Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Back to Basics: How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken

I am currently reading Joel Salatin's latest book, "Folks, This Ain't Normal." While I am thoroughly enjoying it (personally, I believe this is his best one!), he mentions something that got me to thinking.

I was thinking, "Wow, he's got this one wrong."

Thankfully, I was proven wrong.

Now, if you've followed along here for very long, you'll know that Mr. Salatin is one of my hero's. We have been trying to implement as many of his farming practices as we can on our small farm without breaking the budget. (Fencing for pigs...I have a better chance of winning the lottery than coming up with enough $$$ to fence in our wooded area for the pigs!) As far as I'm concerned, he's a farming genius. And he's a nice guy to boot. And I got to shake his hand and have my picture taken with him. But now I'm just bragging. Sorry.

See, we all know that factory farmed chickens are just an all-around bad idea. Sickness, lack of essential nutrients from lack of sunshine, over-crowding issues, de-beaking chicks so they can't cannibalize their mates, etc...the list goes on and on. If you aren't familiar with these practices, please watch the documentary, "Food, Inc.". It will change the way you look at chickens...forever.

Here's what I took offense with, albeit briefly...

"...So forty years ago, every woman knew how to cut up a chicken. It was part of general knowledge. It was like learning to ride a bike, or read, or tie your shoes. It was part of domestic skills, like hammering a nail, running a washing machine, turning on the vacuum cleaner, or running a lawnmower. Today, more than half or our patrons don't even know that a chicken has bones."

"I've got news for you ladies. Chicken nuggets in the shape of Dino the dinosaur are not part of a chicken's anatomy. You won't find any muscle groups titled "Nuggets." Boneless, skinless breast wasn't even available in the supermarket before 1970. If your recipe called for boneless skinless breast, you did the carving yourself. And when it was done, you also had a neck, backbone, wings, thighs, and legs. And you cooked those, and ate them."

Mr. Salatin refers to ladies because that's who most of his farm store patrons are. That I did NOT find offense. It's fact. What I took offense to was that he thinks that women do not know how to cut a chicken anymore. And while I was ranting calmly discussing this with my family, my children (including 2 of my married daughters) all looked at me and said, "Well, we don't know how to cut up a whole chicken either."


I had assumed that everyone knew how to cut up a chicken. I had assumed that every teenager in America had worked for Colonel Sanders as I had. I assumed that my kids had learned that it is much cheaper to buy an entire chicken rather than just the preferred bits and pieces. It is obvious to me that a whole chicken at $.99/lb. is less expensive than a package of cut up pieces at $3 or $4/lb. After all, a family pack of chicken legs contains the legs of at least 7 chickens! And don't even get me started on the same huge packs of chicken breasts...

So it's time for me to right a wrong. It's time for me to make sure that at least in my family, we all know how to cut up a chicken. Because like it or not, whole chickens are all they're going to find in my freezer.☺

~How to Cut Up a Whole Chicken~

Start with a thawed whole chicken.
Find the joint where the wing connects to the breast.

Using a sharp knife, cut through that joint. Repeat with the other side.

Pull the leg/thigh out and gently run your knife between the thigh and white meat to separate.

Find the joint and cut through that. Repeat on other side.

Thigh and drumstick

Find the joint between the top of the leg and the thigh.

Carefully cut through that to separate the two. Repeat with the other side.

This is what the remainder of the chicken should look like.

Cut along the ribcage to separate the bony back from the meaty breast.

This is half of it. Save the pieces.

Turn the breast, bone-side up, and place the knife in the center of the breast bone.

Carefully cut down the bone to make 2 pieces. This part is a little more difficult, so be really cautious with the knife.

You can either leave the skin on, which keeps the chicken moist, or you can remove it. I removed it for this dish because it was going to be shredded in a sauce.

Toss the extra pieces, and any skin into a crockpot with filtered water. Add a couple of carrots, celery, garlic, and an onion, some peppercorns, thyme, and rosemary, and let simmer in a crockpot all day. Cool, strain, and voila'...homemade stock! 

Congratulations! You did it and used the whole chicken!

Go a step further and raise your own meat birds and throw the feet, neck, liver, and gizzards in too...

What? Too much?

...maybe we'll save that for another day. ☺

Have you entered my giveaway yet? You have until 2/15 until the drawing!

This post is linked to The Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop and Friday Food Flicks.


Heidi said...

Hello Kim,

I enjoy reading your blog and I would like to recognize you by awarding your blog the Versatile Blogger Award. If you would like to accept it, please go to my blog to receive it here:

If you do not accept blog awards, please disregard my request, but know that I really appreciate your blog. I learn so much from you.

Thank you,


Christina said...

mmmm, now I'm hungry for chicken! I want you to know that you've been awarded the Leibster Award. Just come on over and claim it.

momma-lana said...

I learned how to cut up chickens from my Mother while I was growing up. She made us girls cut up the chicken so we would know how to do it! Still not my favorite job though! Maybe not my Mom's favorite job either since she used it as a learning experience so often! I had a friends daughter in my kitchen while I was cutting up chicken one day. My friend never buys anything but boneless skinless breasts. When her daughter saw me cutting up the chicken she said she did not know that you could buy the whole thing like that and that it was gross and she would NEVER eat chicken again. Where did she think chicken came from I wonder?

Candy C. said...

I was in my late 20s before I learned how to cut up a whole chicken. I learned from a picture tutorial in my Better Homes And Gardens red and white checkered cookbook. I received a new copy of that cookbook a couple of years ago and they don't even have that in there anymore!
By the way, I LOVE Joel Salatin!!

Carolyn Renee said...

You know, a few years ago I would have also taken offence at the statement that Joe made that a woman didn't know how to cut up a chicken anymore.....until I realized that except for a very, very few actually do. We're a little different, got to remember that. But then again, some lady in a fancy city may be sitting in her hot tub in the penthouse reading a book and be offended that some author said that women don't know how to properly pick out pantyhose to match their sports car.

momma-lana said...

One more comment--our oldest daughter and SIL lived in China for a year. Chicken feet are sold separately and for much more than the actual chicken. They are battered and deep fried and are wildly popular like chicken wings are here. See picture!

Rae said...

That's crazy that people wouldn't understand how to do that. Even if you've never parted out a chicken before, I wouldn't think it's difficult to figure it out on your own. That's what I had to do, anyway, as no one taught me. Then again, how many folks actually understand basic anatomy? :)

Mmmm... Livers and gizzards... Mmmmm... Can't wait to do get another round of icky chicky meat birds this spring. Frying up the livers and gizzards after processing is the best part! Yum!

hoosier girl said...

That was excellent! I have to confess that DH does our chickens because I never learned how. But it's on my list of things to learn so I bookmarked this. Thanks so much!!

Clint Baker said...

Great Info!

Kris said...

I have to say that I learned how to cut up a whole chicken when I was just 16. My first job in a reastaraunt was in Statesboro, Ga. at the Knick Knack Bar and Grill. They had a wonderful black cook named Lonnie. He taught me how. I don't remember why he taught me but I am glad he did. So I am one of those who learned young. And I also grow my own chickens and turkeys too!

Thanks for bringing this up. Because there are so many young people who do not even know how to cook. Or just throw something together for dinner with what they have. They are all mostly using pre made foods that don't require any thinking at all. Very sad indeed. No Home Ec in school anymore. They need to bring that back again. Or at least find some older people who can teach them the basics. You are doing a great job teaching your kids.

SweetLand Farm said...

Hi! I just found your blog and read some posts. I love the cutting up the whole chicken. I've tried and well, ended up wasting more then I saved. My bad. But now I may have to try it again. We have a small family farm and raise our own chickens too, and have a Jersey milk cow and a newish heifer calf, she was born in Oct last year. I too love Joel S. We do a lot of the same things he does and have been to see him a couple times at different conferences. So worth it!
I also noticed your cutting mat, and I have the same ones!
I'm now a new follower of your blog!

Alecia @ ChickenScratch NY said...

Thanks for this! I can't wait to show my boyfriend. We kill our own birds but usually end up cooking them whole (after killing, plucking and gutting I usually have just enough patience to shove them in the freezer!).

Love your blog, I'm your newest follower!

Heather's Blog-o-rama said...

I'll have to give this a try. When I make homemade stock, I just throw the chicken in whole, then de-bone it afterwards. Maybe this way it would be easier? I found your blog via the Homestead Barn Hop this week :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

Jen the CraftinCowgirl said...

Oh my gosh, I don't know if I should admit that I'm 37 years old and did not know how to cut up a whole chicken until now! Thank you so much for the pictures and post! I will be looking for whole chickens on sale now!

Amanda @ Traditional Foods said...

Most people definitely don't know how to cut up a chicken. :) What I found most surprising about your post is that you learned it at KFC. They actually bring in whole chickens? I wonder if they still do.

In any case, I'd be honored if you'd share this post on our new weekly link up -- Friday Food Flicks -- Amanda

Kim said...

Amanda~Back in the day (27 years ago), KFC only used whole (gutted) chickens...even the non-cooks had to know how to cut the birds up just in case the cook was busy. I'm betting that practice is obsolete now.

Diane said...

Joel Salatin is my favorite too. Wish we could visit Polyface Farms to take it all in. I agree that Folks, this ain't normal is his best book yet.