Did you know you can buy a whole chicken for the price of two boneless, skinless breasts? If you suspect “fowl” play, stop wasting money, and learn to break down a chicken at home.
When you butcher your own chicken, you get plenty of meat no matter what you’re making, plus those leftover bones for homemade stock.
Besides, when the zombie apocalypse comes, being able to break down a bird will make you a valuable asset to your group. The good news is, it’s not that tough. All you need is a good, sharp knife, a pair of kitchen scissors (optional) and a little chicken anatomy know-how.
Breaking down a chicken has several steps. Stop anywhere along the way depending on the preparation your recipe calls for. Before you begin, make sure you have all your tools out.
Step 1: Prepare the chicken
Remove the neck and giblets, which may be stuffed inside the cavity. Use a paper towel to blot any moisture off the bird.
Step 2: Remove the backbone (spatchcock/butterfly)
Position the chicken on a stable cutting board on its stomach (wings facing down) with the cavity facing you.
Locate the spine (down the center of the back).
Use a pair of kitchen utility scissors or a sharp knife to cut all the way down either side of the spine, inserting one blade into the cavity and carefully cutting down the back as close to the spine as possible. If you’re using a knife, push the blade away from you. This should completely remove the spine, but if not, you can use your scissors or knife to just cut any extra pieces of meat holding it on.
Flip the chicken over with the wings still facing you, locate the triangle of cartilage at the top of the breastbone, and use your knife to cut about 1/4 inch down. Use your fingers to open up the hole it creates to expose the breastbone. This will allow it to lie flat during the rest of the process.
If your recipe calls for a spatchcocked chicken, you’re finished. Just lay it with the skin side up, and tuck the wings under for more even cooking.
Step 3: Halve the chicken
With the chicken still skin side down, use your knife to carefully cut around and underneath the breastbone on either side. It should pull out fairly easily. Use your knife to gently cut the chicken in half, following the line where the breastbone used to be.
Step 4: Remove the wings and legs (six pieces)
Flip the bird over so the skin is facing up, and pull the wings away from the body so you can see the joint that attaches to the body. You can either cut down through the joint where it moves or just above it, taking just a little of the breast meat with you (which leaves the bones more intact and makes it a meatier cut).
Many people prefer to remove the wingtips because they aren’t very meaty but are great in stock. To do so, pull the wingtip away from the rest of the wing. You’ll see clear demarcation where the joint of the wingtip is. Just put your knife along that, and use your free hand to help you push down through the joint to remove it.
By now, the legs are hanging on by nothing but skin. Flip the chicken back over so the skin is facing up, pull the drumstick away from the body, and carefully cut through the skin between the thigh and the body. This will leave the thigh still attached to the drumstick.
Your chicken is now broken down into six pieces: two full breasts, two legs (consisting of the thigh and drumstick) and two wings (consisting of the wing itself and what’s called the drumette).
Step 5: Break down the legs and breasts (10 pieces)
Take each leg, creating a V shape on the cutting board, and use your finger to locate the joint, then place the blade of the knife where you believe the joint is. Lightly cut through the skin at the apex of the V (where you felt the joint) until you locate the joint, and cut through. If you hit bone, just move the knife back in the direction of the lower part of the V.
Place the breasts skin side up on the cutting board, and place your knife to cut it in half in two equal pieces. Gently cut through the skin. When you feel bone, use the palm of your other hand (keeping your fingers out of the way of the blade) to help you cut through the bones.
Your chicken is now broken down into eight pieces: four breast halves, two thighs, two drumsticks and two wings (consisting of the wing itself and drumette).