How to Break Down a Whole Chicken

Demystifying de-boning one step at a time.

By Izzy Johnson
Sep 9, 2022
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Buying a whole chicken and breaking it down yourself is beneficial for a few reasons—it’s great for your knife skills, your wallet, and your ego. Trust us, you will feel rightfully proud of yourself once you’ve mastered this skill. Plus, you’ll have a whole bird complete with breasts, legs, back, and potentially liver, heart and gizzards, all for the price of what two breasts would cost you (not to mention the scraps for stock).

What Knife Do I Need To Break Down a Chicken?

For amateurs and professionals alike, it’s important to have a Knife that can handle the job. You’ll need a sturdy blade that’s able to crack through bones, and thankfully, in terms of strength, all of our Knives are up to the task.

Each Knife is full-tang and fully forged, meaning that it’s hammered out from one piece of Stainless Steel that runs all the way from the tip of the blade through the handle. This ensures your Knife is well balanced and much more durable than a blade made from two flimsy pieces of steel melded together

When it comes to size, our 8" Chef Knife is the best choice. It’s strong enough to crack through the back, while its sharp tip gives you the precision you need for cutting between ribs and separating the wings and drumsticks later on. Our slightly smaller Santoku would also be a good option.

How Do I Break Down A Chicken Into Four Pieces?

The simplest way to take apart a chicken is into four pieces—two breasts and two legs for eating, plus the back, two wingtips and a few bones for stock. If possible, we recommend using an air-dried bird for this process, instead of one that’s been dipped in an ice bath.

Step 1: Remove Chicken From its Packaging

Take the chicken out of its packaging and pat it dry. We prefer to use paper towels for this, but you can use a clean kitchen towel too. Also, make sure you’re working with a non-porous cutting board, so opt for plastic over wood.

Step 2: Trim the Wings

Start by trimming off the tips of each wing. Slice through the joint located  at the wing and set it aside for making stock. If your chicken also came with a neck, put it in the stock pile too.

Step 3: Remove the Wishbone

Next, make a small cut down each of the longer bones of the wishbone, to separate it from the meat. Get your fingers behind it and grab the part that connects to longer bones. Pull the wishbone free of any connective tissue and set it aside for stock.

Step 4: Remove the Back

This step can still be done with a Chef Knife, but if you have a Cleaver, feel free to break it out. Set your bird vertically on your board, with its back facing up. Slice through the cartilage that connects the breasts to the back, but don’t go past the second rib.

Continue with your Chef Knife, making short cuts. Once you’ve sliced through the shoulder on both sides, the back should come free. With the addition of the back, your stock bag is now complete. Store it in the freezer for future use.

Step 5: Split the Breasts

Place the bird skin side down on your cutting board. Run your knife down the middle, just to the left of the breast bone. Be gentle—the meat will  pull away and expose where you need to cut. Then, place your knife along one side and press down until the bone cracks. Repeat this on the other side and set the two breasts aside.

Step 6: Remove the Legs

Hold one of the drumsticks and pull it outwards so the skin is taut. Slice through the skin between the leg and the body, but don’t go too deep. Grab the leg and then pull and twist downward. This should cause the ball joint to pop out of the socket.

Step 7: Remove the Oyster

Now that the joint is exposed, you can cut through it. Make sure to get the oyster, which sits close to the spine and is sometimes referred to as “the tenderloin of the chicken”. This is one of the most coveted morsels of meat, and since you took the time to break down this bird, it’s rightfully yours.

Step 8: Repeat on the Second Leg

Now it’s time to do this all again on the second side. Repeat and set them both aside. You should now have two legs and two breasts.

How Do I Break a Chicken Down into Eight Pieces?

If you want wings and drumsticks, you can break your chicken down even further. Going from four pieces to eight is fairly simple, and you’ve done most of the hard work already. This is a good option if you’re hosting a party, as prices for wings tend to go up around events like the Superbowl. Here’s how it’s done in just two steps.

Step 1: Break Down the Legs

To separate the drumstick from the thighs, locate the ball joint between the two pieces. Slice through the joint—you now have two pieces. Repeat with the other leg.

Step 2: Break Down the Wing and Breast

Locate the shoulder joint to separate the wing from the breast. Hold the wing in your free hand and cut through the joint. Repeat with the other breast.

Ready to Cook?

Now that you know how to break a chicken down into eight separate pieces with some bits leftover for stock, there are lots of ways to celebrate. We recommend trying out Culinary Creative Director Rhoda Boone’s grilled chicken wings. You’ll need about two pounds worth of wings for her recipe, so plan accordingly.

Instead of frying them, Rhoda opts to grill her wings in our Grill Frying Pan, which coupled with a dry brining process, yields perfectly crispy skin and juicy meat. Paired with a homemade scallion ranch dressing, these make an addictive addition to your next party spread.

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