If you’ve never tried to cut a whole chicken before, it can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start. The first time you do it, it might take longer since you are learning the process but once you get the hang it, it really only takes a couple of minutes to do it. The trick is to have good sharp knives because if you work with dull blades, then it will be like trying to cut rubber.
I usually buy whole chickens to make certain dishes (especially stewed chicken/pollo guisado) because it’s less expensive than buying a pre-cut whole chicken. I usually save $2 – $3 on 4 – 5 lbs of chicken when buying it whole, it may not seem like alot, but when you are grocery shopping it adds up!
Keep in mind, I am not a pro butcher, this is how I was taught to cut it up and while it doesn’t always come out perfect, it’s the most practical way to cut a chicken and get the most out of it.
To cut the chicken, you will need a carving knife and a cleaver, also, I suggest you put it on a cutting board to make clean up easier. Also remember, chicken has ALOT OF BACTERIA, so make sure to clean the counter tops after removing the cutting board and knives when you are finished.
First, remove the chicken from the packaging in the sink to drain the excess liquid the chicken comes preserved in. You can rinse it when removing from the package if you’d like, I usually just put it on the cutting board and cut it before rinsing because I will clean it after it’s cut up.
First, let’s cut the thigh and drumstick quarter, to do that, pull the leg out and cut along the thigh under the skin,
To make it easier to get the whole quarter intact, turn the chicken on it’s side and cut along the bone from the thigh,
Once the thigh is cut, you can keep the skin on or remove it, depending on what kind of dish you are preparing.
To make oven roasted chicken (pollo horneado), I leave the skin on, but to make a stewed chicken (pollo guisado) I remove the skin. Some people like to fry the skin to make chicharron de pollo (fried chicken skins), so you can save the skin if you’d like to use it for that.
Also, after removing the skin, with a knife, trim away some of the extra fat,
To cut the quarter, take a cleaver (it is easier to cut this part with a cleaver, but if you don’t have one you can use a knife, just put alot of pressure on the joint area) and cut through the joint area where the thigh and drumstick are united, you might have to tap it a couple of times,
Now we have a thigh and a drumstick,
To make pollo guisado, I usually cut the thigh in half, but you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,
Now, some of the skin covering the breast area of the chicken will be loose, I usually take this opportunity to cut most of the loose skin off when I want skinless chicken,
Now we cut the other leg quarter (thigh and drumstick),
Perfect leg quarter!
To peel the skin, just pull it off,
Then cut in half,
Cut the thigh if you want to make stewed chicken (pollo guisado), if you prefer the whole thigh just leave it intact.
At this point you will probably have more loose skin, so you can trim that off since the theme is skinless chicken today,
Trim extra fat,
Now we will cut the wings, to do this, run the knife along the bone that connects the wing to the torso,
To make it easier to cut through the bone,cut under it as well until the bone comes apart from the torso,
And now we have a chicken wing, I usually leave the skin on this piece, but you can peel the skin away if you’d like.
Repeat the same process to cut the other wing from the chicken,
Now, usually there is a bag inside the chicken containing the liver, heart, gizzards and neck.
You can always remove this bag before you start to cut the chicken, but it doesn’t really matter as long as you take it out.
If you don’t like these pieces, you can throw them out. I happen to like them (especially the gizzards) so I keep them to cook when I make stewed chicken (pollo guisado). If you are planning on roasting the chicken and you don’t want these pieces, you can just put them in the freezer and use them for future recipes.
Now what’s left is the torso. Remove the extra skin from the back side of the chicken,
Once you’ve trimmed the torso from the skin and fat, position it vertically, and cut it through the middle to separate the breast form the back,
Once you’ve cut the torso in half, you will have these two pieces (the chicken breasts and the back side),
Take the breast side, with the cleaver cut vertically through the center to separate them,
Now we have two beautiful chicken breast pieces, you can strip the bone away if you want to grill them, but since I am making stewed chicken with this particular bird, I am leaving the bone on.
You can leave them whole, but they are very large pieces, so for the dish I want to make, i am going to cut each breast in half,
Now, the final piece of the chicken is the back piece. With the cleaver, cut it into 3 equal sized pieces, this is a very bony part of the chicken so you will have to tap it with the cleaver with force to break through the bones,
And that’s it! It may seem like a long process, but after you’ve cut a few chickens and get the hang of it, it really only takes a couple of minutes to do this.
Remember to rinse your chicken before cooking it!