Monday, January 31, 2011

Butchering a chicken: a plea for help

I told a couple of people I was going to write up and post the entry on Mauritius today, but I think my adventures of this afternoon will make for much better reading and viewing. This week I'll be cooking Vietnamese food with Kim, a friend from college. In preparation, he sent me a recipe that involved making chicken broth using a whole chicken, so I figured I would knock out that step this afternoon. Problem: I've never butchered a chicken. Why would I, when I can buy oh-so-convenient cut up chicken pieces at the grocery store? But this recipe specifically stated that I was supposed to use the back and giblets (except the liver), which don't usually come in the nice convenient packages. Although the chicken is currently cut up and simmering in a pot on the stove, the process was not smooth. Pictures are after the jump (only of the chicken, not of my freak-out as no one was here to take those, but they're still funny), but it occurred to me that butchering a chicken is something every 25 year old aspiring home chef should know how to do, especially when they feel as strongly about economizing and making things from scratch as I do.

I want someone to come over and teach me to butcher a chicken. I'll provide the chicken, and make dinner with it after. You bring yourself, knife skills (preferable), poultry shears (if you don't have the aforementioned knife skills), and your favorite bottle of relatively inexpensive wine. Leave a comment here, on Facebook, or at 45sqftkitchen at gmail dot com if you want to help a girl out!


Beginner's luck, apparently

Breasts are how do I get them off?

Victory! well, sort of

saved a little skin to fry up later, because I feel I deserve crispy, delicious fat after that ordeal

That's the liver, right? Because I was supposed to leave that out.


  1. Butchering a chicken is not that hard. For me, I leave the wings, legs, etc, on until after I have the chicken split.

    The fastest way for me is to cut down the breast bone and split the breast in two. Then pull open, and then with a large knife cut out the back bone. Once the back bone is removed, you have two halves of a chicken, and then it is much easier to remove the legs, thighs, wings, etc, because you are holding less mass.

    Once it is split in two, it goes rather quickly. Remove the leg quarter at the thigh joint, then cut in two, remove the wing, and you are done.

  2. That's interesting. I had trouble cutting out the backbone and finding the thigh joint. Thank you :)

  3. All you really need is a little practice. Don't be afraid to feel up the chicken to find the right place to put your knife. :)

    If it's easier, I learned by carving up cooked/rotisserie chicken. Rewarding because you can eat it right away and less risk of having to scrub splattered chicken goo off of kitchen surfaces.

  4. There are actually a lot of different ways of carving poultry, and a lot of it has to do with when you were born. My grandfather broke his birds down into thirteen (13) pieces--two wings, two legs, two thighs, four breast quadrants, and a back and neck. I tend to favor six to eight (depending on whether I leave the upper wing joint attached to a bone-in breast, Delmonico style) and then to use the rest for making stock.

    Playing CSI: Barnyard with these pictures, Divorced Guy hit the nail on the head in that it looks like you were trying to separate the leg from the thigh while they're still attached to the bird--it's much easier to remove the leg quarter (i.e., leg and thigh) together, then split if necessary. I personally don't split my chicken unless I urgently want it split, because it's a lot more work than taking the breasts off the bone and using the entire carcass for stock.

    It's a little hard to tell from the color, but I think what you have in the sink is the gizzard. The liver is a bit more, well, liver-colored.

    In general, the best advice I can give about butchering chickens is that, when you're cutting through joints, you shouldn't feel a great deal of resistance. If you're fighting it, you haven't found the right spot yet and should wiggle the knife side to side until it works between the bones. Cutting through backbones is another story and I use shears for that or a cleaver, but like I said, I generally don't feel the need (you don't strictly NEED to cut up the carcass for soup, and even if you want to, it's easier to cut between the breasts and the backbone than it is to cut through the backbone, in my opinion--your results may vary).

    Yada yada yada, I'm game to hack apart an animal any day!