Sunday, October 16, 2011

How-To: Break Down a Chicken

It's been almost a week, but I'm back with my first how-to post!  There are probably just as many ways to break down a chicken as there are ways to fix eggs, but the way I was taught in our second week of classes is by far the easiest way I've come across!

I did a Google search on "how to break down a chicken" and found video after video tutorial.  But I don't think I found a single post (or maybe Google just didn't recognize any) with a picture-by-picture tutorial.  I don't know about you, but I learn better with still images.  Videos are great, but I don't want to have to watch a whole video or pause every 5 seconds while I'm trying to learn how to do something.

So I can use the excuse that because there were so many pictures in this post, that that is the reason it took me so long to get another post up!  But we all know that isn't the case.  I'm just a busy bee - I had my first day in a restaurant kitchen last Thursday - It was definitely a LOT to take in, and a completely different scenario than cooking in my own kitchen (duh!).  So I'm excited about going back this upcoming Thursday and learning more!

Anyway, this post is going to be long enough, so I'm sure you want me to stop yapping!  Let's get to breaking down this chicken!

So let's see what we need...

 You want a bowl of ice so that you can keep your chicken at a cool temperature.  If you just set it out on the cutting board, 1. you'll run out of room quick, and 2. the warmer your chicken gets, the more it's prone to grow bacteria (and that's a bit gross, now don't you think?)  After each piece is cut off the chicken, you'll put it in this bowl.

And I didn't label it, but it should be obvious... you'll also need a cutting board.

So the first thing we do is cut off the wing.  You'll want to spread the arm out and look for the ligament between the wing and the drummette. Most important part here is to cut through the cartilage (the soft cushioning between bones)... NOT through a bone. 
Use the dotted line as a guide

Right through the cartilage - if you have any resistance, you're cutting through bone, not cartilage.  Cartilage should be as easy as cutting through butter.
 And you'll want to do the same thing with the other arm/wing area.  (Every step will be done twice, obviously - so I won't restate the obvious from here on out.)

Next we'll take off the thigh and the leg.  It's easier to see what you're working with if you grab the chicken by both legs and sort of bend them down - this pulls the meat away the carcass and allows you to better see the "hip knuckle" that you cut behind next.

 The knuckle should be in the crease between the thigh and the carcass.  Once you find it, you'll make your cut behind it, cutting the leg from the carcass.

Follow the line, not my knife

Cut off any excess fat, as desired
So if you like having the whole leg quarter then you don't need to go any further.  But if you want to break this down even more and end up with a thigh and a drumstick, then we make this cut...

You'll want to find the natural fat seam between where the drumstick and thigh meet. 

Then score against the fat seam until you can find the cartilage between the bones.  Remember, we cut through cartilage, NOT bones!  

 Then you can make a clean cut to have that leg separated into two pieces - the thigh and the drumstick.

And the final components to remove from the chicken are the breast and the drummette.

You'll want to score the middle of the chicken until you find the Keel Bone. (It's a small flat bone that divides the chicken.  And technically, it's more cartilage than bone, but we won't get into specifics).

Once you find the Keel, you'll want to make long strokes along the side of it, running your knife along the outside of the ribs, as well.  You can pull gently on the breast to peel it away from the middle, but a good 4-5 strokes of your knife (if it's properly sharpened, that is) should do it.

When you're close to having the breast almost removed, grab the drummette and breast in one hand.

 Find the cartilage in between the carcass and breast and make a clean cut through that cartilage to release the breast and drummette.

To remove the drummette from the breast, find the cartilage in between the breast and the drummette.  Cut behind that to remove the drummette from the breast.

Remove the skin from the breast, if you'd like, and remove any excess fat.

There should be a small flap-like piece of meat on the breast, which is the tenderloin.  Just lift it up and make a clean cut to remove it from the breast.

And you've got yourself a breast and a tender.

And now all you should be left with is a carcass!

So I know this was long, but I hope it was helpful!  If not, it at least helped me "study"!  Knowing how to break down a chicken saves you money in the long run!  A whole chicken costs way less than the already cut up parts - and is an invaluable skill to possess! 

In the next couple of posts, I'll be doing recipes with what to do with all that cut up chicken - so the only waste we will have had is the excess fat.  And honestly, if you wanted to, you could use it, but we don't want to be too glutinous over here!

See you guys in a couple of days!

How do you break down a chicken?  Was this helpful to you?  Do you like these "How-To" posts? 


  1. I don't even eat chicken (or any meat for that matter), but if I did have any desire to break down a chicken, this would be my go-to post! :) I really do like learning how other people do things in the kitchen. Generally it's better than the way I do it...(like the time I learned that most butternut squashes can be peeled with a vegetable peeler...)

  2. lovely step by step instruction

  3. This is SO interesting---thank you!

  4. Thanks for posting this! It helps a lot!

  5. Holy moly! Mad props for tackling this, and for sharing your How-To. I'm so impressed by anybody who can break down their own chicken: It seems like a really important way to engage with your food and understand it.

    I… I don't think I'm quite ready yet, though. Ha.

  6. Love this post! I agree with you about step by step photos instead of a video. I can't tell you how many times I had to re-watch a video on trussing a chicken until I finally just did it my own way. I can't wait to see your next "how to" post :)

  7. Great instructional!

  8. Hi Peggy, lovely picture. Thanks for sharing. Have a nice day.

  9. Wow, this is such a neat post! I use scissors to cut up my chicken. I found it the most effective way & it's so easy & saves me a lot of time.

    This post is brilliant, Peggy!

  10. This is very helpful!....I don't do it myself but is very helpful.......Abrazotes, Marcela

  11. Certainly very helpful Peggy cause until today, I just can't get it right. The bones and flesh will become two different parts. I get the shop to do it for me knowing very well what will become of the chicken if I am to work on it.

    thank you for sharing and must try to learn it.

  12. yes... I'm agree with u that we learn a lot more and easier from photos and images :)
    Tq for posting and sharing this 'how to" post peggy!
    and yes... we do need a tasty soup for the lovely fall :)

  13. Love your tutorial. I thought I was the only one who didn't care for videos; almost impossible to follow. You did a great job! Looking forward to your recipes.

  14. What a great step by step post. I must confess, I always have my husband break down the chicken, but with your photos I feel like I could do this! I love buying whole chickens, they're so much more economical. Our local store usually has a big sale on whole chickens every couple months, and we always stock up and have several in the freezer. I'm looking forward to reading your recipes for what to do with all the chicken!

  15. oh, so cool. love step by steps.

  16. Love all the step-by-step photos: you've made it look so clear and easy; great post! Hopefully nobody will chicken out now ;-)

  17. I break down chicken in a slightly different order from yours, but I must say that your way looks easy too! Awesome job on your firt how-to post, Peggy!

  18. Peggy, I have to admit that I do not like cutting up a chicken...therefore thank you so much for this very step-by-step post...very much appreciated.
    Hope you have a wonderful week and again thanks for this tutorial :-)

  19. peggy,Thanks for posting this,step by step intruction is useful,Thanks for sharing.

  20. I think you should share with us more how-to posts when you learn something easy and cool, and demystify it for us! I would love to see some basic how tos (or complicated ones)

  21. GREAT pictures! As it turns out...I've been doing it right all these years - although when my chicken is all done, it doesn't look as pretty as yours!

  22. I just bookmarked this and this will be my reference when I need to break down chicken! Thank you for these great step-by-step with pointers and everything. REALLY helpful!

  23. Wow! nice this is so informative. Thanks for teaching us how to break down a chicken . I remember watching that asian guy on tv once break down a chicken in under a minute. That was a little too ridiculous

    Yan can cook guy or whatever his name was... O Martin yan i think

  24. Thank you so much for this post! You are so right, I could not find a post showing step by step how to break down a chicken. Really helpfull, especially for me that I have always a chicken in my fridge...

  25. Great post! Thanks for sharing this. It has been very helpful.

    Spoon and Chopsticks

  26. Great tutorial. This is incredibly useful.

  27. Very interesting post: please keep these coming. It will be alittle like going to culinary school.

  28. Saving this one for later. This is soooo intimidating to me. Every time I see a recipe for a whole chicken that needs to be dismembered I immediately put it out of my mind. This is a great tutorial with great pics, so next time I find a recipe like this I can make it! Thank you.

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