How to Break Down a Chicken

2 minute read

7 Steps to Getting the Most Out of Your Chicken (and Your Dollar).

Kitchen Voyeur Season 2: Whole Cooking with Evan Hendrix.

Episode 3 - How to Break Down a Chicken.

3 Good Reasons to Break Down a Chicken - Yourself:

  • It’s about 300% cheaper, for starters. There’s a markup every time the butcher touches your chicken.
  • Plus, you get ALL the chicken parts, so you can make homemade stock.
  • Finally, you may feel more respect and gratitude for the animal, by wasting less of it.

7-Step Technique:

Okay. I admit it. The first time I tried breaking down a chicken, I totally botched it and grossed myself out. I was using pen-and-ink drawings from Cook’s Illustrated for guidance and I quickly found myself macerating my bird instead of manicuring it.

That’s why we made this video. To SHOW you how it’s done in real time—with ease and intelligence.

This is not a brute force exercise.

THE KEY is to allow gravity to help you. Hold the chicken by the wing or leg and look for the places where the skin pulls taut—these are like the dotted lines in a children's book that say "cut here".

  1. Hone your knife. (Always the first step.) Evan prefers the Santoku.
  2. Start with the wings, wing tips, and drumettes. Easy peasy.
  3. Now remove the leg and thigh
    • Make sure to include the “oyster” of the chicken, this is the "filet mignon" of the bird. Don’t miss out!
  4. Now separate the drum from the thigh by feeling along the joint line and cutting through it briskly.
  5. Next, separate the backbone from the breasts by popping through the ribs.
    • Set aside the backbone and use it to make chicken stock. Do not throw away!
  6. Now pop the central breast bone vertically to separate the breasts.
    • (Optional) If you’re roasting off the whole chicken, slice each breast crosswise so it matches the size of your other cuts. This will help the breast pieces cook at the same rate as the thighs, drums, and wings (more or less).
  7. Finally, remove excess skin and use it for rendering Schmaltz—a flexible and flavorful cooking fat used for frying or as a spread on bread in Central European cuisine.

That's it. You did it!

Breaking down a chicken seems daunting at first, I'll grant you, but you can totally do this. You don't have to be strong or built like a caveman, or cavewoman. And every time you do it you’ll get better.

Make sure your knives are sharp and well-honed before you start. If you need a refresher course on knife skills watch Episode 2: Knife Skills 101.

Cheers,

Marc Wagner
Nutritional Therapist, MD

Lead photo: Axit mit Hackstock by Michael E. on Flickr

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