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Butchering a Chicken

February 19, 2019

Butchering a Chicken


It’s easier than it sounds.

First of all, this post is about butchering a chicken not slaughtering a chicken. There’s a difference. Though I will likely write a post in the future about dispatching, plucking and gutting a bird, this is not it.

Butchering is what takes place once the chicken has already been slaughtered, plucked and gutted. The cutting it into pieces part.

Butchering a chicken can sound like a daunting task, but it’s actually much easier than it might sound. I was fortunate enough to apprentice a butcher while I was in college, and the very first thing they have you work with is chickens. Mostly because they aren’t as huge as other animals, but also because they are perfect as an introduction to butchery. They’re small, and very straightforward.

Butchering a Chicken

Why Butcher Your Bird?

So why would you buy a whole chicken and cut it up versus just buying the pieces? In my opinion, there are a few reasons. Firstly, it’s much cheaper. When you purchase the pieces already cut up you are paying for the labour as well. Which is slightly annoying because if there isn’t an on site butcher at your grocery store, then the chicken is very likely being “machine separated.” Meaning, the parts won’t be cleanly separated and you can have little bits of bone floating around. Not nice.

So, secondly, your bird won’t be machine separated if you do it yourself! You can get the cuts you like, cleanly, without any bone bits to bite into.

And thirdly, if you are a fan of delicious, healthy bone broth or Stock you get the carcass of the bird to use.

The Process

For this process (which I’ll be going through with pictures below) you will need:

  • A large enough cutting board to work with the whole chicken on
  • A sharp medium sized knife. If it’s too long it will be unwieldy and you risk cutting yourself. If you have a boning knife that would be perfect. Otherwise a 6-7″ chefs knife will work.
  • A bowl or second board to put your pieces on as you cut them off the carcass.

The dotted lines in the pictures indicate where you should be making cuts.

First, remove the legs:

To remove the legs, start with the chicken on its back. If you spread the legs apart you will see they are attached to the breast and back with a flap of skin. Your first cut will be through this flap. Slice down between the breast and thigh almost all the way to the back.

Chicken leg, first cut locations
These are the two sections of skin that you should cut through. Follow them around the body to the back.
First cut of the chicken leg

Once you have cut down through the skin on one side, you will need to dislocate the hip bone before your next cut. Holding the leg in one hand and the rest of the chicken in the other, firmly bend the leg backwards and outwards, until you feel the hip bone pop out of place.

Flip the chicken over so it’s sitting on its breast to make the next cut. From here, holding the leg and still gently but firmly spreading it away from the body, you will be able to see the flap of skin you were cutting before. It extends around to the spine. Complete the slice. This will allow the leg to hang more loosely.

Second chicken leg cut
Slice along the skin indicated with the dotted line. The bulge behind my finger should end up to the left of your cut. Your knife will come to the spine.
Chicken Leg third cut
Pulling the leg away from the body, you can now slice around behind the bone.

Slice around and behind the leg bone. You should be able to full slice away the leg now, and the resulting two sides should look like this:

Removed chicken leg
The separated leg beside it’s old location on the bird.

Wing Removal

With the bird still laying on its front, you will slice down at a slight angle outwards just below the shoulder joint. Your knife might run into the joint, that’s okay. We are aiming to cut through the meeting point of the joint, Just gently manipulate the knife until it goes through.

chicken wing first cuts
Holding the wing that you’re removing out with one hand will help your knife find its place between the bones.

When you’ve cut through the joint, pull the wing away from the body to allow you to see the two bones. Slice down between them and separate the wing. Repeat on the other side.

chicken wing second cut
Once you are through these two, you should be able to slice easily through the remaining meat.

Breast Removal

You’re doing great! Next up is the breasts. If you were to keep the bones in the breasts you would need a cleaver and a bit of courage. I will hopefully be able to do a video of that in the near future. It’s hard to explain and can be a little more noisy than people expect. For this tutorial, I am removing the breasts boneless.

Start by flipping the bird onto its back and with your fingers, feel along the front and center of the chest for the breast bone. It will be a thin hard ridge that runs down the front. You will be cutting down either side of this bone.

Chicken breast first cut
Slice down one side of the breast bone. Staying as close to the bone as possible.

Slice down along the length of the bone. Do your best to keep your knife right up against the side of the bone. You can cut all the way in, your knife will be stopped by the rib cage at the bottom. You may feel the wish bone at the top, don’t worry about that, just try to cut along beside it.

Breast bone second cut
The knife won’t go any further once you hit the rib cage.

When you hit the rib cage, gently turn your blade away from the breast bone and follow the rib cage underneath the breast. You will be able to pull the meat away almost entirely, except for the top where you’ll need to cut across in front of the wish bone.

Chicken breast final cut
Slice underneath the last section. Then feel for the wish bone and cut across in front of it to release the meat.

Repeat on the other side, and you’re done!


Chicken carcass
The empty carcass should look something like this. Ready for the stock pot!

I hope this tutorial was helpful! If you want to share your chicken butchering experiences or questions, please do. This is a super easy thing to learn how to do, and a great way to save some money. (Not to mention work on your knife skills!)

Chicken Pieces
Six beautiful chicken pieces!

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