room temperature greasy chicken, picking it was a dreaded task. This gives me so much more recipe flexibility and doing multiple at one time helps too!

  3. Here is another way to remove the breast. Since we cut up hundreds of chickens on our farm, this technique was a game changer- so much faster!

  4. Great information! I hate touching ANY raw meat so I use the non-latex, powder-free exam gloves when I have to handle it. I just always feel like I can’t get my hands clean after I touch it! YUCK!

  5. Bethany. If you take the wings off and stuff them inside the chest cavity it will take up even less space.
    I am glad you got over the touching chicken part. Next step is trying the butchering part:) Kinda like touching a raw chicken, you realize its not that bad. I know a guy that can show you how, then you can start raising them yourself.

    1. Bethany - contributing writer for KS

      Aaron –

      HAHA! Very funny.

      (For everyone else, Aaron is my awesome chicken farmer. I’m quite content to let him handle the butchering and plucking.)

      Who knows … maybe some day I’ll be brave enough. I mean, I got up the nerve to touch a whole chicken. Butchering can’t be that much worse, right? 😉

  6. Great post, it looks a lot easier than I thought. One question though, I always buy whole chicken but receive them already frozen. Can you do this with a defrosted chicken, then refreeze?

    1. Hi Lisa,

      The USDA states that it is ok to refreeze raw meat without cooking it, as long as it is handled properly. So go ahead and thaw it correctly (in the fridge) then process and refreeze immediately.

  7. Wow! Great post. I have always wondered how to do this. It is much simpler than I thought. Now to find a pastured chicken farm near by. Thanks so much for such an informative post. I am pinning this right now.

    1. Bethany - contributing writer for KS

      maura –

      You can go to the first post in this series and see a list of ideas where to find a whole chicken. Just scroll to the end. 🙂

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