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Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com

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Save Money, Cut It Yourself: How to Properly Cut a Whole Chicken into Pieces

By Vicki McClure Davidson

 

Cutting a whole chicken into parts may seem daunting, but is relatively easy after some practice. Cutting whole chickens yourself is extremely frugal.

Cutting a whole chicken into parts may seem daunting, but is relatively easy after some practice. Cutting whole chickens yourself is extremely frugal. 

Most people have no idea how to properly cut a whole chicken at home, since they can easily buy cut chicken pieces at the butcher's or in the supermarket meat department.

So, why would they need to learn or want to know how to cut one up?

Why You Should Cut Your Own Whole Chicken

First, cutting a whole chicken yourself will save money. You'll often see whole chickens on sale and may want to stock up. Rather than having to serve the chickens whole each time, knowing how to cut a whole chicken properly into individual pieces (wings, thighs, breasts, legs) will give you hundreds more options for meal preparation. Pre-cut chicken pieces always cost more per pound, paying for the butcher's time in cutting them. You often get less meat per pound. So, even when not on sale, buying a whole chicken costs less than buying a small packet of cut boneless chicken breasts.

Chicken breasts are the most expensive part of the chicken and will often cost double or triple the price per pound when sold individually than when included in a whole chicken. I'm surprised how pricey chicken wings have become in the past few years, considering there is relatively little meat on a wing.

Secondly, cutting your own chicken just feels different. It caters to a pioneer spirit (OK, that's a bit hokey-sounding) that gives frugal cooks a sense of control and a getting-back-to-basics mentality in the kitchen. Will the chicken taste better if you cut it yourself? That's for you to decide... taste is a personal sense.

How to Easily Cut a Whole Chicken

Cutting a whole chicken is easy, although it may take a bit of practice.

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

Before you begin, wash your hands thoroughly. Remove the raw whole chicken from its plastic bag over the sink so that any fluids will go down the drain. Wash the chicken thoroughly, lifting the wings and legs to wash beneath, and be sure to wash out the cavity.

Place the chicken on a clean cutting board and pat it dry with a paper towel. When you're done with the cutting, be sure to wash your hands well again. You want to remove all contaminants and bacteria that may have transferred to your hands from the chicken. Also, don't use the knife you used to cut the chicken for cutting other foods until it is washed with hot, soapy water. Be sure to sterilize your cutting board soon after you're done. The longer you wait to clean it, the more bacteria will grow on it. So, to keep harmful germs from multiplying, clean it as soon as you're done. Also, be careful to not place other raw foods on the cutting board before it has been cleaned. Cross-contamination could occur.

Getting Down to Business

Most importantly, before you start cutting, make sure your knife is sharp. Dull knives take longer to do any cutting job. If you should cut yourself with a dull knife, the wound is much worse than it would be with a sharp knife.

The individual parts of a chicken are connected at the joints. These joints are cartilage, a spongy connecting tissue. The trick to cutting a whole chicken is to cut through the joint, not through the bone. Use your finger to find the joint. It's a slight dent between the connecting bones that, when pushed, gives a little. Once you've located the joint, slicing through it with a sharp knife takes less than a second. If you can't push the knife through easily, you're cutting in the bone area. Try again, locating the joint with your finger or bending the joint to see it better.

With a whole chicken, the neck has usually already been removed by the butcher, and often is included in the cavity of the whole chicken (although not always). The chicken back and neck don't have much meat and aren't typically used in meal preparation. Don't throw them in the garbage! Save them to use for making chicken stock (you'll need a number of chicken backs and necks to make a large pot of stock. Freeze them, if necessary, for later use).

If your whole chicken has the liver, heart, and gizzards, save those by freezing, too. They are high in iron, add richness to gravies, and if you like to eat organ foods, will make another meal once you collect enough.

Below are several video demonstrations showing how to locate the joints in a raw whole chicken and how to quickly and properly cut and disjoint a whole chicken into parts without any waste.

 

In this first video demo, George Lucas, owner of the Yosemite Street Meat Market & Deli in Stockton, California, demonstrates how to easily (and perfectly) cut a raw chicken into 10 pieces.

 

Perfectly Cut Chicken

 

Acclaimed Indian chef, Vahchef Sanjay Thumma, demonstrates how to cut a raw whole chicken for curry dishes without cutting through the bone.

 

Cutting Chicken for Indian Curry

 

Louis Ortiz is a professional chef instructor at a culinary institute. He's worked in the culinary industry for 12 years. In this video, Ortiz shows how to easily and quickly cut a whole chicken in half.

 

How to Halve a Chicken

 

Hung Huynh, a Top Chef winner a few years ago, demonstrates a number of cutting techniques for meats and vegetables. He's been cutting in the kitchen since he was a small boy, so don't expect to be as fast as he is with the knife. With practice, however, you will improve your food cutting skills.

While he doesn't show how to cut a chicken in this video demo, there are a number of other cutting techniques (like how to quickly julienne) and how to properly position and hold the food item that is being cut that will save you both time and money when preparing meals.

 

Grub Street, New York Magazine: Hung Huynh, How to Chop like a Top Chef

 

 

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Sources:
Child, Julia, Bertholle, Louisette, and Beck, Simone, Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One (40th Anniversary Edition), Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2001.
How to Break an Egg, (by the editors, contributors, and readers of Fine Cooking Magazine), The Taunton Press, Newtown, CT, 2005.
The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook: Featuring More Than 1,200 Kitchen-Tested Recipes, America's Test Kitchen, 2005.