How To Break Down A Whole Chicken

By Alex C

Senior Food Writer at Pro Home Cooks

As a single person who likes to eat a variety of cuts I find it to be too expensive to buy 1 pound each of legs, thighs, breast and wings. Not to mention the space it takes to store in the freezer and the amount of leftovers I would need to eat. Instead I have been buying 1 whole chicken and breaking it down into pieces to freeze them until I want to cook them. This way I am left with 2 chicken breasts, 2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 1 carcass that can be used to make bone broth/stock that I like to use for soups or rice.

These portions are perfect for 1 - 2 meals and the total cost for a whole chicken is around $10- $15 making it super cost effective! Lastly and probably one of my favorite pros to breaking down a whole chicken is getting to practice my butchering skills. There’s something so satisfying about being able to break down an entire chicken with ease. It definitely does take practice but using a sharp chef's knife and knowing where to make your cuts is the key. 

First, you want to take off the wings and quarters and the trick is to find the joint in between the two bones that are keeping the chicken together. Chicken quarters are made up of two parts: the thigh and the leg. Using the chicken leg as a guide, make a cut parallel to the chicken leg. Slice all the way down to where the thigh bone ends and meets the carcass.

As a beginner, I would recommend popping out the thigh bone at this point so you can have a visual of where to slice through. Slice through in between the thigh bone and the carcass to detach the quarter from the rest of the chicken. Repeat on the other side. 

Now, move the chicken leg side to side so you can find the joint where the thigh and leg meet. Slice through the joint to detach the leg from the thigh. This cut is hard to make but your sharp knife should slice through easily. If you are met with resistance, it means that you are slicing through bone. Readjust your knife to find where the two joints meet. Once you have separated the leg from the thigh, repeat with the other chicken quarter. 

Now onto the wings. The wing consists of three pieces: the tip, the wingette, and the drumette. Grab the wing and stretch it away from the chicken. You will be able to see where the drumette ends. It will help to run your finger over the joint and move the wing to feel where you want to make your cut. Slice through the joint to detach the wing from the bird.

When you slice your knife through you should be met with no resistance. If you slice your knife through and are met with resistance it means you have hit bone. Adjust by moving your knife slightly higher/lower to find the sweet spot. 

Now you are left with arguably the easiest part of breaking down a chicken which is removing the chicken breast. You can keep the skin on or off, this is your choice but it will be hard to cut with the skin on. Either way, you want to make long strokes in order to be left with a clean piece. First, you will find the indent (breast bone) which separates the two breasts. This will be the line you carve parallel to. First, slice straight down until you meet the carcass. Next, turn your knife 35 - 40 degrees and slice until the breast detaches from the carcass.

Now all you are left with is the chicken carcass. I like to take the whole thing and throw it in a pot of boiling water and let it cook for 1-2 hours. Strain out the stock and store in the freezer until I need it! As for all the chicken pieces, I wrap everything up in pairs (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings) except for the breast which gets wrapped individually. I store everything in the freezer and defrost when needed!

The first couple times you are breaking down a chicken can be hard but once you know where the joints are, you will be able to break down a chicken within a few minutes! The way I learned how to break down a chicken was actually with rotisserie chickens. Cooked chickens are easier to break apart because the meat is tender. You can break it apart with just your hands! So anytime you have a whole chicken, cooked or not, try breaking it down just to get some practice and soon enough you’ll be breaking down a chicken with ease. 

By Alex C

Senior Food Writer at Pro Home Cooks