How to Break Down a Whole Chicken (With Step-by-Step Illustrations)

Be your own butcher with these step-by-step instructions.

How to Cut a Whole Chicken
Photo: Adam Cruft

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.

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Before You Start

How to Cut a Whole Chicken
Adam Cruft

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.

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Wings

How to Cut a Whole Chicken: Wings
Adam Cruft

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.

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Legs

How to Cut a Whole Chicken: Legs
Adam Cruft

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.

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Split Legs and Thighs

How to Cut a Whole Chicken: Split Legs and Thighs
Adam Cruft

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.

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Remove Backbone

How to Cut a Whole Chicken: Remove Backbone
Adam Cruft

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.)

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Split Breast

How to Cut a Whole Chicken: Split Breast
Adam Cruft

Place breast skin side down. Place the heel of your nondominant hand on the tip end of your knife and cut through the breastbone.

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Halve Breasts

How to Cut a Whole Chicken: Halve Breasts
Adam Cruft

Cut each breast in half crosswise through the bones to create four smaller breast pieces.

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