It's funny, but here on the farm, meat doesn't come in packages.
“Whole, skinless, boneless, chicken breasts”. Nope. And as convenient as that would be at times, it just ain't the way the good Lord designed in.
Chickens come with:
2 legs and 2 thighs
… and a variety of interior goodies.
This means that as we stock our freezer every few months with more broilers, we're inevitably faced with the fact that chickens, are in fact, more than just their prepackaged pieces.
So when I see recipes for “4 large chicken breasts”, I chuckle. No chicken comes with 4 breasts, which means that one would need to piece up two birds for the sake of one recipe. And if they're any breed other than Cornish-X, their breasts aren't exactly “large”. More like a ‘B' cup, naturally.
Every chicken recipe I prepare then, besides my favorite Roast Chicken recipe, requires me to face the whole chicken. Hello, chicken. Welcome to the par-tay. Also. Note the feathers. A nice touch, no?
Is this an issue you face? Can you source beautiful, organic, whole birds from a local farmer but you're not sure what to do with them? Do you avoid the organic, beautiful birds from the grocery store or butcher shop because you're intimidated by what to do with them? Have no fear! Shaye is… here.
I've gotten a lot better at piecing out a chicken over the years, though I'm still far from an expert. That's never stopped me from anything! So in an attempt to share my unpolished knowledge with you, I present:
How To Cut Up A Whole Chicken
You will need:
– 1 knife (I use my all-time favorite carbon steel knife)
– 1 whole chicken (the best quality bird you can possibly source!)
1. If the chicken still has it's feet attached, which it most likely won't, you can simply cut those off at the joint by gently pushing through the joint with your knife. They'll come off very easily. Save the beautiful feet for the richest stock ever. Same goes for the neck.
2. I like to start with the breast. So I lay the bird on it's back with the breasts facing upwards towards me. You'll know the breasts when you see them because, well, they're breasts. The back of the bird has a defined spine that runs down it and is stiff to the touch – the breast side of the bird is squishy and smooth.
3. Find the center line that runs between the two breasts with your knife and gently begin to fillet the breast. A bone runs right through the two breasts so your knife can simply stick close to the breast bone as it fillets the breast away from the bird, like so:
4. Repeat this on the opposite side. You should be left with two breasts. Booya. Now onto the legs.
5. With the chicken still on it's back, it's mighty easy to push the legs down to the counter with your palms, which will separate them a bit from the carcass. Then, all that needs to be done is simply using your knife to gently cut through the skin and thin pieces of flesh that attach the leg and the thigh to the bird. You'll continue this as you also remove the thigh from the bird, separating it at the ball joint where the entire leg attaches to the side of the chicken.
6. Lastly, remove the two wings by using your knife to push through the joint. Don't try and cut through the bone, just find that joint and cut through the cartilage and connective tissue – this is much easier.
7. Lastly, if you're super talented, you can remove the “oysters”. These are two teeny tiny little pockets of the most flavorful and tender meat on the entire bird, located on the birds back right above it's thighs, on either side. See where my finger is pointing?
8. Tada! You're a wonder to behold!
How To Cut Up A Whole Chicken: Benefits
Thinking about throwing that carcass away now that you've cut all the meat off! Step back, funky cat! Don't even entertain that thought! Throw it in a stock pot with filtered water, onions, carrots, celery, peppercorns, parsley, and a bit of apple cider vinegar. Gently simmer for 24 hours, along with those feet you saved back in step one, and after filtering the solids from the stock, use that beautiful stock as a base for some seriously delicious (and immune boosting!) soup.
And have I mentioned cost, baby! Whole birds are by far cheaper than just buying packaged cuts of the bird. Like, way cheaper. So get out your knife, pull up your big girl pants, and get to work.
With me still? Great. Thought I lost ya back there when I mentioned big girl pants.
The chicken pieces can be used in recipes like this, this, and this. There is no limit! You'll find as you piece out a whole bird and cook the meat on the bone, the flavor and moisture of the meat are off the charts.
There's no comparison to meat cooked on the bone. You can quote me on that. So get to chopping, baby.
I made my first batch of chicken stock yesterday and it gelled perfectly! Chicken feet are my spirit animal 🙂
how do you get all those little hairs off?
If you want to cook the chicken with the skin on – you can singe all those tiny hairs. A little flame close to the hairs and they burn right off. Just be careful not to get the skin. Best done when the chicken is whole as it is easier to handle the bird. We also raise our own chickens and ducks. YUM!
I love your website. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your tutorial (and commentary)! I remember how terrible my first attempt was at processing a chicken–I could have used your blog.
Well at least I know I have been doing it right but I never knew they were called “oysters…
well, this is something i really need to do to overcome my queasyness of raw poultry. its when its on the bone thats the worst! the bloody veins. yuck. i must do it.
I can’t remember, do you raise turkeys? have you ever processed them before? my dad did as a kid, but I’ve never tried it myself.
I’m thinking FRESH CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP!! YUM!
When we butcher our 50 broilers in fall we take half and cut them up into meal portions for our family. We put 2 breast in a package, bone the thighs and put four in a package, package up four legs, and we also do wing packages too. We save all the “extra parts” for stock. This make life a little easier when you need a quick meal and don’t want to cut up a whole chicken. It take a little time up front but saves time later!
Great blog post, thank you! We will be getting chickens next spring so I will definitely be referring back to this post when it is my time to cut up some of our home grown chickens.
I have seen and tried a lot of ways to bone a chicken. I think I will like your way best. I must try it with my next batch of chickens.
On those chicken feet: How do you clean them up before you use them???
This has helped me so much! I now buy whole chickens and have filled my freezer and canning shelves with stock.
Roz from Real Food Family
The OYSTERS! Yes! We call them chicken filet mignon, but I love “oysters”, haha!!!!
CeAnne @ St. Fiacre's Farm
Funny I just cut up my first whole one last night before I saw your post 🙂 It went well I must say for first time ever!
Chelsea H. Wells-Barrett
I’m still new to culling and cleaning poultry and this post is SO helpful! I love that you added all of the detailed pictures. I’ve not completely hacked my chicken to pieces but it sure wasn’t the most beautiful piece of art in the world. I’ll be saving this and applying it to my homestead practice. Thanks for such a great, informative post!