I titled this article “How to Cut a Whole Chicken into 11 Pieces.” Perhaps a better title would be “How I Cut a Whole Chicken into 11 Pieces.” This is laughingly shared with you because there are many ways to accomplish the same task. The number of pieces a whole chicken can be cut into ranges from 11 – 15. You’ll see why the discrepancy in just a bit.
As sustenance farmsteaders, we raise backyard chickens for food. We choose dual-purpose birds for this so we have a flock which gives us eggs and meat. Some farmsteaders are raising meat chickens just for the meat and have a flock just for laying.
I learned to cut up a chicken before I was 11. It was tricky to learn and we had some funny shaped pieces, but after a couple of times, it’s a snap. Once you’ve cut up a whole chicken a few times, you see the obvious places to cut to get the familiar pieces you and your family enjoy.
When the boys were in their teenage years, I would often cook two whole chickens just to feed us all. Buying already cut up chickens can be expensive. Whether you buy your chickens or raise them, learning to cut them up may seem intimidating. It’s not. I’ll show you.
Number of Pieces
The discrepancy in the number of pieces you can cut a chicken into comes from the different points of view.
11 – two breasts, one pulley bone, two wings, two back pieces, two legs, two thighs
12 – two breasts, two wings, two wing tips, two back pieces, two legs, two thighs
13 – two breasts, one pulley bone, two wings, two wing tips, two back pieces, two legs, two thighs
OR two breasts, one pulley bone, two wing drumsticks, two wing “arms,” two back pieces, two legs, two thighs
15 – two breasts, one pulley bone, two wing drumsticks, two wing “arms,” two wing tips, two back pieces, two legs, two thighs
Whew! Now you see; it’s perspective. I do 11 pieces mostly because this is how I was taught and it’s how we like our pieces. For the two of us, we can get five meals out of 11 pieces. It just depends on how I cook them.
I usually put the lower back piece, a leg and the wings in a bag together. I use them for chicken salad and save the broth for soup or I use them for soup or chicken and rice.
I don’t see the point in separating the wings and tips since I boil them most of the time. If you prefer to grill or fry your wings, then you can remove the tips and use them for making broth. If you have small children, dividing the wing drumsticks from the other wing piece (the arm) may be more manageable for them.
This also has a psychological advantage. If you give your child two pieces of chicken, their mind says, “I’ve had two pieces of chicken.” When the boys were growing up, I learned to cut bacon pieces in two. When we sat down to eat they could have four pieces of bacon each. They were thrilled. I knew they were only having two whole pieces, but their minds only thought “Four pieces! All Right!” I still cut the bacon in half.
Before you Begin
Wash your bird thoroughly before cutting it up. Even though we process our own birds, I still wash them again. This will not only cut down on possible bacteria, especially on store bought birds, but it will prevent excess blood lodged in the bird cavity from running onto your counter.
If you don’t eat the backs, the upper back is my favorite fried piece, set them aside for making soup or broth. You can keep a container in your freezer while you collect pieces. When you have the desired number of pieces, just cook ’em up.
The number one tip I would give you is to have a sharp knife. I mean extremely sharp. Cutting the bones may dull some knives so being sure it’s super sharp to begin with is vital. As with any chore, the right tools make the job so much easier.
How to Cut a Whole Chicken
Place your washed bird breast side up on your cutting surface. You should have a dedicated meat cutting board. To avoid contamination of other foods, never use the meat cutting board for any other purpose.
Pull the legs away from the body. You’ll see the skin between the legs and the body cavity. Cut through the skin to reveal the thigh.
Pop the thighbone out of the socket by bending the leg quarter toward the back of the chicken.
Cut through the socket to remove the leg quarter from the body, skin and all.
Repeat this for the other leg quarter.
Feel for the joint which separates the leg and thigh. Cut through this joint to separate the leg from the thigh. If you’re grilling, you may want to leave the leg quarters whole.
Pull the wings away from the body. You will see the shoulder joint where the wings attach to the body. Cut through the joint to remove the wings from the body. You may have to turn the bird to get this done, but that’s fine.
Depending on which number of pieces you want, you can cut the wing tips off and/or separate the wing drumsticks from the wing arm.
Now to remove the breast from the back. They are connected by the rib cage so we are going to cut through them to separate.
Turn your bird on so the neck is facing down. Run your knife between the ribs and the breastbone cutting through the ribs as you go.
Once you’ve cut through them, you’ll find shoulder blade like pieces attaching the breast to the back. You can often just pop these out or you may have to cut through them.
Now you have the whole back separated from the breasts. Cut or pop the back into two pieces.
If you choose to keep the pulley bone, feel for the notch one to two inches from the top of the breast. The location depends on the size of the breast.
Cut straight down until you feel the pulley bone separate from the breast. It isn’t much of a cut. Depending on the size of the breast, 1/4″ – 1″.
Then run your knife toward the top of the breast. When you reach the top you can cut through the “legs” of the pulley bone or break them and finish separating it from the breasts.
Now, use your knife to split the breast in two. Slice through the meat and the bone. You may have to use a chopping motion to get this done.
If you want to, you can cut the breast meat away from the bone and keep the bones for broth.
There you have it. Know you know how to cut a whole chicken up.
Besides chickens for meat, we’ve discovered the wonder of raising heritage breed turkeys. Raising heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving makes the meal even more special for us. Many homesteaders count on knowing how to raise broiler chickens for meat to provide chicken for their families.
How many pieces did you go for? Do your pieces look weird to you? Don’t worry about it. The more you do it the better you’ll get. Let me know if you have questions or if I can help.
Safe and Happy Journey,