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Kitchen Notes

Cutting Up Chicken

by Michael Chu
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With the convenience of supermarkets providing chicken parts, we don't often have to cut up a whole chicken. However, precut chicken parts are often not uniform in size and shape, contain bits of shattered bone, and usually more expensive than buying a whole chicken. If you haven't cut up a chicken carcass before, then it can be a bit challenging. This sectioning method produces an eight piece, ten piece, or twelve piece result.

First, start with a clean surface and assemble your tools. All you really need is a strong sturdy knife and a large cutting board. I also like using kitchen or poultry shears. In the picture below, you'll see that I'm using a plastic cutting board, but wood would have worked just as well (see Equipment & Gear: Cutting Boards). In my case, my largest wood cutting board does not have a blood or juice groove, so I chose to use my large plastic board.

Remove the giblets from the chicken and set aside (often, I'll use these and any trimmings from the bird for making stock). Rinse the chicken and as much water as possible drip out before transferring to the cutting board. Orient the carcass so the breast is facing up.

Start by removing the legs. This is done by pulling a leg away from the body and scraping with the sharp edge of the knife through the connecting skin and tissue.

Once the bone is reached, use the tip of your knife to find the joint where the thigh meets the main body. Pressing down on the knife between the joint, cut through the cartilage and separate the leg from the body.

By cutting through the joint, you won't have any shattered pieces of bone in your chicken.

Use your fingers to feel where the thigh bone meets the drumstick and cut through the joint with your knife. Once you've separated the drumstick from the thigh, look to see where you started your cut. On the other leg, look at the same region. You'll notice a line of fat. Cutting straight down through this line will yield clean separation of drumstick and thigh.

Next, separate the wing from the body.

For a twelve piece chicken, cut the wing through the first joint. This cut is desirable when frying the chicken wings because it exposes more of the skin of the wing providing more area for breading and a more even fry. The wing portion with the tip is called a wingette, while the portion attached to the body is called the drummette.

Repeat the leg and wing steps for the other side.

Rotate the carcass so it is breast-side down. Using kitchen shears, cut through the ribs down both sides of the back bone. If you don't have kitchen shears, you can stand the bird up and cut down with your knife to remove the backbone. You can save the backbone for making stock.

Splitting the breast can be done from the breast side, as shown below.

Another method is to split the breast by cutting from the inside, through the keel bone.

Once the breasts have been separated, you can cut them in half for a ten or twelve piece chicken. This is often recommended to produce portions of similar size - especially since many chickens are bred to have large breasts.

This method of cutting up a chicken can produce the "classic" eight piece, even-portioned ten piece, or perfect-fry twelve piece cuts.

Eight pieces
  • 2 drumsticks
  • 2 thighs
  • 2 wings
  • 2 breast halves

Ten pieces
  • 2 drumsticks
  • 2 thighs
  • 2 wings
  • 4 breast quarters

Twelve pieces
  • 2 drumsticks
  • 2 thighs
  • 2 wingettes
  • 2 drummettes
  • 4 breast quarters

Tools used:
  • Kitchen shears to cut backbone off
  • Chef's knife to section chicken
  • Boning knife is a great alternative for the Chef's knife for everything except cutting through the keel bone. A sharp boning knife will remove the wings and legs from body easily and since you are cutting through the joints and not bones, the thin blade gives great speed and flexibility.

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on March 22, 2005 at 05:36 AM
48 comments on Cutting Up Chicken:(Post a comment)

On August 05, 2005 at 07:38 PM, Kate (guest) said...

I stumbled over your site, weirdly enough, looking for an answer to a question about the way graphics are displaying in my Word document.

At any rate, great site. Thought I'd point you to DC-stuff's Cookbook. It's a collection of recipes from participants in a forum for people who attend Defcon -- the yearly hacker convention in Vegas.

Great recipes there and great commentary about how to enjoy wine, food, beer, scotch, and other delights!

I post at the list every so often and couldn't resist sharing with a fellow geek/gourmet! :)

On August 05, 2005 at 07:38 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Nicely done!
I had always learned to remove the keel bone before splitting the breasts, and I think a boning knife would be handy here.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:39 PM, an anonymous reader said...
now of course the real chalange is to debone the dark quarter. Any tricks up your sleave for that?

On August 05, 2005 at 07:39 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: deboning

That's another article... a sharp boning knife is very handy for extracting bones from the dark meat. Deboning a breast is pretty straight forward - but knowing the technique helps a lot (like cutting up the chicken).

On August 05, 2005 at 07:43 PM, an anonymous reader said...
RE: deboning

I'd love to see an article about deboning.


On August 05, 2005 at 07:43 PM, //k (guest) said...
i love the site! i love the way the recipies are laid out two dimensionally by ingredient and time. this whole website reaffirms my belief that cooking is just like chem lab but with more love. :)

On August 05, 2005 at 07:44 PM, Sean (guest) said...
I was just watching the food network the other day & the guy on Great Eats was ranting at some chicken while discussing exactly this!

Did that influence you to post this? :D

On August 05, 2005 at 07:44 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: Good Eats

It turns out the very first episode of Good Eats I ever saw (a couple years ago) was Fry Hard II where Alton uses a T-Rex dinosaur model to show how to cut up a whole chicken. I was hooked from that moment on.

The impetus to post this article? Maybe my subconscious remembered Fry Hard II, but I my conscious thought process was: Hmm, I've been frying a whole lot of chickens (testing fried chicken recipes) and today whole chickens went are on sale... I should do a pictoral on cutting up a chicken.

If I remember correctly, Alton's method results in boneless breasts and an intact wishbone.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:45 PM, mopalia (guest) said...
I've never had kitchen shears - I imagine I"d think they were indispensible if I had. But I get the same effect by using a stout knife (small French Chef's knife) to remove the backbone, cutting through the ribs on either side. Then you can just fold the carcass back so that the skin side of the breasts touch, and by loosening the membrane over the keel bone, the cartilage and the keel bone just pop right out - with a little guidance from the fingers. Fold the now boneless breasts over your knife and cut them in half. Same effect, no shears.
Love this site!

On August 05, 2005 at 07:45 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: no kitchen shears

Great tip, mopalia! Thanks!

On August 05, 2005 at 07:46 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Possibly a Britishism? Anyways it's a great way to cut a bird for grilling.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:46 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: spatchcock

I think we just call it: butterflied chicken
This typically involves removing the backbone and spreading the chicken out while pressing down on the breastplate until it breaks. Some grilling methods use skewers through the bird to hold it in position.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:47 PM, Fritz (guest) said...
Great article. i would like to hear how you create your own chicken stock also.Thanks.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:47 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: chicken stock

My stock recipe is at:

I added links to the article within this one. Thanks!

On August 05, 2005 at 07:48 PM, Lee (guest) said...
Re: Butterflying

We butterfly turkeys at our house, then cook on the gas grill. I saw the technique on a PBS show, but they cooked their bird in the oven. When the bird is brined first and cooked pretty fast, this yields the juiciest turkey.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:48 PM, Lisa (guest) said...
Thank you! I've always wondered how this is properly done.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:48 PM, an anonymous reader said...
On one of his shows, I saw Martin Yan cut up a chicken. He said he would do it in under a minute; he came in closer to twenty seconds.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:49 PM, perrine (guest) said...
It is perfect since I always struggle against thighs... However, is it the same technic when the chicken is roasted? Thanks a lot!!!

On August 05, 2005 at 07:49 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: carving a roast chicken

The technique is similar, but you deal with the breast a little differently. I have a pictoral attached tot he bottom of the Classic Roast Turkey recipe at

On August 05, 2005 at 07:50 PM, vinal (guest) said...
As an engineer, the presentation couldn't be better, it was well done and straight to the point.

Is there a specific name for the knife shown, as in deboning knife ?

Want to get a good reputable knife. Any suggestions ?

On August 05, 2005 at 07:50 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: knife used

The knife used in this pictoral is an 8 in. Chef's knife. I chose this knife because I was able to effectively work dextrously with it while still having the ability to push through bones when I needed to. A boning knife would give you a great deal more control, but is not useful when trying to cut through the keel bone.

We'll use a boning knife for preparing a boneless chicken.

I've added some comments to the article on what instruments were used in this procedure.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:51 PM, Kim from York (guest) said...
Great Site however Meats should always be carved, cut, dressed,on plastic or something less porus than wood. Bacteria has a tendency to to get trapped in the cuts on the wood not easily cleaned out.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:52 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: wood vs. plastic cutting boards

As I mentioned in the Cutting Boards article, wood butting boards do not harbor bacteria. In fact, most kitchens have cleaner wood cutting baords than plastic because home chef's do not replace their plastic cutting boards often enough.

Conventional wisdom states that because you cut grooves into wood cutting boards, bacteria can be trapped in those micro-grooves allowing rampant growth of germs. This is true, but a thorough scrubbing will clean out all large particles and as the wood dries, the wood naturally becomes a hostile environment killing any surface bacteria and drawing the rest deep into the board (away from the surface).

Plastic boards on the other hand will develop small grooves from cuts and these won't "heal" (soften to form a continuous surface). The bacteria is much harder to get out even with severe scrubbing. Plastic cutting boards that have touched meast or poultry should go through a dishwasher cycle to heat kill the bacteria since washing and drying does not have the germicidal effect of wood boards. Also, once the board has developed too many grooves, the board should be replaced.

Link to Equipment & Gear: Cutting Boards

On August 05, 2005 at 07:53 PM, Alderete (guest) said...
Regarding Martin Yan's speedy chicken processing. I read where he and Jacques Pepin have speed competitions for deboning chickens, when they get together on PBS shows and such.

Martin uses a Chinese cleaver, Jacques uses a chef's knife. They both go like lightening.

It's probably scary to watch, as well as a amazing. Shows what just a little practice will get you...

On August 05, 2005 at 07:53 PM, an anonymous reader said...
...where the thigh bone meets the drumstick, one can easly see a line of fat that marks the angle to cut. Nature shows the way!

On August 05, 2005 at 07:54 PM, an anonymous reader said...
There's an easy way to find the thigh joint. First cut the skin and fleshy bits on the frontal groin portion of the chicken between the leg and the breast. Next, push back the thigh into a good ballet-style turnout, keep pushing the "knee" backwards towards the chicken's back and the thighbone will *pop* right out of the pelvic joint. It's easy to then just cut through the little bit of soft fleshy material in the joint.

On August 05, 2005 at 07:55 PM, Connie (guest) said...
I was looking for a roasted potato technique and found your site. (After 25 years of cooking for my family I have found a difference between cooking techniques and recipes.)

RE: cutting up chicken...if your look carefully at the joints you will see a fine line of fat which appears as a thin white strip under the skin. Cut through this line of fat and you hit the joint each time. It's visible on every joint you cut.

On August 23, 2005 at 09:01 AM, sidoc (guest) said...
Subject: site
Just wanted to thank you for a great site: well laid out, clear rationale (eg, use of salt water in marinade for chicken), helpful pics. I'll try to post the outcome of the chile lime grilled chicken! B

On September 06, 2005 at 09:56 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Cutting chickleg joint
Back in the poor student stage, this was the way I came up with.

I grap the chick leg with my left hand and the rest of the chicken by my right hand so that my thumbs towards each other (almost like vectors). I can easily determine where the joint based on the way the legs can rotate. The place where my two thumbs eventually lined up where there is a slight depression between. There's where I make my cut.

On October 11, 2005 at 02:28 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Cutting up a whole chicken
Okay - Great site - Here I go - Wish me luck!! :( I'll let you know how it turns out - the cutting part, that is!!

M. Brook

On January 04, 2006 at 07:54 PM, (guest) said...
Subject: deboning a chicken wing
Hello :

I ran across you site looking for tips on "Deboning" chicken wings. There are several Thai recipes, and one from Emerl on for Stuffed chicken wings that I really want to try.

I have downloaded two techniques - emerls and one other, and have tried to debone the wings. I can get the bones out, but It seems like I should wind up with a skin "sock" with meat in the middle. and my boned wings wind up looking like rags...



On February 13, 2006 at 08:15 PM, jimmyg said...

On February 27, 2006 at 06:33 PM, Wozencroft (guest) said...
Re. Education.
Thats a pretty wide question mr.
Do you mean a formal education???

On May 16, 2007 at 02:23 PM, Helpful Friend (guest) said...
Subject: Deboning Chicken
I have to say nice Mise en Place. Yuo need to rethink the tools that are required for this task. You need the Chef knife and a Filet Knife. You use the Chef knife for cutting through the bone only. The Filet knife is for makeing hte cuts on the chicken, it helps the presentation of the final product.

One area for improvement is the wing. You need to cut off the tip of the wing and not seperate the wing from the drumette. You do this since the tip has no savory meat for the consumer.

The other area is the breast. You demonstrated the way to leave the bone in the breats. The other method is to debone the breast. This is done using hte filet knife and using a skinning motion run the knife between the bone and the flesh pulling the flesh as you cut along the carcass.

On February 20, 2008 at 02:11 PM, (guest) said...
Subject: cutting a whole chicken
My mother and grandmother would cut their chicken in to alot more pieces to be able to feed 9 children. Does anyone know how to cut the chicken to get me the wishbone and second wishbone pieces?
thanx, Lorene

On February 20, 2008 at 05:21 PM, Dilbert said...

explains most of that

On April 10, 2008 at 08:46 PM, tripst3r (guest) said...
Subject: Spot On
When I decided to tackle cutting up a raw chicken (after years of discarding recipes that called for one), I knew that this was the site that would have a method for a directed learner like me. Thanks so much for keeping this going.

On July 24, 2008 at 12:48 PM, debbieh (guest) said...
Subject: chicken
I was cutting up a roasting chicken the other day. I cut down the centre of the breastbone an along the bone was a long piece of green that looked like some kind of meat but it was green. Had no smell to it but disturbing to see this. It was right into the breastbone on the one side. Does anyone know what this could be? I threw it out as I had no idea what it could be. I have been cooking chickens like this for 35 years and never seen that before. Asked someone else that has been cooking for 70 years and showed her. She has never seen it either. Help ???

On August 12, 2008 at 03:11 AM, Belinda (guest) said...
Subject: Green breast meat
It's called "green tenders," and is found pretty much exclusively in commercially-bred and raised hybrid broilers such as the "Jumbo Cornish Cross" meat birds. If you buy chicken at the grocery store, this is what you're getting. Pretty much the only way to get any other kind of bird is to raise them yourself, or know someone who does. The broilers are genetically developed for super-rapid growth and efficient feed conversion, and are typically harvested at 5-6 weeks of age. If allowed to get much older than that, the bird begins to put on more muscle mass (especially in the breast) than its bones or organs can support. The theory I'm most familiar with about green tenders is that it comes from a lack of blood supply and therefore oxygen to the "tenders" of the breast, due to the excessive mass and weight of the chick. In other words, that bird had already started to die from the inside out. I'm pretty sure green tenders are tissue that's gone necrotic. I've heard some say that it was safe to eat, but I'll not be the one to test THAT theory.

We are now raising our own backyard flock of heritage breed chickens for meat and eggs. We won't get the rapid growth (the youngest our birds will be harvested is 16 weeks) or the enormous breast, but then, our chooks will be able to live much more normal chicken lives, running, scratching, sunbathing, catching bugs, and roosting in trees. For our money, it's a pretty good trade-off.

Thanks for these posts, BTW. We'll be referring to them when we dress out our birds, since we rarely roast one whole or eat the skin.

On October 23, 2008 at 10:03 AM, lilwoodenboy (guest) said...
Subject: cutting breasts into quarters
Michael, any more specific comments about cutting the breast halves into quarters? The simple step you show doesn't provide much info; the reason I'm asking is that for stewed dishes, like Indian recipes, if you do this badly you get a lot of little rib pieces in the meat - bad! I've done it both badly and well, but am not sure I know why. If you can help, thanks!

On December 09, 2008 at 08:39 PM, debbieh said...
Subject: green tenders
Had my second case of green tenders in a 9 lb. chicken that I cooked tonight. Did not discover this however until after the chicken was fully cooked and was removing the remaining meat for soup . We had already ate the legs and thighs and then while removing the breast meat discovered the green portion of meat on one side of the breast bone. Not very appetizing at this point. Is it safe to eat or would be best thrown away? I had originally posted my first case of this back in July but was lucky enough that we found the green tenders instantly as I was deboning the uncooked bird .

On December 10, 2008 at 09:13 AM, Dilbert said...
as Belinda mentioned:

>>>I'm pretty sure green tenders are tissue that's gone necrotic.

see a search on: Deep Pectoral Myopathy

as applied to a living animal, necrotic means dead and rotting tissue.
I would not eat any of that chicken and - being it's a repeat performance - I'd sure be looking for another source of chicken.

appears to be more prevalent in large birds - especially bred for breast meat production.

I'd also pack it up, take it into the store manager and ask if they'd care for a bite . . .

On March 03, 2010 at 03:58 AM, trailkeeper (guest) said...
Subject: removing tendons in chicken breast meat
I found out one day in the kitchen that you can easilly remove the tendons in chicken breast by using a pair of basic needle nose pliars to grip the end of the tendon and a fork to hold the meat in position while you pull the tendon out.


On May 09, 2010 at 02:57 PM, pp2010 (guest) said...
Subject: green mass in chicken breast
My husband was butchering a supermarket bought free-range chicken this evening to discover a large green mass in one of the breasts. Very disturbing indeed. We have taken photos to give to the supermarket but have dispatched to the bin to remove any possible contamination risk. we did a search and found a reference to similar on this site. thank goodness we didn't roast and eat it before we discovered it.

On February 06, 2012 at 05:15 PM, Richard P (guest) said...
Subject: Green breast meat
Happenrd last nite lovely large roast chichen- started carving- inner meat very green along the breastbone- as we had guests for supper I just carved arround that.
kidding!! Threw it all out!
I have seen it before- cornish cross - large birds.
From now on when the bird is thawed I will be cutting along the breast bone to inspect before roasting.
Sometimes the large birds have few feathers on the breast as they lay down a lot. they can have a scab there - Possible entry point for bacteria?
Supper was mashed potatoes, salad, fresh biscuits, stuffing- the extra that was not inside the bird, gravey- wine- was all good

On February 06, 2012 at 07:21 PM, Dilbert said...
>>entry point for bacteria?

unfortunately, worse.

overly large breast development leads to tissue necrosis / myopathy.

more here:
open the link for pdf full text version.

the bird cannot supply enough blood to the huge breast sections and the tissue dies.

some articles cite it is safe for human consumption.
quite frankly, I'm not going to eat chicken meat that the chicken has been carrying around dead and decaying within its body.

On June 10, 2012 at 02:55 PM, chilliworker (guest) said...
Subject: cutting up a chicken
i have a MUCH easier way of cutting of the chicken breasts.
once you come to picture 9 (splitting the bone), don't split the bone, just remove the skin and make a neat slice with the knife all the way down the middle, and stick your finger underneath the slit, you'll find that the breast comes off the bone very easily - one on the right side, and one on the left - just use your knife to ease it off from the sides.

(i bang the breasts with a 'schnitzel hammer', i dip into bread crumbs, then into beaten egg and again into bread crumbs and fry! yum the children [and grown ups] love it)

On December 26, 2012 at 10:23 AM, civic2012 (guest) said...
Subject: thank you
Hi, I would just like to say thank you for this really helpful information. After all I am a civil engineer and well I honestly don't known ho to cut up a chicken. So thanks for your help.

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