Nourish PA: How to Break Down a Whole Chicken

A whole bird makes an impressive centerpiece, but it isn’t always the most practical way to prepare a chicken. To save on roasting time and ensure more evenly cooked meat, try breaking down the chicken first! This technique is simpler than it sounds, especially when you follow our step-by-step instructions. Once you’ve done it a few times, breaking down a whole chicken is no big deal. Use the chicken to make delicious, homey meals, like Classic Baked Chicken Thighs with Winter Veggies.

How To Break Down a Whole Chicken

Serves 5
Prep Time Cook Time Total Time
10 min 0 min 10 min


  • Turn giblets into gravy or stock.
  • Save the backbone to use for stock.
  • Chicken can be frozen for up to 9 months.
  • To make separating chicken breasts easier, after step 5, carefully slice around the keel bone and pull out from bird. Repeat with remaining steps.
  • You can use this same process to break down a whole turkey, too.
  • If you don’t need to use all of the chicken, you can place any parts in a plastic freezer bag, pressing out as much air as possible before sealing. The chicken parts will keep in the freezer for up to nine months.


  • One whole chicken, 4 to 5 pounds
  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Kitchen shears


  1. Position bird on cutting board breast-side-up, with wings facing away from you.
  2. Bend wings out from body of bird, and using a sharp knife, slice between joint of wing and breast of bird to free wing. Repeat on opposite side.
  3. Pull drumstick away from chicken, and using small strokes, cut skin, and loosen leg from body. Bend leg quarters down to “pop” and expose joint of leg. Maneuver tip of knife around base of joint and cut leg free. Repeat on opposite side.
  4. Flip chicken breast-side-down with cavity facing you. Cut on both sides of backbone, using kitchen shears, to remove it.
  5. Remove rib meat from both sides of body using a sharp knife.
  6. Split breasts by carefully cutting through skin on top of center of breasts and work your knife into, and through, meat. Press knife through breast bone using both hands to split breast in two.
  7. Cut breasts widthwise, using both hands to control knife, and split into two pieces.
  8. Separate drumstick from thigh, cutting at seam that naturally separates drumstick from thigh. Repeat with other leg.

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