Cut Up a Whole Chicken

Edited by Grimm

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Cutting a chicken into pieces to be cooked is easily done with scissors or a knife, and simplifies making a fillet for frying, or legs and breasts to bake. You can cut up any whole chicken in just a few minutes, and have the pieces ready for individual portion cooking or freezing, depending on your needs. Buying a whole chicken, instead of pre-cut parts, is usually more economical, especially when cooking for one. You will also know that all the parts came from one bird, as prepackaged parts may come from several different birds.

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While it might take a little longer your first couple times through, with practice you will be able to cut up a whole chicken in about than 2-4 minutes. Depending on the size of the breasts, you can typically get 10 or 12 pieces from one bird, and use the carcass for making your own stock. Stock is what you'll need for making soups or for adding to rice to give it extra flavor.

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Tools You'll Need for Cutting Up a Whole Chicken

Make sure your tools are sharp, and your workspace is clean.

Tools are a personal preference, but you'll want at least some of the following:

  1. 1
    A Chef's Knife:
    The best chef's knives are forged from a single piece of high-carbon stainless steel that runs the entire length of the knife extending to the end of the handle. The most common lengths are 8" to 12".
    Wusthof 8" Classic Chef Knife.jpg
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  2. 2
    A Boning Knife:
    The blade of the boning knife is thinner than most kitchen knives. It is straight and stiffer than a fillet knife.
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  3. 3
    Small Knives:
    Some are called paring knives, and are at lengths of 2 ¾ inches to 4 inch blades. They are good for trimming, peeling, and some slicing. They are a good utility knife.
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  4. 4
    Poultry Shears:
    These shears are sharp with slightly curved blades that have a fine serrated edge. They can cut, trim both meat and bones.
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  5. 5
    Cutting Boards:
    Plastic, glass, and acrylic cutting boards can be washed in a dishwasher. Solid wood and laminated boards should be washed by hand.
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  6. 6
    Freezer Bags:Freezer bags are thicker than regular storage bags.
    It is a personal preference for press and seal over the zipper lock bags, but both will work. Keeping as much air away from the meat ensures avoidance of freezer burn.
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  7. 7
    Freezer Paper:
    Freezer paper is heavier than wax paper, while wax paper is thinner than freezer paper and has a very thin coat of wax on both sides, Freezer paper has wax on one side that prevents liquids from soaking through and can help to prevent freezer burns. Parchment paper is heat proof to about 400 degrees and does not prevent freezer burn. Freezer paper and wax paper are not heat proof. Be careful not to confuse the different papers.
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Steps for Cutting-Up a Whole Chicken

  1. 1
    Legs and Thighs:
    Remove giblets and any large pieces of fat and set aside. Lay the chicken on its back, breast side up. Stretch skin evenly over bird. Make a slit in the skin between the thigh and the breast, lift the thigh while holding the chicken and bend the thigh backwards to pop the bone from the joint, and the joint will be exposed. Lay the chicken back down and with the tip of your knife cut through the joint separating thigh and leg from the bird. Repeat on other side. You can leave the legs and thighs attached to each other or separate them. To separate them, place each leg/thigh skin-side down. There is a fat line dividing the thigh and leg, if you cut down the middle of that line you will cut right through the joint. Do the same with the other leg and thigh. Then place the legs and thighs in a bowl with ice. The ice is to keep the meat cold while cutting the bird. With practice, you will become faster and not need to keep the meat on ice.
    Seperating the leg and thigh.jpg
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  2. 2
    Wings:
    With chicken still on its back, take a hold of a wing and flex it back and forth while feeling for the joint closest to the breast, flex the wing backwards popping the joint. With a sharp knife cut through the joint removing the wing. Repeat on other side. Cut off wing tips and save for stock making. Set wings aside in ice bowel.
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  3. 3
    Backbone:
    On the breast side near the cavity opening, there is a fat line that runs from the center end of breast to back bone, cut along this line. Next, turn the chicken over so that the breast is down. With your knife or poultry shears, on one side of the spine, cut through the ribs from tail to neck and repeat on other side of spine. Place the backbone and neck with the wing tips in the ice bowl.
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  4. 4
    Breast Halves:
    Some people like to remove the wishbone before splitting the breasts; it is located at the thick end of the breasts. You can take the tip end of your knife and scrape the meat away from the wishbone. When the bone is exposed on both sides, you can cut the two ends away from the breasts.
    Chicken Breast with Bone.jpg
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  5. 5
    To Cut the Breast Into Two Halves:
    Place it bone side down, spread the skin evenly over the meat, and then turn the breasts over so that the skin side is down. With the tip of your knife, cut slightly down the center of the breast bone and white cartilage, turn the breasts over and bend the two sides up to break the bone, then lay on board and cut through separating the two sides. Be careful as the knife can slip and may injure you.
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  6. 6
    To De-Bone the Breast:
    Hold the breast half and run your finger or thumb along the breast bone, separating the meat from the bone as you work your way down the rib cage. Repeat for other side. The fillet may stay attached to the bones and you can use your thumb to remove it. The fillets have a white tendon in each one. You can remove the tendon by using a paper towel to grasp the tendon on the board and using your knife scrape the flesh away from the tendon, do the same for the other fillet.
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  7. 7
    Additional Breast Tips:
    Depending on how you plan to cook the breast meat, you may want to cut one or both breasts into cutlets. Lay the breast flat on the board, with one hand flat on the breast and holding your knife parallel to the board, slice through the breast horizontally from the thick end to the thin end. Slice the cutlets into ¼ inch thick, not all will be the length of the breast.
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  8. 8
    Freezing:
    Place giblets in a snack zip lock bag, squeezing as much air out as possible. Place neck, back, breastbones and any pieces of fat and skin in freezer bag, this is for stock, quart size is usually adequate. Place each piece in individual zip lock bags, squeezing as much air out as possible. Squeezing out the air helps to prevent freezer burn. Use masking tape to label what the pieces are and the date. Put the smaller bags into a gallon size freezer bag, for organization, and freeze.
    Homemade Chicken Stock.jpg
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Safety Tips and Suggestions for Cutting Chicken

A clean workspace and proper handling of raw poultry is important.

  • Cutting boards: All cutting boards eventually wear out. Discard cutting boards that have become excessively worn or have hard-to-clean grooves. These grooves can hold harmful bacteria that even careful washing will not eliminate.
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  • Cleaning and Disinfecting: After cutting raw meat, poultry or seafood on your cutting board, clean thoroughly with hot soapy water, then disinfect with chlorine bleach or other sanitizing solution and rinse with clean water. You can make your own disinfection solution; use a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Flood the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to sit for several minutes. Rinse with water and air dry or pat dry with clean towels.
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  • Correct temperatures: Per USDA recommendations, once you have your chicken at home, immediately place it in a refrigerator that maintains a temperature of 40 °F (4.4 °C) or below. Use fresh chicken within 1 or 2 days, or freeze it at 0 °F (-17.8 °C). If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely. www.fsis.usda.gov http://faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/cuttingboard.htm
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Additional Warnings for Handling Raw Chicken

Washing raw poultry before cooking it is not recommended. Cross contamination is where bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. Rinsing with water or soaking chicken does not destroy bacteria. Only cooking will destroy bacteria that might be present on fresh raw chicken.

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The USDA has recommendations on safe food handling and proper cooking that will help keep you and your family safe from food-borne bacteria. Follow these four food safety steps from the USDA's Food Safe Families campaign:

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  1. 1
    Clean:
    Wash hands and surfaces often. Use warm running water and soap to thoroughly soap up your hands while rubbing them together. Be sure to get between your fingers and under your finger nails. Dry your hands thoroughly, using a clean hand towel or paper towel European Union Food Safety.
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  2. 2
    Separate:
    Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods to prevent cross-contamination. If you do not use a separate cutting board and knife, cut your produce first and the wash your knife and cutting board before cutting your meat or poultry. Home Food Safety Tips.
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  3. 3
    Cook:
    Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C), to kill potential pathogens. You cannot tell if meat or poultry is cooked through by looking at it or touching it. Using a thermometer is the best way to determine if its actually done and it also prevents over cooking too, leading to more tender and juicy meats. Proper Cooking Temperatures.
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  4. 4
    Chill:
    Refrigerate promptly. "According to both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, refrigeration at 40° F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce risk of food borne illness."Minnesota Department of Heath Food-borne Illness Prevention.
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