How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken

Slice prices and corporate reliance by learning how to consume the entire bird.

Photo by Getty Images/AlexRaths

When I raised chickens on pasture, I wanted to sell the entire bird. After all, I had to feed, process, and package the whole bird. If car manufacturers were only able to sell the front bumper and engine of a newly built, fully functioning vehicle, they’d have a hard time paying the bills. This is a common problem for the aver­age livestock farmer selling direct to con­sumers: Consumers don’t demand the whole product, but the whole product must be sold to make ends meet. I had to sell boneless skinless chicken breasts for $20 per pound to make money, and people still lined up to pay it. We’re all so used to quick-searing boneless skin­less chicken breasts that we’re leaving feet and backs and wings in the farm freezers.

I’m not selling chicken anymore, but I am traveling around talking about farm­ing and trying to figure out a better way. In my mind, leaving a farmers market with $20 worth of meat that only pro­vides one meal isn’t the solution, even if it does keep farmers in business. The answer to this half-chicken conundrum is to figure out how to use the entire bird. When you use the whole chicken, the farmer pays less in processing and pack­aging costs, incurs fewer labor costs, and stores less inventory. And you’ll get a bet­ter price per pound, plus more meals for your purchase.

If you don’t want to pressure-cook, smoke, or roast the whole bird, you can always pick up your butcher knife and turn that chicken into any cut you need. Here, I’ll cover several ways to cut up an entire chicken at home, making the meat easier to use and giving you more bang for your cluck.

Sharpen, Sterilize, Slice

First, you’ll need a cutting board and a knife. Poultry carries the highest bacte­rial load of any meat we eat, so look into buying a heavy plastic cutting board that you can reserve for raw poultry. Avoid using wooden cutting boards, because the wood will soak up the juices and har­bor bacteria. And of course, don’t cut raw vegetables on your poultry board. Wash it thoroughly after each use.

As for a knife, seek out a 5- or 6-inch flexible boning knife, typically $20 to $40 online or at a kitchen store. The flexible blade will come in handy as you work around bones and joints. Make sure the knife is good and sharp.

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