How to Break Down a Whole Chicken

You may not know this, but buying a whole chicken from the store is more economically efficient than single chicken breasts. However, many of us prefer chicken that has already been broken down because it saves us time- which is true. If you are looking to learn a new knife skill or save a bit of money, this guide to breaking down a whole chicken is just what you need. Just follow the instructions, and you'll be breaking down birds like the pros.

The Tools Needed:

  • Sharp Chef's Knife
  • Western-Style Boning Knife
  • Poultry Shears or a Cleaver

4 Piece Break Down:

Using this method, you'll end up with four pieces of chicken for eating as is—two bone-in breast quarters with wings attached and two bone-in leg quarters—and three pieces of chicken for making stock: two wingtips and the back. Here's how to do it.

Step One: Removing the wishbone and trimming the wingtips

Start by trimming the wingtips. Working with one wing at a time, cut the joint right at the wingtip. Next, it's time to remove the wishbone, which is located at the neck window. Use your knife to make a cut along each side of the wishbone to detach it. It may still be attached to the breast meat; if so us your fingers to remove it from the rest of the meat. Slide your fingers up toward the apex of the wishbone until you can hook your finger behind the part where the two arms join and pull it out.

Step Two: Remove the Legs

Grab the drumstick, and pull the leg outward from the body until the skin is stretched taught. Now begin to cut through the skin between the leg and body. Don't cut too deep; just through the skin. Now, grab the leg in one hand and twist it downward, away from the body, until the ball joint pops out of the socket. Use your chef's knife to completely detach the leg. You'll cut through the joint you just exposed. Make sure to get the little nugget of meat that sits closest to the chicken's spine! Repeat this process on the second leg.

Step Three: Remove the Back

Grab the chicken by the backbone and position it vertically on your cutting board, butt end pointing up. Using your chef's knife, cut through the skin and cartilage between the breast and the back. Cut until you get through the first or second ribs. Now it's time to switch over to a bigger knife with more oomph, like a cleaver. Continue cutting through the ribs using short, firm strokes. Alternatively, use poultry shears to cut through the ribs on both sides. Now use your knife to cut through the shoulder bones on both sides. The backbone should now be completely separated from the breast.

Step Four: Split the Breast

Place the breast skin side down on your board. Cut through either side of the sternum, using your free hand to press down firmly on the blade until it cracks through the bone.

You're all done! Congrats, you've successfully broken down an entire chicken.

8 Piece Break Down:

If you're looking to break your chicken down into 8 pieces, continue reading. With four more quick knife strokes, you can turn that quartered bird into the following eight pieces: two bone-in breasts, two wings, two bone-in thighs, and two drumsticks. Here's how to do it.

Step Five: Separate the Drumsticks

Use your fingertip to locate the joint between the drumstick and thigh. Then, cut through the joint separating the thigh from the drumstick. Repeat with the other leg.

Step Six: Separate the Wings

Place the breast skin side up on your cutting board. Working with one half at a time, hold the wing with your non-dominant hand and locate the shoulder joint. Cut through the joint, separating the wing from the breast. Repeat with the other half-breast.