Butchering Chicken

The benefit to buying whole chickens is that every part is useful. Once you remove the meat, the bones can be used to make Chicken Stock and you can save the gizzards and organs for enriching sauces and gravies.

First, remove the wishbone:

Scrape at the shoulder to expose the wishbone.

Once exposed, cut through the cartilage to loosen the prongs.

Use your fingers to loosen the wishbone from the breast meat. Feel your way to the top where it connects to the breastbone, then grab the top of the wishbone and give it a twist, then pull so it detaches. Removing the wishbone makes it easier to remove the breast meat later.

Next, if you wish, remove the wings by cutting through the first joint:

To remove the legs:

Mark the back by making a vertical cut down the center and a horizontal cut in line with the chicken’s “elbows”

Make a cut between the breast and the leg, trying to preserve as much of the skin on the breast as possible.

Make another horizontal cut connecting from the top of the thigh to the “X” you made in the back.  Then carefully use the tip of your knife and release the part of the thigh known as the “oyster” that sits in the hollow of the back.

Pull the leg back to dislocate the joint at the hip. Cut through the cartilage to release the thighbone. Once the thighbone is released, you should be able to just tear the leg off the body.

Repeat with the other leg.

To leave the breasts on the bone:

If you want to leave the breast whole, and on the bone, you can simply remove the back by cutting through the ribs with a pair of kitchen shears.

Then turn the breast over, and from the inside make a slight cut through the film of cartilage that encloses the breastbone.

Scrape away the cartilage to expose the breastbone then grab it with your fingers and pull it out gently while using your other hand to hold the breast down on the counter.

Work your way down releasing the breastbone and hard cartilage from the breast meat. You may leave the breast whole, or simply cut down the center to separate the two breasts.

For boneless chicken breasts:

If you want to remove the breast fillets it is easier to do with the torso of the chicken intact, without removing the back. Simply estimate where the center of the breast is and make an incision straight down the center.

You should end up on one side of the breastbone. Remove the breast fillet by gently pulling the meat away from the bone and using your knife to separate it. Keeping your knife in contact with the bone as you cut will help prevent cutting through the breast and leaving too much meat on the bone.

Repeat on the other side.

To cook the legs whole:

If you want to cook the legs whole, exposing the thighbone will help them to cook faster and more evenly.
There is line of fat that marks the exact place to cut.

“Marking” the leg, by cutting through the skin and ligaments at the ankle will release the meat to contract upward when cooked, making it easier to remove.

For separate thighs and drumsticks:

There is a line of fat that marks the joint between the thigh and the drumstick as well. To separate them, simply cut through this line to expose the joint.

Then cut through the joint.

For boneless thighs, expose the thighbone but cutting along the line of fat that marks it’s location.

Then using the tip of the knife, cut under the bone and release it from the meat.

Save your bones!

Use the carcass, wings, and other bones for stock. You may want to cut the carcass into smaller pieces. If you are not using them right away, put them in a freezer bag and throw them in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Related Pages:

Classic Chicken Stock

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