Breaking the Bird

While going through your market’s meat department, you’ll regularly run across some fantastic prices on whole chickens. In our local area, prices as low as $0.29/lb can be found from time to time. The trick is, rarely do most families need to roast a whole bird. Butcher shops count on it, and will happily charge you for the pleasure of providing you with a package of thighs, legs, breasts, and so on. But, here’s the thing: Breaking birds is actually a very simple process.

Set of raw turkey on white background

As with any cutting project, it all starts with a good knife technique. You’ll want to use a blade with a fair amount of weight. I prefer a butcher’s 8-inch boning knife.

Another option would be a good, solid, 8 - 10-inch Chef’s Knife, ideally one with a low “rocker."

In the near future, I’ll go into more detail regarding knives, including purchasing, different uses depending on the shape, and maintenance. But for now, the biggest thing to remember is that the best knife to use is the one you have on hand. Look through your current collection, and find a sharp, non-serrated blade with very little arch and you’ll do fine. With practice, you will easily be able to break a bird in under 5 minutes each. So when you see that sale price, jump on a good half dozen birds and plan on freezing bags of breasts, thighs, legs, and wings. Also, this is a zero-waste process! Save the backs, wingtips, and everything else to make your chicken stock/broth!

Breaking Down a Bird


  • butcher's 8-inch boning knife
  • 8 - 10-inch Chef’s Knife


  • Gather the whole bird and tools
  • Position bird on breast, backbone upward
  • Remove wing at joint
  • Remove second wing
  • Turn bird to back, breast upward
  • Remove leg and thigh
  • Remove second leg and thigh
  • Visualize joint between leg and thigh. Cut
  • Visualize joint between wing segments, cut
  • Position bird with tail at the highest point, cut along backbone
  • Split breastbone from inside to the out
  • Remove bones as necessary

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