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Knowing how to break down a whole chicken is a task we believe every home cook should conquer, if not completely master.
And while there are billion ways to break down a chicken depending on your desired end result or your recipe of choice, we thought it best to start with the most widely used instruction, which results in 8 distinct pieces: 2 wings, 2 breasts, 2 thighs, and 2 drumsticks. (AND a leftover carcass for making stock!)
Make sure your knife is sharp, your cutting board is clean, and bring a little bit of confidence with you — you’ve totally got this.
Ready to dig in? Our own Wesley Adams has quite literally broken it down for you, step-by-step, using one of our delicious Jolly Barnyard chickens.
PS – Scroll all the way to the bottom to see a video of Wesley demonstrating the art of breaking down a bird.
1. CLEAN IT UP
Use a sharp knife to slit plastic wrap surrounding the chicken. Lift the bird out of the plastic and, with the cavity pointing down, use your hand to open the chicken cavity, allowing any excess juices to fall into the plastic wrap. Discard juices and plastic.
Dry the chicken.
Using a clean dish rag or paper towel, pat around the chicken to remove excess moisture. This will make the chicken less slippery and therefore easier to handle. Similarly, wipe down your cutting board.
Remove neck skin.
Use your fingers to pull the neck skin out of the cavity and use a sharp knife to cut it. Reserve for stock or discard.
2. REMOVE THE WINGS
Pull and cut, using the joint as a guide.
Flip the chicken over so the breast side is down. Grab the chicken wing by the elbow joint and rotate it towards the neck. Doing this should reveal the muscle line where you will slice and sever the shoulder joint. Use this line as a guideline for your knife and make long slices as you continue to pull the elbow towards you. Slice until the wing is removed, and then repeat on the other side.
Break it down more.
If you’d like to break the wing down into smaller pieces (wing tip, flat, and drum) simply follow the joints again and use a strong, confident knife stroke. First, separate the drum from the flat; then separate the tip from the flat.
3. REMOVE THE WISHBONE
Scrape away meat from the front of the wishbone.
Flip the chicken over again so the breasts face up. Use your non-dominant hand to spread the breast skin tight, and pull away any remaining neck skin that might be obstructing your view of the wishbone (which is basically the chicken’s collarbones). Insert the tip of your knife into the backbone (resting against your cutting board) to use as a pivot point. Then begin to slide your knife into the V where the breasts meet and use the sharp edge of your knife to scrape along the right side of the wishbone. Once you can hear the scraping sound of knife against the entire bone, do the same on the left side.
Floss and pull.
Use your fingers to spread the breasts a bit wider near the V, revealing the wishbone. Then, using your index finger and your thumb, begin to floss the bone, working to releasing it from the surrounding meat and working your way towards the apex of the bone, or the flat part. Once you find the flat part of the bone, pinch and pull to remove the wishbone entirely.
Save for later when you want to make a wish!
4. REMOVE THE BREASTS
Slice the skin between the leg and breast.With the breasts facing up, lightly slice the skin between the breast and the leg. Do not cut into the muscle yet.
Slice against the breastplate.
Beginning with your knife at the V, make long slices towards the tailbone, keeping your knife against the breastplate the whole time. (The breastplate is the bone runs along the center of the bird; currently facing up) Make sure your knife is running as close to the breastplate as possible, and remember to keep the sharp part of your knife pointing towards the breastplate instead of towards the breast.
Peel away the tenders.
Once the tender is revealed, use your fingers to gently pull the top of the breast (the tender) away from the breastplate so they remain connected to the breasts as they are removed from the breastplate.
Use your knife to remove the breast. Using long, confident strokes and following along the curvature of the carcass, slice the remainder of the breast completely off.
Repeat with the other breast.
5. REMOVE THE LEGS
Flip the bird over so that the oyster muscles are facing up and the feet of the bird are pointing away from you.
Pop the joints. Grab a hold of the entire leg — thigh and drumstick — and rotate the leg towards the tail to pop the hip joint. This will allow you to clearly see the division of the thigh from the carcass.
Separate leg from carcass. Maneuver your knife around the oyster muscle to somewhat scoop it out, as you continue slicing towards the joint. Once the oyster has been released, keep rotating the leg towards the tail and slice along the joint line, until the entire leg is released.
Repeat with other leg.
Save carcass for making stock. Hot tip: you can roast the carcass, leave it raw, or even throw it into the freezer until you’re ready to make stock.
6. THIGHS AND DRUMSTICKS
Slice through the muscle line. With the skin side down, find the muscle line that runs between the head of the drumstick and the thigh. Simply slide your knife through the line, and use a little bit of pressure to, separating the two.
Repeat with the other leg.
You’ve got 2 wings, 2 breasts, 2 thighs, and 2 drumsticks — now, go cook something tasty.