How to Butcher a Chicken
A boning knife and cleaver are handy if you have them, but a sharp, sturdy chef’s knife is up to the whole task. Follow our step-by-step illustrated instructions to learn how to cut up a chicken.
Television host and food writer Andrew Zimmern wants everyone to master basic chicken skills. Follow the illustrated instructions below, or watch Andrew's how-to video.
"The great thing about a raw chicken is that it tells you a lot of the places to cut," Andrew explains. "You can feel the knobs of the joints through the skin, and that tells you where to put your knife to cut through cleanly every time." In other words, this isn't hard-but you might feel comically awkward the first time. Stick with it. After some practice, you'll be able to confidently break down a chicken in minutes for about the price of a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
Start by removing the leg quarters. Set the chicken breast-side up, and feel for where the thigh separates from the body. Gently slit the skin along that line.
Turn the chicken over and twist the leg back (as if the chicken were doing the splits) to pop the upper thigh joint-you'll hear and see it snap. Cut through the joint, taking care to include the morsel of meat (called the "oyster") where the thigh meets the backbone. Repeat on other side.
To break the quarter into pieces, flip the leg so you are looking at the skinless underside. Find the thin line of fat that separates the drumstick and thigh. "It's almost like da Vinci drew that for you," Andrew says, "because straight below that line is the joint." Cut right through it.
Now the wings. With the chicken breast-side down, twist and pop out the wings, just like the thighs. If you are going to eat the wings, be generous when you cut the joint, and capture some white meat from the breast area. Trim the tips to use in stock.
For boneless breast halves, Andrew removes the backbone first. Place the chicken breast-side up and cut horizontally through the ribs, parallel to the backbone. When you reach the shoulder area, pull and crack the backbone away, using a knife to finish the job.
With the breast facing up, find the line of collagen that separates the two halves and gently trim the meat away. Save all bones for stock.