Step-By-Step Instructions for Cutting Up a Whole Chicken

Use our step-by-step guide on cutting a whole chicken and you'll be on your way to making delicious fried chicken, barbecue chicken, and more.

So you have a whole chicken sitting in your fridge and decide you'd rather cut it up than roast it in its full form. When you know how to separate a chicken properly, you can cook each meaty part exactly the way you want. For example, you might want to bake the chicken legs and quarters right away and save the chicken breasts for another meal (fajitas, anyone?). If you're new to cutting a whole chicken, no need to worry. Read on to learn how to cut apart a whole chicken for all your recipes. Or if you made (or purchased) a whole roasted chicken, skip ahead to our tutorial for carving a chicken.

whole chicken broken down into parts
Kritsada Panichgul

How to Separate a Whole Chicken

Before you start cutting up a whole chicken, make sure it's completely thawed and you have a sharp knife and cutting board ready. Follow these steps to separate a whole chicken.

Test Kitchen Tip: No need to rinse your chicken. Research shows rinsing poultry actually spreads bacteria by splashing contaminated water on surrounding areas. If the surface seems moist, gently pat the chicken dry with paper towels (and discard those paper towels immediately).

1. Using a sharp knife ($135, Crate & Barrel), cut through the skin between the thigh and body. Bend thigh back until hip joint breaks. Cut through joint, separating the leg from the body. To separate the thigh and drumstick, slit the skin above the knee joint, break the joint, then cut apart. Repeat on the other side.

cutting wing from chicken
Kritsada Panichgul

2. To remove a wing, pull it away from the body. Slit the skin between the wing and body. Bend the wing backward until the joint breaks. Cut through the joint. Repeat on the other side.

3. With a sharp knife or kitchen shears ($20, Bed Bath & Beyond), cut along the breast end of ribs on one side, cutting toward the neck to separate the breast from the back. Repeat on the other side. Bend front and back halves apart. Cut through neck joints that connect halves.

4. To divide the back in half, hold the piece at each end. Bend the ends toward the skin side until the bones break. Cut the back in half where the bones are broken. Cut off the tail.

cutting chicken breast
Blaine Moats

5. To divide the breast in half, cut lengthwise along the breastbone. Or, to divide breast in half crosswise, grasp breast at each end and bend breast toward the skin side to break bones. Cut between the wishbone and the breastbone.

cutting whole roasted chicken
Kritsada Panichgul

How to Carve a Chicken

Already cooked your chicken? Follow these tips for how to carve a whole chicken to get every last bit of meat.

  1. Remove the legs: Holding the chicken firmly with a fork, use a sharp knife ($18, Target) to cut through the leg joint and completely remove the leg from the body. Repeat with the other leg.
  2. Cut the breast: Turn the knife blade sideways and cut horizontally into the breast half until you hit the breastbone. Repeat on the other breast half.
  3. Divide the breast: Carve down through each breast to divide it into serving-size slices. You can also make a cut right next to the breastbone to remove a breast half and keep it in one piece.
  4. Clip the wings: Cut off the wing tips with a sharp knife, then cut the wing pieces away from the body of the bird.
  5. Cut the legs in two: Cut through the joint between the drumstick and the thigh to separate the two. Repeat with the other leg.

Test Kitchen Tip: Don't let those bones go to waste! Save the carcass and add some aromatics for homemade chicken broth.

Need some recipe ideas for those meaty chicken pieces? I highly recommend making crispy fried chicken, juicy oven-barbecued chicken, or this easy sheet pan chicken dinner.

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  1. "Washing Raw Poultry: Our Science, Your Choice." U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2019.

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