How to Break Down a Whole Chicken (With Step-by-Step Illustrations)
Be your own butcher with these step-by-step instructions.
Breaking down a chicken is a skill all home cooks should master. In addition to being a useful culinary technique you’ll keep in your back pocket forever, learning how to cut up a whole chicken will be a major blessing on your wallet. For around the same price as a couple of pre-cut boneless breasts, you’re also getting thighs, drumsticks, wings, and a back.
Using a plastic cutting board with a moat—called a channel—around the edges will help catch liquids, and you'll need a great chef's knife for the job, too. Follow these simple instructions to break down birds like a pro.
Secure a cutting board to the counter by placing a damp paper towel underneath it. Grab a sharp, sturdy chef's knife: it's best for cutting through skin and bones.
Wiggle the blade of your knife between the wing and breast until you find the joint. Slice all the way through the skin and meat and cut through the joint.
Tug the leg outward and make a shallow cut through the skin between leg and body. Bend the leg outward to expose thigh joint. Cut through joint to separate thigh and drumstick from body.
Find the “V” where the drumstick and thigh meet. With the skin side down, you’ll see a line of white fat running along the joint. Cut through the joint. Repeat with the other leg.
Stand the body of the chicken upright on your board. Cut along both sides of the backbone, through the ribs, to separate the breast from the back. (Reserve backbone for chicken stock.)
Place breast skin side down. Place the heel of your nondominant hand on the tip end of your knife and cut through the breastbone.