How to debone a chicken

The lost art of using whole birds

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It seems all the chicken recipes you find these days require the boneless version. While many serious home cooks like the DIY aspect of everything else, we’re all a bit reticent to go that extra mile to debone our own, even if it means buying a more expensive (or even lower-quality) cut of meat. But deboning a chicken isn’t as daunting as it seems. It simply requires a little patience, an appropriate knife and detailed step-by-step instructions.

The right tool for the job

The most important thing is to start with the right knife. Buy a high-quality boning knife. A boning knife is smallish with a 6-inch blade and a straight edge that curves up at the tip. Good-quality knives are expensive, but the best brands (e.g., Henckels, Wüsthof-Trident) also come with lifetime guarantees. If you're comfortable with a mid-grade knife, you should still skip the department store in favor of one that specializes in quality kitchen equipment. The salespeople will be more knowledgeable about the best way to choose the knife that's right for you.

Guy Fieri tips to sharpen your knives >>

Step-by-step instructions

  1. After cleaning your bird, place it on a clean surface. Cut the wings off at the first joint, leaving the drumette attached.
  2. Make a cut in the skin between the leg and the body, but don't remove it, yet.
  3. You can set the knife aside for this step. Hold the chicken's body in one hand, using the other to pull the whole leg toward you until you feel the bone pop completely out of the socket. Use the knife to finish cutting through the socket to separate the drumstick and thigh. Repeat this step with the other leg.
  4. Lay the chicken on the counter so the breasts are upright and facing you (on its back). Then make a cut down the back on both sides of the breastbone all the way down, making sure you use the blade of the knife (not the tip).
  5. Using the tip of the knife, follow the rib cage (located under the breastbone) to cut away the breasts (carefully). Holding the breasts by the drumette you left in place in step 1, cut the breast at the thickest part (near the drumette) toward the thinner part of the breast and remove each breast.
  6. Turn the chicken on its stomach and cut out the small morsel of tender meat, commonly referred to as the oyster, which is located behind the hollow part of the hip socket (in the back).
  7. Lay each leg flat on the cutting surface with the thicker (meatier) part facing down and cut down the leg and thigh bones using the blade of the knife. Using the tip, cut a very deep split along the entire length of the bone and carefully cut away the flesh.
  8. After putting away your meat, carefully and completely sanitize all surfaces that came into contact with the meat or bones, including the knife, to avoid contamination.

Tip: Don't throw the bones away! Save them to make chicken stock.

Recipes using chicken

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Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix the Fish. You can follow her on Twitter @HireHeather.