It may come as little surprise that when you’re purchasing poultry, buying a whole chicken is cheaper by the pound than buying chicken parts. Add to the fact that a whole chicken also lends itself to making homemade stock, and knowing how to break down a chicken just might be one of the handiest and most economical kitchen techniques to know.
But does the thought of going from a whole bird to perfectly parceled parts make you want to become best friends with your local butcher? If so, I’m here to guide you as we leave that fear (and those prepackaged chicken parts) behind. All it really takes is two simple tools and a few tips on technique (Hint: The fat lines will guide you!) to go from one chicken to eight parts in no time flat.
Like most fabrication techniques, there are several ways to break down a chicken, with variations that leave you with eight, 10 or even 12 pieces. What I’ve outlined below is one of the most basic ways to quickly and cleanly get eight chicken pieces — two thighs, two drumsticks, two breasts and two wings — using simply your KitchenAid® chef’s knife and your KitchenAid® shears.
Thighs and Drumsticks (4 Pieces)
Each chicken leg is composed of one thigh and one drumstick, so the first pieces to remove from the chicken are the two thighs and the two drumsticks. Begin by slicing into the skin that separates the drumstick from the breast. Cut only through the skin until you expose the drumstick (pictured above).
The drumstick will naturally separate from the breast, and with a slight tug, you’ll be able to pop out the joint to expose the thigh bone.
Once you’ve exposed the thigh bone, flip the chicken over so that the back of the chicken is facing upward. This will allow you to slice along the back of the chicken while ensuring you cut off the tender nugget of meat known as the oyster (pictured below).
Continue cutting around the oyster and down the back to separate the leg from the rest of the body. Repeat this same process with the other side of the chicken to end up with two chicken legs, which will each be further broken down into two thighs and two drumsticks.
To separate the thigh from the drumstick, follow the yellow fat line, as depicted by the dotted line below. The fat line is located directly over the joint, and it indicates where to slice to separate the two parts.
Once you’ve cut each leg in two, you will have a total of four pieces, which means you’re already halfway to the finish line.
Wings (2 Pieces)
The next step is to remove the two wings by feeling for the joint located right below the breast.
Once you’ve located the joint, cut downward through it to remove the wing from the body. Repeat this step on the other half of the chicken to yield two chicken wings.
Chicken wings can be further broken down into flats and drumettes, but we are keeping the wings whole, which brings our count to six chicken parts out of a total of eight.
Breasts (2 Pieces)
In order to separate the breasts, we have to first remove the back. And cue the KitchenAid® shears.
To remove the back, turn the chicken on its side and locate the fat line below the breast, as depicted by the dotted line above. Using your kitchen shears, cut directly along the fat line all the way until the back separates from the rest of the body, and then repeat this step on the other side. Once the back is removed, you will be left with two chicken breasts. (Don’t forget to save the back for chicken stock!)
The breast bone is still intact within the two breasts. To remove it, turn the breasts over and gently cut through the cartilage until you reach the hard bone. Using your fingers, gently peel back the cartilage, sliding your fingers down along the cartilage to expose the bone. Grip it firmly and pull to remove the bone from the breasts.
Now all that’s left to do is separate the two breasts. Even out the skin on both sides and place the breasts skin side down, then simply cut down the center.
And there you have it! One chicken plus two tools yields eight chicken parts perfect for roasting, grilling or baking with your choice of marinades and sauces.
Like all techniques, breaking down a chicken takes practice and patience, with repetition being the key to success. So next time you’re at the supermarket, bypass those prepackaged parts and put your knife skills to the test. After all, a few added minutes to your meal prep means a few more dollars in your pocket!
*The Contributor of this post has been compensated by KitchenAid for this post, but this post represents the Contributor’s own opinion.*