How to Break Down a Chicken | Knife Skills

How to Break Down a Chicken | Knife Skills

If there’s one knife skill that can save you money and make you look cool at the same time, it’s breaking down a chicken. Here’s how to do it like the pros.

Step 1: Trim Wing Tips and Remove the Wishbone

Removing wing tips and wishbone

Start by trimming the wing tips. Working with one wing at a time, cut the joint right at the wing tip; set aside the tips for making stock.

Next, remove the wishbone, which is located at the neck opening—this is the same for other birds, like turkey or quail. Using the tip of your knife, make a cut along each arm of the wishbone to detach it from the breast meat. Work your fingers behind the wishbone, separating it from any flesh that’s still attached. Slide your fingers up toward the apex of the wishbone until you can hook your finger behind the part where the two arms join. Pull it out, and free the wishbone fully from the flesh; set it aside for stock.

Step 2: Remove the Legs

Process shots of separating legs from chicken.

Grab the chicken by the drumstick, and pull the leg outward from the body until the skin is stretched taught. Start the operation by cutting through the skin between the leg and the body. Don’t cut too deep—just through the skin. No matter what Cat Stevens says, the first cut should be the shallowest.

Grab the leg in one hand and twist it downward, away from the body, until the ball joint pops out of the socket. This shouldn’t require much force.

Use your chef’s knife to completely remove the leg by cutting through the joint you just exposed, making sure to get the little nugget of meat that sits closest to the chicken’s spine (this is called the oyster, and it should be fought over at the table). Repeat this process with the second leg.

Step 3: Crack and Remove the Back

Removing backbone chicken

Hold the chicken by the backbone and position it vertically on your cutting board with the butt end pointing up. Use your chef’s knife to cut through the skin and cartilage between the breast and the back. Cut until you get through the first or second ribs.

If you are using a Western-style boning knife, switch over to a heavy chef’s knife or cleaver—if you’re using a honesuki, you don’t need to switch because the knife has enough heft in its handle to cut through bone. Continue cutting through the ribs using short, firm strokes. Alternatively, use poultry shears to cut through the ribs on both sides.

Use your knife to cut through the shoulder bones on either side (or use poultry shears). The backbone should now be completely separated from the breast. Save it for stock.

Step 4: Split the Breast

Process shots of splitting chicken breast

To split the breast, place it skin side down on your board to create a flat surface for cutting. Cut through either side of the sternum, using your free hand to press down firmly on the blade until it cracks through the bone.

Chicken broken down into four pieces with wing tips and back for stock.

If you are only looking for four pieces of chicken, you’re all done! To continue breaking it down into eight pieces, read on.

Chicken broken down into 8 pieces.

With four more quick knife strokes, you can turn that quartered bird into the following eight pieces: two bone-in breasts, two wings, two bone-in thighs, and two drumsticks. Here’s how to do it.

Step 5: Separate Drumsticks From the Thighs

Process shots of separating thigh from drumstick

Working with one leg quarter at a time, use your fingertip to locate the ball joint between the thigh and drumstick. If you place the legs skin side down on your board, you can also locate the joint by the line of white fat that runs along it. Cut through the joint, separating the thigh from the drumstick. Repeat with the other leg.

Step 6: Separate Wings From the Breast

Process shots of separating wing from breast

Place the breast skin side up on your cutting board. Working with one half-breast at a time, hold the wing with your nondominant hand and wiggle it to locate the shoulder joint. Cut through the joint, separating the wing from the breast. Repeat with the other half-breast. And that’s it! You are well on your way to becoming a butchery wizard.

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