Cutting Up a Chicken

Cutting Up a Chicken

Learning how to cut up a chicken quickly and safely is a skill all cooks need to have. Of course there’s more than one way, but you generally wind up with 8 or 10 pieces.

Back when I was a teenager working in Bashas’ meat department, we had contests to see who could cut up a chicken the fastest. See, in those days we didn’t have Foster Farms to do it for us.

My personal record was 19 seconds, and I wasn’t the fastest. Man, you have to hit each joint perfectly the first time. Also have to have very sharp knives. Why we didn’t lose a finger I’ll never know. See, teenagers really are watched over.

Most instructions have you cut off the wings, sometimes discarding the tips. Then separate the thigh from the body of the chicken, and, if you wish, separate the drumstick from the thigh. Most of the time you want evenly sized pieces so they will all cook at roughly the same rate.

After the wings and legs are gone, I used to split the chicken in half horizontally, so one piece consisted of the back, and one the breasts. Each of those can be cut in half, and you wind up with the classic ten pieces. You will need a sharp knife, or preferably kitchen shears to make the job easier. The two breast pieces are pretty big compared with the rest of the pieces, so you might cut them in half again, crosswise this time.

I frequently change this process, because the back pieces are not particularly meaty or appealing. After the wings and legs are off, I frequently use the shears to cut down the two sides of the backbone. Then the remainder of the chicken becomes just breast meat, which I cut first lengthwise along the breastbone and then again crosswise, to get four breast pieces. That’s what’s shown in the photo.

Starting at the upper left, there are the two drumsticks, next are the two wings, then the two thighs, and at the bottom the four pieces of breast meat.

These pieces then go into a zip lock bag with brine in it. I brine the chicken for about an hour while I get other things done for dinner.

What do you do with the stuff you take from inside the chicken, the backbone if you cut it out, and the wing tips? Well, you can discard them, but put them in a little zip lock bag so your trash doesn’t stink and attract coyotes from all over the state. You can feed them to your pet pig. You can boil them with a bay leaf, salt and pepper, and some thyme to make some chicken stock. Or you can fry them in a little olive oil, then throw them away, make a roux in the pan, and make some sauce or gravy.

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