How to Debone a Chicken
We are getting truly hands on today folks. This is one how-to that has been on my list – yes, there is a list – of things to learn and show you for MONTHS. Actually, I think this is the How-To that started it all. Months ago, my step dad had told me about de-boning a chicken and he volunteered to show me when I went out to my parent’s house last fall. Well, between the wedding, Ben going back to school, working, honeymooning, blogging, and everything in between the lessons in deboning birds went by the wayside. I’m so sorry!! I had no idea how 1) practical and 2) Serial Killer-esque this could be, but I have got to tell you right this second before you click off this page for me dropping “serial killer-esque” into a post – that this made one of the best chickens Of. Myyy. LIFFEEEE!!!!
Ben has been trying hard to institute a weekly menu rotation at our house – because he is a creature of
redundancy habit, and he firmly stated this stuffed chicken is going to be on the top of the imaginary Weekly Menu. At least I will get lots of opportunity to practice this technique.
Surprisingly enough, you don’t need a knife for this nearly as much as you would think. Most of your knife skills will come in handy when you remove the wishbone, separate the joints, and remove the meat from a few bones. The rest is all you and your mitts.
To begin, source yourself one large chicken and two knives, a chef’s knife and a boning knife or filet knife. A thinner steak knife would also work fine.
Lay your chicken on the table, breast side up. At the breast bone, where they come together – like a sternum, use your fingers to feel where the wish bone is. Make two incisions on the outside of each side of the bone, on the right and left breast. Use your fingers to clamp behind the bone and put it out. It separates pretty easily.
Next, pull the two wings out flat. Count to the second joint of each wing and in between the two joints, run your knife in between and remove the tip and middle of each wing. Set them aside and save them for stock.
Next, lay your chicken on it’s side and make an incision along the entire back of the chicken. Once the cut is made, slightly pull the skin back away from the breasts. Don’t tear the skin, just gently pull it back so you can see where you are cutting. At the shoulder, move the wing around so you can feel where the joint is. Here, use your knife to make a small incision right at that joint where it moves back and forth (articulates) and you can pop the joint right out.
Now you see where the serial killer feeling comes in…sorry, but please keep trust me here.
Repeat again on the other side of the chicken. If you do something on one side, you do the same thing on the other. So repeat the same maneuver on the other wing.
Once the wings are separated, you will begin to “peel” the meat away from the carcass and rib cage of the chicken with your fingers. In the middle picture below you will see Bonus Dad pointing to a small piece of dark round meat known as the “oyster”. It’s a tender piece of meat. Here you will stop and cut around the oyster so it stays intact with the rest of the meat. Mo’ Meat, Mo’ Betta. Continue to pull along the meat bringing as much of it with you as you can. Once you reach the leg joints, they will be easy to pull right out and bring with the rest of the meat. Leave those bones in momentarily. In one fell swoop you will have a whole chicken worth of meat, and two legs and two partial wings attached and no rib cage to be seen.
What’s left on the ribcage are the two chicken tenders. The straight bone in between them is the sternum of the chicken. If you run your fingers tightly against the sternum in a sliding motion down the bone the tenders will come right off.
In the middle of the chicken tender there is a small piece of sinew (it’s the white stringy stuff) that should be removed. Using a towel and a knife you firmly hold onto the bit of sinew and use a knife to scrape the meat off of the sinew, leaving the tender behind. Set the chicken tender aside and discard the sinew. Now we will be cutting the rest of the leg and wing bones out of the bird. Grabbing the leg joint from your chicken, use your knife to scrape the meat away from the bone. When you reach the articulation joint on the knee, cut around the articulation joint (NOT THROUGH IT), keeping the joint intact and just removing some meat to continue one. Once you pass the articulation of the joint, cut down to the bone again and scrape the meat from the bone. Once you reach the end of the second bone you are almost done.
At the end of that joint, you will fold the meat and skin back over that joint so you can see the leg and drumstick of your chicken. Following the middle photo you will use the blunt back side of your knife (NOT THE BLADE) to bread the end of the bone. If you were to cut through the skin and remove it the skin would shrink while it cooks and you wouldn’t want that!! But now that the bone is broken, you can pull the entire leg bone out of the bird, leaving that small ball in the leg of the bird. You’ll see why when it comes to trussing this birdy beast!
Repeat the same process on the other leg and both of the wing portions. The technique is the same, except the two wings bones will come completely out. But as you can see below – we have a flat chicken!
But what about those chicken tenders you ask? Look at the bottom right photo and you can see those long white pieces right next to the dark meat. Bam, put those tenders back in the bird, yo!! And looky here – there is the light and dark meat, all at once.
Now to make this chicken look like a chicken again – we gotta stuff it!! Yesterday’s recipe for Chorizo and Cornbread Stuffing is perfect for this bird! It’s slightly spicy, sweet, and full of southwest flair. Make this stuffing a head of time and make sure it’s cold when it goes into the bird. To prevent food born illnesses, cold stuffing should go into a cold bird. Ain’t no one got time for Salmonella! Spread a half inch layer of stuffing evenly onto the body of the bird, and use a couple of small handfuls of stuffing to stuff the legs and wings of the bird. Pull both sides of the bird over on itself and over lap the skin to make sure it keeps the stuffing all inside. GENTLY, holding the bird closed all around, flip the bird seam-side down.
Clean your mitts and cut about 5-6 feet of string. Make a knot around the two little balls ends of the legs that you didn’t take out. To finish trussing your bird, make a large loop and shimmy and slide the bottom of the loop under the bird and making sure it’s seams stay intact. Tighten your loop a few inches north of the knot, and lather rinse and repeat the process all the way to the boobs of the bird. When you get to the front of the stuffed bird, make sure the skin of the boob completely closes the bird and keeps the stuffing in! Take the remaining string and make a straight line, looping it over the front of the bird and using your hands, flip the trussed up bird over and connect the remaining ends of string back at the feet of the bird. Think of it as wrapping a poultry present with string and you’ll be just fine! Tie your knots, cut the excess string and you’re ready to bake.
Make your Chorizo Cornbread Stuffing ahead of time and make sure it is cold when it goes into the bird.
This bird is perfect on the grill – grilling it at about 275 degrees for 90 minutes, making sure it’s cooked all the way through before taking it off the grill. Low and slow!
Let the bird rest for at least 10 minutes covered and off the grill before slicing and serving. This will help redistribute the juices in the bird, and the stuffing will stay intact when slicing.
If you have dark-meat lovers, slice them the back half of the bird! For the white meat lovers, slice ’em the front of the bird. Easy peazy.
These same techniques can be used on all fowl and poultry – from chicken to turkies, quail and pheasants!! They all de-bone the same.
Don’t discard the bones of this chicken – Make Chicken Stock out of them!
If step by step photos aren’t your thing – check out this video from, who I lovingly refer to as Great Uncle Jacque Pepin, who has mastered the de-boning of birds. Watch and observe The Master.
Click the links below to see more handy How-To’s::