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Here Is How to Break Down a Chicken in 5 Simple Steps

Chicken is a lean and protein-rich meat that is key to many dishes around the world. It is usually cheap and healthy, though some cuts of chicken are healthier than others. If prepared well, its succulent flesh and crispy skin can be delicious. Breaking down a whole chicken by hand can seem daunting, but this process is both easy and cost-effective.

  • Place the chicken on its back so that the wings are facing you. Twist each wing away from the body and slice through the cartilage and skin of the shoulder joints.
  • Turn the chicken around and repeat this step for the legs ― you can then break the wings and legs down further
  • Next, slice the breasts away from the rib cage.
  • Lastly, flip the chicken over and cut out the backbone. All you have to do is cut along both sides of the spine with a pair of kitchen shears.
  • At this stage, only bones of the carcass will remain.

When you break down a chicken for the first time, you will be unfamiliar with the toughness of the skin, joints, and flesh. Therefore, it is best to take things slowly. If you follow the steps in this guide correctly, you will finish with 8 beautiful cuts of meat. As a bonus, we will also show you three recipes that you can prepare with a whole chicken.

Preparation: what do you need?

Buy a chicken
  • Buy a chicken: If your chicken comes from a supermarket, the head, feet, feathers, and guts will already have been removed. If you buy a bird from a local market, you may need to complete those earlier steps first. 
  • Defrost: If your chicken was previously frozen, you must fully defrost it before you begin. This will not only make cutting easier but also reduce the risk of food poisoning. Assuming you have a chicken like in the above photo, you are nearly ready to start.
  • A sharp knife: Ideally, this will be a boning knife which, as you can tell from the name, is meant for this exact job. Its slender and flexible blade can effortlessly penetrate the skin and joints of a chicken. Since it is thin, there is less friction when you slice. If you do not have this type of knife, a good-quality chef’s knife will work great. Whichever knife you use, make sure it is sharp and honed. Breaking a chicken apart will be easier and safer as a result.
  • Cutting board: Your cutting board should be large enough to support the entire chicken. Wood and plastic are both acceptable materials for this.

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How to break down a chicken step-by-step

Step 1. Separating the wings

Lay the body of the chicken on its back and turn the wings towards you. The head of the chicken would have been at this end. Twist one of the wings away from the main body with your non-dominant hand. 

With the knife in your dominant hand, find the joint and slice through the skin and connective tissue of the chicken’s shoulder. Do the same on the other side. Separating the wing yields a drumette, a flat, and a wing tip ― the tip contains little meat.

Step 2. Removing the legs

Now turn the bird around so that the legs are facing you. Taking them off is similar to the above step, but it requires more strength. 

You must slice through the upper skin and then twist the thigh until it separates from the hip joint. Once this happens, you can slice through the remaining cartilage and skin to remove the leg. Repeat this process for the second leg.

Step 3. Splitting the legs (optional)

If your recipe uses whole chicken legs, you can skip this third step. Otherwise, you can now split the legs. To do this, you need to cut through the chicken’s knee joints. 

Hold the drumstick of one leg with your non-dominant hand so that the bone points upwards. The drumstick and thigh make a “V” shape together ― aim for the center with the knife. Cut through the skin and cartilage of both joints to separate the drumsticks from the thighs.

Step 4. Cutting the breasts

The last important cut of chicken meat is the breast. To cut each breast off, place your knife at the center of the chicken’s chest (the sternum) and slice outwards. Cut so that you separate the breasts from the rib cage, taking off as much meat as possible.

When you have removed both breasts, the pointed sternum and rib cage will be visible.

Step 5: Removing the Backbone (Optional)

This final step is not crucial, but if you want to use every part of the chicken, you can cut out the backbone as well. You can use this to make chicken stock, for instance. 

Flip the bird over and cut along both sides of the spine, starting from the neck. Kitchen shears are essentially a sturdy pair of scissors that are perfect for jobs like this.

When you are finished, you should have the following pieces:

  • 2 wings/2 drumettes, 2 flats, and 2 wing tips (step 1)
  • 2 thighs (step 3)
  • 2 drumsticks (step 3)
  • 2 breasts (step 4)
  • The backbone (step 5)
  • The rest of the bones (step 5)


  • A boning or chef knife is good for breaking down the chicken, but not for chopping bones, that is the job of a cleaver. These are the wrong tools for that task because hard bones could damage them.
  • Raw chicken can contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella. This bacteria will spread to the cutting board, knife, and perhaps the surface below too. When you have completed your preparation, wash the knife and cutting board thoroughly. Also, remember to disinfect the table or worktop that you were working on.
  • If you use a chef knife to break down the chicken, the tip section is useful for cleanly cutting through the skin.

Whole-chicken recipes

Once you have mastered the technique of breaking down a chicken, you need some recipes to try. We have a few ideas for your home cooking:

Fried chicken

Fried chicken

You can make this delicious, salty, fast-food treat at home. Most fried chicken uses thighs, legs, and wings, although the breasts will work fine too. Once you have seasoned the individual chicken pieces, all you need to do is fry them in a pot of oil. The full instructions and ingredients are here.

Lemon & garlic chicken

Lemon & garlic chicken
Source: From scratch fast

This is a healthier meal than the above recipe, but just as tasty! The simple ingredients combine to create a dish with powerful Mediterranean flavors. The preparations are quick and the cooking process is simple ― you just place your tray in the oven. You can find more information on this dish here.

Chicken pilau

Chicken pilau
Source: BBC

Other than chicken, a key ingredient here is rice. Overall, this recipe is cheap to make. The filling mixture of chicken, rice, peas, and onions will certainly keep you warm in the winter. Here is a guide to preparing this meal.

The benefits of breaking down a whole chicken yourself

Nowadays, you can buy any cut of chicken you like in supermarkets. In some cases, the meat is already seasoned and ready for the oven or grill. By preparing chicken from scratch, you can season it yourself. This way, you know exactly what is in your meal and can avoid adding too much salt or sugar. There may be other unwanted chemicals in pre-seasoned chicken too.

Breaking down a whole chicken will save you money. For example, 2 kg of individual breasts or thighs would be more expensive than a 2 kg whole chicken. For the equivalent weight of meat, you get more value.

As this article has demonstrated, breaking down a chicken is not very difficult. However, learning how to do this early will prepare you for more challenging cooking tasks later on.

Is it safe to cut chicken on a wooden board?

wooden board

Experts do not agree unanimously on this matter. Since wood is naturally porous, some people argue that a wooden cutting board is a perfect environment for the growth of bacteria. Others say that because some species of wood are antibacterial, they make perfectly safe cutting surfaces for meat – perhaps more so than plastic.

While plastic surfaces are non-porous, soft plastic cutting boards can become scratched over time. These scratches could provide openings for bacteria. 

Despite the criticism, a wooden cutting board is usually fine for cutting chicken on, especially if the surface has been sealed with oil. Whatever material the board is made from, you must clean it thoroughly after use.

Another sensible precaution is to use multiple cutting boards for different types of ingredients. This will help prevent cross-contamination.

Breaking down a whole chicken is easy…

When you have a robust and sharp knife to cut with. If you are interested in finding a blade for this and many other tasks, be sure to visit our store.

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