Chicken serves as a vital ingredient in many signature dishes around the culinary world. Different cuisines call for different parts of this protein-rich bird, such as bones for broth in soups, legs for drumsticks, breasts for steaks, and the list goes on.
Learning how to cut a whole chicken, however, may seem challenging at first. You may find yourself at your wit’s end dealing with the toughness of joints, the fragility of the meat, and the many complexities in between.
Nevertheless, once you do get the hang of it in our detailed guide, you’ll be breaking it down within ten minutes tops!
How to cut a whole chicken:
- Place the chicken, breast side up, and pull apart both legs.
- Bend the legs backwards until they pop out.
- Cut through the joints and remove legs.
- Similarly, separate wings from breast.
- Cut through the ribcage to separate breast and slit in two halves.
- Cut legs into drumsticks and thighs.
Don’t worry, our thorough instructions and guides will make learning how to cut a whole chicken super easy. Not only will we ensure that learning how to cut a whole chicken becomes second nature to you, we will also make sure that you do it without an ounce of wastage!
Why cut the whole chicken yourself?
You might be wondering why we are urging you to learn how to cut a whole chicken yourself. There are simply too many reasons involved. For your ease, we have jotted down a few:
- It’s cost effective. Whole chickens are way cheaper than pre-cut parts. Why not save yourself a few bucks?
- You get to keep the bones for chicken stock.
- It gives a variety of your desired cuts. There are simply too many dishes and too many ways you can use different cuts of the chicken.
- None of the parts go to waste.
Without any further ado, let’s get down to learning how to cut a whole chicken. First things first, let’s see what tools we require and how to clean up a whole chicken prior to cutting it:
The finest tools guarantee the most desirable results when you need to cut a whole chicken. Here is what you need:
- A sharp knife
The best knife for cutting a whole chicken is the boning knife. This is because this knife features the right curve and blade thickness for working its way around joints, as well as the ease of fat removal.
- A cutting board
Make sure you have a sturdy, wooden cutting board that is resilient enough to handle blows.
- A whole chicken
No surprises there.
How to clean a whole chicken
Out of the entire cutting the chicken experience, this might be the least fun, yet important part. Here is how to do it anyway:
- Remove the chicken from its wrap. Insert your hand inside the chicken cavity for removing any giblets that are inside.
- Remove the kidneys with your fingers if they are still intact.
- Rinse the whole chicken under cold water and place it on a paper towel covered cutting board to absorb the excess water.
- Pat dry.
How to cut a whole chicken in 8 pieces
This is the traditional, western method of cutting up a whole chicken. Following this step by step set of instructions will render you eight pieces of chicken: 2 halves of a breast, 2 wings, 2 thighs, and 2 drumsticks.
Step 1. Removing chicken fat, skin and tails
Use a knife to trim the chicken fat and skin on both sides of the chicken cavity opening. Also remove the tail with the help of kitchen shears.
Step 2. Detaching the legs
The first thing you have to do is to position the whole chicken with the breast side up, onto the cutting board. The legs of the chicken have drumsticks with the thighs attached. To begin removing the legs, make a sharp, nice slit on the skin between the breast and the drumstick.
Pull the leg and lightly wiggle to determine exactly where the socket meets the thigh. Bend backwards until you hear a pop sound. Use your knife once more to cut it away close to the joint, ensuring you get the meaty section next to the tail. Repeat the procedure with the other leg.
Step 3. Separating the thigh from drumstick
For separating the chicken thigh from the drumstick, place the skin side of the leg piece down on the cutting board. Using your hand, bend the leg so that you can feel the ball joint where the thigh is attached to the drumstick.
You will notice a thin line of fat running lengthwise to the ball joint. Begin by cutting through this string of fat. Make sure that you cut between the joints. Repeat this procedure with the other leg.
If you wish to proceed further with deboning the thighs, learn how to do it here.
Step 4. Detaching the wings
Hold the wing with one hand and wiggle it to determine the joint between the wing and the breast. Once you determine where the ball joint is, use your sharp knife to cut through and detach the wings from the breast. Repeat with the other wing.
Learn all about cutting chicken wings here.
Step 5. Removing the chicken breast
For this step, begin at the head of the chicken and start cutting through the ribcage of the chicken. When you are done with one side of the backbone, repeat the cut at the other side to allow removing the backbone completely.
You will get a neck, backbone and breasts after this step. Reserve the first two for stock. You can also learn how to debone chicken breasts here. You may also skin your chicken breasts if required. To do this, you simply need to use your hands to peel the skin away from the breasts.
Step 6. Dividing the breasts
For cutting the breasts into two halves, simply position the breast where the skin was / is down on the cutting board. Use your knife and the weight of your hand to split through the center bone, through the cartilage as well as the breast bone.
Alas, you are done with cutting a whole chicken into eight clean cut pieces.
How to cut a whole chicken in 10 pieces
Depending on your need, you may want to cut up your whole chicken into ten pieces instead of 8. Here is what you need to do:
- Follow the steps mentioned in how to cut a whole chicken in 8 pieces.
- Next, take a piece of the chicken breast and cut it into half. With the skin side up, use your knife to cut diagonally through the bone.
- Repeat with the other breast half.
Voila. Now you have ten pieces of chicken to make use of.
Tips for best results when cutting a whole chicken
We know that by now, you must be feeling super confident to buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. Not so fast, however. Here are some tips to keep in mind before you go off to cut a whole chicken yourself:
- Always. We repeat, always use a good quality, sharp knife for your kitchen endeavors. We cannot even stress the importance of a good knife and the impact it makes on your cutlery outputs.
- Use kitchen spears (sharp) for trimming any chicken fat.
- Use fresh chicken, or chicken that has been thawed. Do not attempt to use frozen chicken.
- Thoroughly pat your chicken dry so that it doesn’t slip as you grip and begin to cut it.
- Make sure your cutting board is clean, sturdy, and flatly placed on a secure surface.
- Lastly, you don’t want any salmonella building up. This is the bacteria from raw meat if you don’t clean up properly after you’re done.
How to cut the whole chicken Chinese style
There is another way that you can cut up a whole chicken, and that is the Chinese version. Chinese chefs use this style of cutting up chicken into bite sized pieces so that they are easily able to be grabbed with a chopstick.
Step by step instructions
1. Removing the head
Begin by cutting off the bird’s head where it meets the neck. Cut off the feet and tail. Decorate it on your platter.
2. Divide the chicken in two halves
Place the chicken on the cutting board. make sure that the breast side is facing you (up). Begin to cut it into halves. As you reach the spine, apply pressure and cut straight through the entire length of one side of the backbone. Repeat this procedure for the other side if the chicken backbone
Doing this step will render you three pieces: two chicken halves and a backbone with tail and neck.
3. Cutting the backbone
Cut the backbone, tail and neck into smaller pieces for decorating it in your platter with the bird’s head, feet and tail.
4. Removing the thighs and drumsticks
Place one half of the chicken and locate the joint between thigh and drumstick using your fingers. Bend backwards so that they separate. Use your knife or cleaver to cut the cartilage. Cut the thighs further into halves at a diagonal angle. Cut the thighs as well with your cleaver into pieces of 3/4th inch thickness.
5. Removing the wings
Locate the joint where the wings are attached to the breast. Cut them off and further cut into three pieces. These pieces are the wing tip, drumette, and flat. Arrange on your platter.
6. Cutting the breast piece
Next, cut the breast lengthwise to remove the rib from the breast. After separating, cut the breast into pieces that are 3/4th inches wide. Make nice, clean cuts and keep them as close together as possible. Use your cleaver to lift these pieces and arrange on the platter.
Tips and tricks for cutting a whole chicken Chinese style
- Use a large platter, preferable oval, and place it near your work station to allow easy transfer.
- Allow your poached or cooked chicken to cool off completely with a dash of oil to avoid drying out.
- Cut through bones slowly, using the fist of your hand to deliver a good hit on top of the cleaver to allow forceful and clean cuts.
- Cut through pieces completely.
And with that, your whole chicken is cut up and ready to serve.
What’s the difference between Chinese and Western style of cutting a whole chicken?
The cutting techniques differ in both styles. A western style of cutting up a whole chicken renders 8 to 10 pieces of chicken, while Chinese style renders numerous bite sized pieces that are easily held with chopsticks.
Moreover, Western style cuts up raw chicken, while Chinese style cuts chicken that has been poached.
How long can you refrigerate or freeze raw pieces of chicken?
You can store raw pieces of chicken in the refrigerator and use it within 2 days. Else, you can freeze it in the freezer for up to 9 months.
Can you eat a whole chicken that has been freshly butchered?
The answer is no. Allow at least 24 hours for the chicken after slaughter for emptying the bowels. This way, the meat will also relax and muscle stiffness will fade away.
Finally, we have learned how to cut up a whole chicken in two different styles. So what are you waiting for? Grab your tools and start cutting your whole chicken right away! Chop chop. We can't wait for you to try the different chicken recipes out of the lean protein bird.
If you don’t have handy tools such as a cleaver or a chef’s knife, you may want to check out our knives collection here. Happy shopping!