How to Butcher or Debone Chicken


11 Feb How to Butcher or Debone Chicken

See those pretty crystals? They’re salt. Yes, we need this essential element to live, but the average Canadian consumes three times the daily recommended dose. Spend a few minutes Googling “high-sodium diet” and you’ll likely consider tossing your fleur de sel out the window. Fortunately, this isn’t necessary. I was talking with Dawn Thomas, the voice of Rouxbe Online Cooking School.  She says their site doesn’t label recipes low-sodium (or low-fat for that matter) and doesn’t plan to. Why not? It’s unnecessary. Once you learn proper cooking techniques you control these factors. So over the next few weeks I’ll be devoting the occasional post to simple ways to reduce the salt in your diet. And as a special bonus, you’ll find you’re saving money. We’ll start with deboning chicken.

An easy place to start shaving that salt lick from your diet is at the butcher counter with plain old fresh chicken. If you learn to debone chicken yourself, you’ll avoid sodium-laced seasoned meats and have plenty of bones for homemade stock — low-sodium, tasty, rich stock.

Deboning chicken stars with a sharp knife.

I buy bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. As soon as I get home, I debone them and freeze the bones for stock. Now, I know a lot of you are thinking this is time consuming. Initially, I thought so too, but I got out my timer. Deboning a whole chicken breast (that’s left and right side, so two pieces) took me exactly 4 minutes 8 seconds. And I don’t even have a proper boning knife. Cubing the chicken breast took and additional 1 minute 15 seconds each breast. In just over 6 minutes I had enough boneless, skinless chicken cubes for two mains.

Money saved? At least 10% of the cost of the boneless version. I went to my butcher (Valeriote’s Market on Yorkshire for those who wonder where I get gigantic, local chicken), and he kindly indulged me in a true comparison. He weighed a 3.3 pound whole skin-on, bone-in chicken breast and calculated the price. It cost $11.55. He then skinned, deboned and weighed the same chicken breast again. This time the cost was $12.82.  By buying bone-in chicken, I saved 10% on my meat bill AND had bones for stock. Plus, I had the option of keeping the skin on, which is essential for some recipes like Roasted Lemon and Cilantro Chicken, which I often make it with chicken breasts alone.

Want to save more? Buy a whole chicken and butcher it yourself. Seriously. It’s not that hard. With a bit of practice “Easy as deboning a chicken” will become part of your lingo.

To help you on your deboning journey, once again, I turn to the good people at Rouxbe Online Cooking School. They’ve kindly provided videos that will reduce the intimidation factor.

How to Butcher a Whole Chicken

Rouxbe Online Cooking School & Video Recipes

How to Debone a Chicken Breast

Rouxbe Online Cooking School & Video Recipes

Feeling inspired by your new found skill? Each video has a “Related Recipe” tab at the top. Just click it and you’ll see pictures of — related recipes. Click one and go straight to a great recipe that let’s you put your knowledge into practice.  It’s so easy. Easy as deboning a chicken.

Me? I’m kicking back and letting Rouxbe do the work today. Or maybe I’ll make some stock…

What’ll you do with your chicken?

Oh yes, in the interest of full disclosure, here’s the explanation of my Rouxbe Affiliate relationship.

Like what you see? As part of their affiliate program, I have the power to give you a free, full-access, no-videos-barred, one-week pass to their site. All you have to do is go to Rouxbe Online Cooking School and redeem the 7-day Gift Membership. You can enjoy all Rouxbe has to offer for a full 7 days, no strings attached.

And then? Your Gift Membership will silently morph into a Basic Membership, which means you can access the recipes but not the Cooking School videos. However, if you’d like to purchase a Premium Membership, it is very reasonably priced. A full-year is only $99.

Salt photo © kevindooley. Published under a Creative Commons License.

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  • Jill U Adams
    Posted at 09:35h, 11 February Reply

    Brilliant! I’ve never done this before, but now I want to. I’ve been buying all our meat directly from local farmers. I can get chicken pieces but nothing so pansy as boneless chicken breasts — how spoiled I am after years of supermarket shopping!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:56h, 11 February Reply

      @Jill U Adams, I’m glad you found this useful. I’m now going to carve up whole chickens. I like dark meat. My husband prefers white — so it’s a win-win for us and our wallets.

  • Ed Schenk
    Posted at 10:33h, 11 February Reply

    Thanks for the video. I know many people will find it helpful.
    .-= Ed Schenk´s last blog ..Chicken Noodle Soup –Not my Grandmother’s recipe =-.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:58h, 11 February Reply

      @Ed Schenk, Thanks Ed. I was hoping people would find this useful and not roll their eyes.

      Your chicken soup recipes sounds really good. I love garlic!

  • Dana McCauley
    Posted at 13:34h, 11 February Reply

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! For reminding people that cooking from scratch is not rocket science or difficult and gives you much more control over your health and budget as well.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:59h, 11 February Reply

      @Dana McCauley, You’re most welcomed! I must say I was intimidated by the thought of deboning chicken until I watched these videos and got out the timer. Now I’m evangelical about this.

  • Amanda S.
    Posted at 13:44h, 11 February Reply

    Great topics! I think most of use could do with less salt in our diets and one of the best ways is getting back to real food.

    Chopping up or deboning a whole chicken is dead easy. I started teaching myself how to do it a couple of years ago when I started only cooking with organic or local meats. It wasn’t that hard to find whole organic chickens, but I had to trek across town to a butcher that had organic breasts etc. (and they were really expensive). Now I’ll buy a whole chicken, chop it up or debone it, use some of it, and then toss the rest in the freezer. Brilliant!
    .-= Amanda S.´s last blog ..Sustainable Dining in Vancouver =-.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 14:01h, 11 February Reply

      @Amanda S., thanks for the confirmation that this is “dead easy.” All together now… “As easy as deboning a chicken!”

      I admire that you taught yourself.

  • Hilda
    Posted at 13:47h, 11 February Reply

    Another really wonderful post!
    You have the only cooking blog that I actually read entirely, rather than scan. I’ve been wondering lately (since the economy crashed) what kind of premium I was paying for boneless chicken parts, and you answered the question — thanks!

    Another question: I recently made chicken stock from the carcass of a deli-style rotisserie chicken, and the broth was much, much darker than canned chicken broth. Do you know what causes this? Is it a sign I’m doing something wrong?

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 14:10h, 11 February Reply

      @Hilda, Thanks for reading every word! That means a lot to me.

      The darker stock isn’t unusual if the bones you use have already been cooked. Raw bones create a lighter stock. However, just to be nitpicky, you’re making STOCK. This should have a gelatinous texture when chilled because it contains some of the bone marrow. It’s richer and has a fuller feel in the mouth. The tins at the supermarket contain BROTH. It is a thinner liquid without the gelatinous properties. It doesn’t have the depth of flavour or fullness. So… as long as your stock tastes good and isn’t greasy (which comes from boiling it not simmering it) you’re way ahead of the game regardless of the stock’s final colour.

      Okay, did you read every word of my long-winded answer? :-)

      • Hilda
        Posted at 16:54h, 11 February Reply

        @Charmian Christie, Yes, I did every word… and then I laughed out loud at your question :-)

  • Cheryl@5secondrule
    Posted at 13:48h, 11 February Reply

    yeah, I add my thanks. I love when you post these Rouxbe videos. I learn something every time.

    The market where I buy my chicken sells whole organic chickens, but all their chicken parts are conventional. This always frustrates me, but I see an obvious solution that escaped me before: I’ll just buy the whole damned organic chicken and break it down myself. More work, but I’ll be getting exactly what I want, and bones to boot.
    .-= Cheryl@5secondrule´s last blog ..Manipulation =-.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 14:14h, 11 February Reply

      @Cheryl@5secondrule, I learn something from Rouxbe every time, too.

      I’m actually surprised how little time it takes to cut apart a bird. Had I know it was this easy, I’d have been doing this ages ago. Nice to know you now have a solution for your organic poultry.

  • The Diva on a Diet
    Posted at 18:28h, 11 February Reply

    I suppose its kind of like doing the dishes … seems like a monumental task until you do it and realize its taken but a few minutes.

    I see the point on the savings, but I’ll be honest, raw chicken squicks me. I’m all about my butcher! LOL
    .-= The Diva on a Diet´s last blog ..Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Crackers =-.

    • Cheryl@5secondrule
      Posted at 18:38h, 11 February Reply

      @The Diva on a Diet: I beg to differ. It’s not like doing the dishes… I HATE doing the dishes. I’d rather handle slimy raw chicken. (Seriously.)
      .-= Cheryl@5secondrule´s last blog ..Manipulation =-.

      • Charmian Christie
        Posted at 18:49h, 11 February Reply

        @Cheryl@5secondrule, Then it’s settled. Diva does my dishes, you do the chicken and I kick back with a glass of wine. Everybody wins.

  • Poultry Ark
    Posted at 07:49h, 15 February Reply

    Nice post and video but for sure once anyone has deboned a chicken a few times it becomes ridiculously easy.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:00h, 16 February Reply

      @Poultry Ark, Thanks for confirming this. For some reason I always found the thought intimidating and now I’m fearless about the task.

  • Katerina
    Posted at 12:48h, 16 February Reply

    I usually buy chicken thighs with the bone on and skin on, and then remove it all. It is a fairly thankless task but it is worth it.

    Plus the chicken stock, as you say, is so worth it!
    .-= Katerina´s last blog ..Chicken Thighs with Sage, Mushrooms and Onions =-.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:02h, 16 February Reply

      @Katerina, the chicken stock turns this from “thankless” to “gratifying”. I might get lazy about the meat itself, but the thought of stock keeps me on track with this.

      I even bought myself a boning knife to see if it makes any difference. But that’s a post for another day.

  • expat
    Posted at 18:12h, 09 September Reply

    I guess I’m stupid but why does everyone harp about freezing meat bones or prawn heads or what-ever-not for making “stock”? Seriously – even on this tiny island smaller than 7 KM long, you can buy ‘stock’ bullion cubes for about 10 cents each, same as in the US or Canada.Its much safer and cleaner and anyone that worries about that tiny amount of chemicals in there needs to live in a bubble and stay away from human food anyway.

    I know this sounds pretty sharp but please explain how your 10 minutes (that takes the rest of the world a half hour) and freezing and sanitizing and soaping and freezing and thawing and sanitizing again and disposing and hours of boiling and energy used and more washing…. is worth less than 10 cents?

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 12:15h, 10 September Reply

      Your second comment came in before I answered. See my answer in the thread below.


  • expat
    Posted at 19:28h, 09 September Reply

    I should temper that… the expatriates here freeze and carefully inspect everything here because Filipinos, proud as they are, remain dangerously unsanitary and neanderthal by western standards. They bodily tolerate salmonella and have the most backwards health care systems you’ll ever experience. Foodwise – thats hours of ranting.

    Food is selected carefully and preserved with great care when quality is available… but I still cannot figure any usage for a stock or broth of any kind that takes hours of total prep, storage, twice cleaning and sanitizing, and the extra energy costs in heating to create. Feel free to delete this and the previous post but I would like a reply to the email at least… yes, its a real email addy. I looked it up and the dishes that need stock stuff also seem to be quarter or daylong affairs and im thinking it’s a ton easier and massivle cheaper and safer just buying processed. I know the feeling of DIY and revel in it but truth be told, most of that DIY food prep gets fed to the fish, hermit crabs, or feral cats.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 12:15h, 10 September Reply

      You raise a very interesting questions. Why make homemade stock when you can buy bouillon cubes for a fraction of the price?

      First, I confess that I do not do sterilizing. I live in Canada and trust my butcher. I freeze my stock in clean, reusable containers or brand new ziplock bags. My deep freezer is set to -22C. I have a big freezer since I also freeze local fresh fruit and vegetables for the long winter when only imports are available. If I had to do the twice cleaning / sterilization you mention, I probably wouldn’t bother. I also likely wouldn’t bother if I lived in a tropical climate since I use stock to make cold weather dishes — mainly homemade soup.

      Onto the “why bother?” aspect. (Note: My answer assumes you live in a cold climate where hot soup is practically essential.) Properly made, good stock is not just flavoured water. It is good enough to consume on its own. You’ll notice that when it’s chilled it turns gelatinous. This provides body when making soups and sauces. If you refrigerate a bouillon cube dissolved in water, it remains liquid. It doesn’t add to the texture or “mouth feel” of the finished dish. I’m a texture person and notice this. Not everyone does.

      And what about the time and energy costs? I don’t think of the stock as taking much “active time.” It’s more a matter of planning and working in short bursts. While the stock might take hours to simmer, it demands little attention. I make it on a day when I’m home and check on it periodically. When it’s done, straining it and pouring it into containers doesn’t take long. Again, I don’t do the sterilization.

      Energy costs? Once the water comes to a simmers I set my gas stovetop to the lowest possible setting. I’m not sure how much this costs, but here gas is less expensive than electricity, so I’m guessing not much. The freezer costs the most (about $125/year) but I use it for a lot of other food items, so it would be running anyway.

      In the end, it boils down a personal decision. For me, homemade stock is well worth the time, energy and money. For you, it sounds like homemade stock would be a headache with little to no return on your investment.

      As you can see, I didn’t delete your comments since I think you raise valid questions and bring up the often ignored aspect of geography. Where we live affects our approach to food and cooking.

      Thanks for taking the time to write. I hope I answered your question sufficiently.

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