Learn how to cut a whole chicken with this easy step by step tutorial and save money on bone-in chicken pieces. This is the cheapest way to buy chicken that includes breast - and you can use leftover bones to make broth!
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I've gotten some comments through the years from people who wondered why I'd bother buying a whole chicken and cutting it up, so I thought I'd share with you why and how easy it is to cut a chicken - hopefully demystifying the process for any who haven't cut a whole chicken up before.
The reason why you'll often find whole chickens in my freezer instead of cut-up pieces is because it's usually cheaper to buy chicken that way.
I can often find whole chickens for .99 to 1.29 a pound, but pieces are typically 1.39 to 1.99 or more a pound.
There are reasons to buy just the pieces, especially if you're okay with the cheap leg quarter pieces, but for many dishes a whole chicken works great, plus you can collect the back bones to make a wonderful bone broth using vegetable ends and peelings (practically free broth is a good thing!).
Wait - what about the usable meat? Doesn't buying all those bones in a whole chicken offset the savings vs. cut up pieces?
The price of whole chickens is lower because you’re not paying for someone to take the time to butcher it.
However, it is true that a whole chicken actually gives you a lower percentage of edible meat (about 70 percent) than other bone-in cuts like leg quarters, thighs, and breasts.
When adjusting the price per pound and the percentage of meat for different cuts, the cheapest cut is the leg quarter (thigh and leg connected), and then the whole chicken, with drumsticks and bone-in thighs coming next. (source)
Buying individual chicken breasts is the most expensive cut of bone-in (and boneless) chicken, so if you or anyone in your family want breast meat, you will definitely save money by getting a whole chicken and cutting it up.
The fact that you can get a whole chicken for less, cut it up to have both dark and light meat, AND THEN use the bones to make broth is the reason I buy whole chickens.
I will often simply roast or slow cook a chicken whole (my favorite hands-off recipe!), but if a recipe calls for pieces of chicken, I just sharpen my good knife and cut away.
I kind of learned this on my own, so I'm not going to say this is the only way to cut a chicken, just the way I do it. I apologize to any butchers in advance.
Trust me, though, it really is easy!
How to Cut A Whole Chicken
- Use a cutting board you can sanitize with a run through the dishwasher like this one. Don't use wood for raw poultry or meats.
- Keep a sink or bowl of hot soapy water nearby to wash in as needed while cutting.
- Use a good sharp knife or quality kitchen shears (actually both are nice to have). If you're using an older knife, running the edges through a knife sharpener (this simple well-reviewed model is similar to mine) about 5 times right before using helps a lot (that's what I do).
Step 1: Breast Side Up, Cut the Leg Section
OK, you've unwrapped the bird and have it sitting breast side up, but where to start cutting?
With the legs, that's where!
Take your sharp knife and slit through the skin between the leg and breast. You won't really be cutting through meat yet, just the skin so you can pull the leg further away from the breast.
Repeat on the other side, using your hand to pull the leg down away from the breast.
Make sure those legs are touching the cutting surface by pushing them down. There's some thin meat you are cutting through at this point.
Now take the breast portion in one hand and leg portion in the other (it helps to put the chicken up on it's neck area for this), and pull back and down on the legs until you hear cracking and can see the natural area to cut (right about where the knife is in the picture above).
Use your knife to fully cut the leg section from the back and breast section.
Now cut down the middle of the leg section.
Don't be afraid to push down, you're going through bone here. Put some power in it!
Usually my cut is not right in the middle, though, because the knife goes to the side of the back bone so one thigh gets more bone than the other side. It doesn't matter, really.
Step 2: Separate Drumstick from Thigh
Now pull back the leg from the thigh, slicing a little with the knife to expose the joint in order to see where to cut.
When you can see where the joint connects, cut through to separate the leg from the thigh.
Repeat for the other leg.
Step 3: Cut Wings From Body
Now do a similar thing for the wings: pull them back from the body, find the joint where they connect with the breast, and cut through.
I always cut a little more breast meat with the wings than normal because they are pieces we eat and, well, the person who gets these should have a little meat on them, shouldn't they?
It's up to you!
Step 4: Separate Breast Section from Back
Pretty easy so far, right? Well, this is a little harder, but not by much.
To separate the breasts from the back, it's easiest to stand the breast and back portion up on the neck end and use your knife to cut down through the two.
I often get more ribs on the breast than I want, but again, who cares?
Just cut down as far as you can, I never try to go all the way through here- it just doesn't work for me very well.
When you've gone as far as the knife allows, pull the back from the breast, cracking the little bones holding them together.
Then cut anything you need to separate them (shears are handy here).
Step 5: Separate the Breasts
Now use that power again and cut through the breast, bone-side up, to separate them.
It probably won't be even - one breast may have more bone than the other - no big deal.
Optional Step 6: Cut Breasts in Half
As a last step I like to split each breast in half to make them more manageable pieces to cook and eat.
If you want to leave them whole skip this step.
So - how much time did it take me to cut up this whole chicken?
Less than 10 minutes.
Not too much time, it's easy, and I saved $1 to $2 - definitely worth it sometimes, especially with the bone broth option added in!
Now go forth and cut with confidence.
I place it in a freezer baggie and when there are three or four I put them in a slow cooker with veggie scraps overnight to make a delicious, healthy bone broth (from things we often just throw away!).
Eight is the normal number of pieces: 2 wings, 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 2 breasts. The back isn't counted.
However, if you cut the large breast pieces into two like I show, you will have 10 pieces.
You can use kitchen shears to cut a chicken using the same steps outlined here - just cut along the same areas. I often like to combine kitchen shears and a knife.
It's similar to cutting a raw chicken, except for the breasts.
Using a knife or kitchen shears, pull back on a leg to find where it attaches to the body and cut the leg off. Separate the drumstick from the thigh at the joint. Repeat on the other side.
Using the knife, separate the breast meat from the breast bone all along the carcass, trying to get it in all one piece. Set the breast on a cutting board and slice into serving pieces across the grain.
Separate the wings from the back, cutting the joint where they attach.
Recipes to Make With Your Cut Up Chicken
This tutorial has been updated - it was originally published in January of 2010.Disclosure: affiliate links in this article will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price. Click here to read our full disclaimer and advertising disclosure.