When it comes to cooking, why is breaking down a chicken – separating the legs, thighs, breasts, and wings from the carcass – so important? It’s because of the flavor.
Breaking down a whole bird allows you to cook with all parts of the chicken rather than just one. Plus, it makes the perfect chicken for a one-pot meal.
In this article, you will learn how to break down a whole chicken and understand why breaking it down is important. You’ll also find out what tools you may need and how to do it by hand or with a knife for those who swear by that method.
First off, let’s take a look at what you’ll need to get started.
Choosing the Right Chicken
Selecting the best chicken is the first thing you need to do. Look carefully at the different labels on chickens from different brands and choose the one you trust.
If you want the best flavor, go for a free-range variety. They generally taste better, but you may have to pay more for them.
Even if you plan to cook the chicken immediately, buy one that is sealed well in the packaging. Vacuum sealed meat will also last longer in your refrigerator.
Tools You Will Need To Break Down A Whole Chicken:
You don’t need fancy equipment to break down a chicken. It’s a simple process that requires only three tools at most:
- A cutting board – Get a sturdy board and secure it with a wet towel.
- A sharp chef’s knife that can cut through meat and bones easily.
- Kitchen shears – only use these if you can. You can do the whole thing with a good knife.
Set up a clean working space on your kitchen counter and start breaking down your chicken. Remember to always be careful when handling raw chicken. Wash your hands and all of your tools thoroughly with soap and hot water, and avoid contact with any raw chicken juices.
Remove the giblets, wingtips, and wishbone
Using your hands, pull out the giblets – heart, liver, and neck – from inside the cavity of the chicken and discard if you’re not going to use them. You can also reserve the giblets for another use, such as making gravy or adding to a stuffing recipe.
The next step is to trim the wingtips and remove the wishbone. You need to trim the wing tips because they are tough and not very tasty. Remove the wishbone because it can be difficult to eat.
Hold the chicken with one hand and grab the wingtip with the other to trim the wingtips. Carefully bend the wing tip back until it pops out of its socket, where you can cut it off with a sharp kitchen knife or shears.
To remove the wishbone, stick your fingers between the meat and where the bone protrudes from the inside of the chicken. Pull apart the meat until the bone pops out. You can then discard the bone.
Quarter the chicken
First, separate the chicken into four quarters:
1.) Bend back the wing of each breast until it snaps and then cut through to separate. Break off and discard the wing at the first joint.
2.) Bend back both legs until they snap. Cut through to completely separate them from the chicken.
3.) Separate the backbone and the breast. To do this, hold the chicken so that the backbone is facing up. Use a sharp knife, or shears, to cut along each side of the backbone, then remove it altogether.
4.) Remove the breast. Place your chicken with the skin facing the cutting board. Starting on one end, cut along the breastbone to remove the breast attached to it.
Now that you have separated your chicken into its four quarters, it’s time to skin your chicken, or not. Some people prefer leaving it on, but others hate it. If you belong to the latter group, removing the skin is simple. Simply hold it on one end and pull it off.
Split the quarters
You can break the chicken down further into individual pieces.
For the legs and thighs: Cut through the joint where the thighs and drumsticks meet and separate into two pieces.
For the wings: Cut each wing in half at the joint where they meet.
For the breasts: Cut each breast in half by slicing horizontally through the center, not cutting all the way through.
You can either cook the chicken now or freeze it for later use.
When freezing, place raw chicken on a baking sheet in a single layer and freeze until solid. Then, place the frozen chicken in heavy-duty freezer bags. Label and date each bag for easy reference in the future.
Now that you know how to break down a chicken, go ahead and give it a try! You’ll be surprised by how easy it is and the delicious meals you can create with your own home-cooked chicken. Happy cooking!
Check out a few more articles about chicken:
How to Butterfly and Spatchcock a Chicken
How To Ensure Your Chicken Is Cooked
For more great ideas on how to get the most out of your Bradley Smoker, check out the awesome articles on our Bradley Smoker Food Smoking Blog for more tips & tricks.