How to Cut Up Chicken


raw chicken
2007 Michael Glasgow
Chicken is a nutritious lean meat and a tasty addition to any meal.

Perhaps you bought a whole chicken on sale and want to cut it up and freeze it for later use. Or maybe you bought whole chicken breasts only to discover that the recipe you want to make calls for boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets. Smart cooks know how to perform a few simple kitchen techniques to prepare chicken for any kind of recipe.

We'll walk you through a few common techniques it pays to know in this article, starting with cutting a whole chicken into halves or quarters on the next page.

Not what you're looking for? Try these:

  • Chicken Recipes: Chicken is a very versatile food that can take on a variety of different flavors and be used in all kinds of dishes. Find some suggestions on our Chicken Recipes page. 
  • Chicken Safety: Since raw chicken can harbor harmful bacteria, it's important to know how to properly handle chicken in the kitchen. Learn chicken safety tips in this article. 
  • Preparing Chicken: Learn some basic chicken preparation techniques in this article, including how to stuff a chicken, how to marinate chicken, and more.
  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.

Cutting Whole Chicken into Halves & Quarters

Chicken Recipes

Chicken halves and quarters are popular cuts for many roasted chicken recipes and they make an elegant presentation on the plate.

While you can find the chicken halves and quarters in the grocery store, you have more freedom with a recipe if you cut a whole chicken into halves and quarters yourself.
  1. Place the chicken, breast side down, on a cutting board with the neck end pointing away from you.

  2. To make the first cut to the chicken, insert the knife into the front of the chicken. Work the knife from the neck to the tail of the chicken, and cut along one side of the backbone. It is important to cut as close to the bone as possible.

    First cut from neck to tail along one side of the backbone.
    Cut from neck to tail along
    one side of the backbone.

  3. Cut down the other side of the backbone and remove it.

    Remove both the breastbone and the cartilage when cutting a whole chicken.
    Remove both the breastbone
    and the cartilage.

  4. With the breast of the chicken still meaty side down, cut a small slit through the membrane and cartilage at the "V" of the neck end.

  5. Grasp the breast with both hands and gently bend both sides backward to snap the breastbone. With fingers, work along both sides of the breastbone to loosen the triangular keel bone; pull out the bone.

  6. With the tip of a sharp knife, cut along both sides of the cartilage at the end of the breastbone; remove cartilage.

  7. Turn the chicken, skin side up. Cut lengthwise down the center of the chicken to split it into halves.

    Split the chicken lengthwise down the center to make halves.
    Split the chicken lengthwise down
    the center to make halves.

  8. To cut into quarters, cut through the skin separating the thighs from the breast.

    Separate the chicken into leg-thigh and breast-wing sections for quarters.
    Separate the chicken into leg-thigh and
    breast-wing sections for quarters.

A slightly different technique is used to cut a whole chicken into what is usually called "chicken pieces." Learn how on the next page.

Not what you're looking for? Try these:

  • Chicken Recipes: Chicken is a very versatile food that can take on a variety of different flavors and be used in all kinds of dishes. Find some suggestions on our Chicken Recipes page. 
  • Chicken Safety: Since raw chicken can harbor harmful bacteria, it's important to know how to properly handle chicken in the kitchen. Learn chicken safety tips in this article. 
  • Preparing Chicken: Learn some basic chicken preparation techniques in this article, including how to stuff a chicken, how to marinate chicken, and more.
  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.

Cutting Whole Chicken into Pieces

Most familiar and easy chicken recipes -- like baked chicken, fried chicken, or chicken cacciatore -- call for "chicken pieces." But stores charge extra for doing the knife work. You can save money by cutting up a whole chicken at home rather than buying chicken pieces pre-cut and packaged at the supermarket. The steps are quite simple.

  1. Place the chicken, breast side up, on a cutting board.

  2. Cut between the thigh and body to the hip joint.

  3. Bend the leg back slightly to free the hip joint from the socket. Cut through the hip joint and remove the leg. Repeat to remove the other leg.

    First remove the legs and thighs by cutting through the hip joint.
    First remove the legs and thighs by cutting through the hip joint.

  4. Place the leg, skin side down, on a cutting board. Locate the joint by moving the thigh back and forth with one hand while holding the drumstick with the other hand. Cut completely through the joint. Repeat with the other leg.

    Bend the leg back slightly in order to free the hip joint from the socket.
    Bend the leg back slightly in order to free the hip joint from the socket.

  5. Place the chicken on its side. Pull one wing out from the body; cut through the shoulder joint. Turn the chicken over and repeat to remove the other wing.

    Remove the wings when cutting a whole chicken into pieces.
    Remove the wings.

  6. Working from tail to neck, cut the breast from the backbone, cutting through the small rib bones and along the outside of the collarbone.

    The rib bones are easy to cut right through.
    The rib bones are easy to cut right through.

  7. Turn the chicken over onto its other side and repeat. Cut through any remaining connective tissue; pull the breast away from the backbone.

    Use your knife to help trim off the connective tissue and remove the bones.
    Use your knife to help you trim off the connective tissue and remove
    the bones. Pull the breast away from the bone.

  8. Place the breast, skin side up, on a cutting board. Split the breast into halves by cutting along one side of the breastbone.

    Once the breast has been split into halves, each portion should be between 4 and 10 ounces.
    Once the breast has been split into halves, each portion should be
    between 4 and 10 ounces.

Yet another technique is cutting up a chicken Chinese-style. Learn more about this method in the next section.

Not what you're looking for? Try these:

  • Chicken Recipes: Chicken is a very versatile food that can take on a variety of different flavors and be used in all kinds of dishes. Find some suggestions on our Chicken Recipes page. 
  • Chicken Safety: Since raw chicken can harbor harmful bacteria, it's important to know how to properly handle chicken in the kitchen. Learn chicken safety tips in this article. 
  • Preparing Chicken: Learn some basic chicken preparation techniques in this article, including how to stuff a chicken, how to marinate chicken, and more.
  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.

Cutting Chicken Chinese-Style

Chinese-style cutting is an older definition for cutting a whole chicken into smaller, serving-size pieces of bone-in chicken. You can use this style of cutting for any Asian dish or other recipe that calls for chicken cut into serving-size pieces.

These pieces should be smaller than chicken pieces generally are cut. A cleaver is the best utensil for the job, although poultry shears or a sharp knife also may be used.

  1. Place the chicken, breast-side up, on a heavy cutting board. Cut the chicken in half lengthwise, cutting slightly to one side of the breastbone and backbone.

    Cut completely through the chicken to make two pieces.
    Cut completely through the chicken to make two pieces.

  2. Remove and discard the backbone entirely.

    Remove the backbone quickly with kitchen shears.
    Remove the backbone quickly with kitchen shears.

  3. Pull each leg up slightly from the breast section; cut through the ball and socket joint to remove each leg. Cut through the knee joint of each leg to separate it into a drumstick and a thigh.

    Cut wing off cleanly at the breast when cutting a chicken Chinese-style.
    Cut wing off cleanly at the breast.

  4. Pull each wing away from the breast section; cut through the joint next to the breast.

    Pull wing away from breast to make an even cut through the chicken's joint. Sharp kitchen shears also cut joints.
    Pull wing away from the breast to make an even cut through the joint of the chicken. Sharp kitchen shears also can cut through the joints
    of the chicken easily.

  5. Cut each drumstick, thigh, and breast piece crosswise into three pieces, cutting completely through the bones.

  6. Cut each wing into two pieces. This technique will result in 22 small, serving size pieces.

    This technique results in 22 small, serving-size pieces.
    This technique results in 22 small, serving-size pieces.

Whether you're cooking with smaller, serving-size chicken pieces or the standard size, skinning the pieces before cooking can reduce fat. There's a simple trick for easily skinning uncooked chicken pieces. We'll show it to you in the next section.

Not what you're looking for? Try these:

  • Chicken Recipes: Chicken is a very versatile food that can take on a variety of different flavors and be used in all kinds of dishes. Find some suggestions on our Chicken Recipes page. 
  • Chicken Safety: Since raw chicken can harbor harmful bacteria, it's important to know how to properly handle chicken in the kitchen. Learn chicken safety tips in this article. 
  • Preparing Chicken: Learn some basic chicken preparation techniques in this article, including how to stuff a chicken, how to marinate chicken, and more.
  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.

Skinning Chicken

More Great Chicken Recipes

Using skinless chicken pieces in recipes has gained in popularity. Skinning the chicken before cooking can reduce fat and make a dish easier to eat and enjoy.

Removing the skin also can help the chicken meat more readily absorb the flavors of
marinades and cooking sauces.

If you want to skin chicken, it's best to use cold chicken. Cold chicken is easier to skin, so plan ahead.

  1. Freeze the chicken pieces just until firm, but not hard. For safety reasons, make sure that you do not refreeze thawed chicken.

  2. Grasp the skin with a clean cotton kitchen towel to improve your grip. You can also use a clean piece of paper towel, if you want an easy throw-away method. Take the towel and pull the skin away from the meat. Be sure to discard the skin.

    A kitchen towel or sheet of paper towel improves your grip.
    A kitchen towel or sheet of paper towel improves your grip.

  3. When finished skinning the chicken, launder the towel before using it again.

Now that you've skinned your chicken, you may want to take it a step further and debone it. Learn how on the next page.

Not what you're looking for? Try these:

  • Chicken Recipes: Chicken is a very versatile food that can take on a variety of different flavors and be used in all kinds of dishes. Find some suggestions on our Chicken Recipes page. 
  • Chicken Safety: Since raw chicken can harbor harmful bacteria, it's important to know how to properly handle chicken in the kitchen. Learn chicken safety tips in this article. 
  • Preparing Chicken: Learn some basic chicken preparation techniques in this article, including how to stuff a chicken, how to marinate chicken, and more.
  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.

Deboning Chicken

While skinless chicken pieces have become more popular, there is another kind of chicken that has eclipsed everything else when it comes to easy, fast, low-fat cooking: boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Here are some instructions on removing the bones from a skinless chicken breast and making it ready for a variety of cooking methods:

  1. Place the skinless whole chicken breast, meaty side down, on a cutting board. Cut a small slit through the membrane and cartilage at the V of the neck end.

    Use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to cut through the cartilage.
    Use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to cut through the cartilage.

  2. Grasp the breast with both hands and gently bend both sides backward to snap the breastbone.

    Place your thumbs on either side of the breastbone for leverage.
    Place your thumbs on either side of the breastbone for leverage.

  3. With fingers, work along both sides of the breastbone to loosen the triangular keel bone; pull out the bone.

    Be sure to remove all of the keel bone when cutting a chicken into a boneless, skinless breast.
    Be sure to remove all of the keel bone. Check for any splinters or shards that might have broken off.

  4. With the tip of a sharp knife, cut along both sides of the cartilage at the end of the breastbone; remove cartilage.

    Make short, light chops with the tip of the knife to separate the cartilage.
    Make short, light chops with the tip of the knife to separate the cartilage.

  5. Slip the point of the knife under the long rib bone on one side of the breast. Cut and scrape the meat from the rib bones, pulling the bones away from the meat.

    The rib bones are connected by a membrane.
    The rib bones are connected by a membrane.

  6. Cut the meat away from the collarbone; remove the bone. Repeat the procedure to debone the other side of the breast.

    Remove the collarbone from the breast.
    Remove the collarbone from the breast.

  7. Packaged whole, bone-in breasts already have the wishbone removed. If you cut up a whole chicken at home, you will need to remove the wishbone. Cut the meat away from the bone with the tip of the knife.

    Wishbones are already removed from packaged whole chicken breasts, but remove it if you cut up a whole chicken.
    Remove the wishbone if you cut up a whole chicken.

  8. Grasp the wishbone and pull it out of the breast.

  9. To remove the white tendon from each side of the breast, cut enough meat away from each tendon so you can grasp it. (Use a paper towel for a firmer grasp.) Pull out the tendon.

    Cut the white tendon off the boneless breast.
    Cut the white tendon off the boneless breast.

  10. Turn the breast meaty side up. If desired, remove the chicken tenders from the thickest edge of each breast half and reserve for another use, such as a fast sweet and sour chicken or stir-fried chicken and vegetables. Trim any loosened connective tissue that remains.

  11. Cut the whole chicken breast into halves lengthwise to make two, perfect, single-serving pieces.

    Cut in half to make two perfect servings.
    Cut in half to make two perfect servings.

Sometimes a recipe calls for sliced, diced, or shredded chicken. Learn tips on these techniques on the next page.

Not what you're looking for? Try these:

  • Chicken Recipes: Chicken is a very versatile food that can take on a variety of different flavors and be used in all kinds of dishes. Find some suggestions on our Chicken Recipes page. 
  • Chicken Safety: Since raw chicken can harbor harmful bacteria, it's important to know how to properly handle chicken in the kitchen. Learn chicken safety tips in this article. 
  • Preparing Chicken: Learn some basic chicken preparation techniques in this article, including how to stuff a chicken, how to marinate chicken, and more.
  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.

Slicing, Dicing, and Shredding Chicken

When a recipe calls for smaller pieces of chicken -- whether sliced, diced, or shredded -- you'll want to turn to the following tips to help you do the job quickly and easily.

Slicing

Proper slicing produces the highest quality meat.
  1. Place uncooked boneless, skinless chicken on a cutting board.

  2. Using a sharp knife, slice the chicken crosswise across the grain into 1/4-inch strips.

    Slice across the grain for tender, consistent pieces.
    Slice across the grain for tender, consistent pieces.
Dicing

If a recipe calls for diced uncooked chicken, follow the slicing steps above and then line up the strips on the cutting board and cut them again into chunks.

Starting with strips makes it easier to get a uniform dice.
Starting with strips makes it easier to get a uniform dice.

Shredding Cooked Chicken

When chicken is cool enough to touch, remove and discard skin and bones. Pull the meat into long shreds with your hands.

Shredded chicken is perfect for using in sandwiches and salads.
Shredded chicken is perfect for using in sandwiches and salads.

There are many different ways to use chicken in recipes. Whether you're cutting chicken Chinese-style, or cutting, skinning, and deboning a chicken for use in other recipes, you now know exactly what to do.

Not what you're looking for? Try these:

  • Chicken Recipes: Chicken is a very versatile food that can take on a variety of different flavors and be used in all kinds of dishes. Find some suggestions on our Chicken Recipes page. 
  • Chicken Safety: Since raw chicken can harbor harmful bacteria, it's important to know how to properly handle chicken in the kitchen. Learn chicken safety tips in this article. 
  • Preparing Chicken: Learn some basic chicken preparation techniques in this article, including how to stuff a chicken, how to marinate chicken, and more.
  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.