I recently made my annual trip back to West Concord to pick up the farm raised chickens I order from my cousin Shelley. I grew up eating farm chicken that my Grandpa raised, and I just can’t get myself to eat anything else. In my mind, the store bought chickens are small, tasteless & expensive. Plus, you don’t know where or how they were raised. To be completely honest however, there is a downside to farm chicken; you have to butcher them yourself.
When I was a kid, we lived a couple blocks from my grandparents. That meant we helped butcher the entire family’s chickens, and I developed a deep hatred of plucking feathers. Thankfully, Shelley and her family do the plucking & dressing for me now. I simply show up at the farm, cut the chickens up, and head home. I happily avoid re-living a lot of smelly, feather-filled childhood memories, and enjoy fantastic chicken for the rest of the year.
Whether you buy chicken from a co-op, a farmer, or the grocery store; it’s always cheaper to buy chicken whole and cut it up yourself. I cut my birds into 12 pieces (well, 13 counting the neck); although many people do 10 pieces. I like to quarter the breasts; this way the breasts are relatively the same size as all the other pieces and evens out the cooking or grilling time. I also only put half a chicken in a bag; my family is still young, and we get 2-3 meals from a half of chicken.
I use a paring knife, medium sized kitchen knife, and a cleaver. You can use whatever knife you have, just make sure it’s sharp, and NOT serrated.
Step 1 : Remove the neck. Slice halfway through the neck, and bend neck to crack the spine. Continue cutting through the other side of the neck.
Step 2 : Cut off the wings. Insert the point of your knife (I like to use a paring knife for this step), into the wing joint, and cut around it in a circular motion. Fold the wing tip over the shoulder, and add one wing to each of 2 bags.
Step 3 : Cut off the legs. Put the chicken on it’s back, and slice through the skin between the body & the thigh. Do this to both legs, and then you can press down to pop the ball joint of both thighs. Once this is done, the legs should lay pretty flat and you can cut through the joint and back of the leg.
Step 4 : Separate the thigh & drumstick. Place the skin side of the thigh down. Make one cut down through the joint. Add a drumstick & thigh to each bag.
Step 5 : Separate the back and breast. Insert your knife into the wing hole. Cut down the side of the bird, along the end of the rib cage on both sides. Again, push down on both halves until they both can lay on the table, and cut through the cartilage in the shoulder area to completely separate.
Step 6 : Break the back into two pieces. Slit the thin cartilage beneath last rib, and use your hands to crack the backbone. Finish seperating the sections using your knife again. Ensure each bag gets a piece of back meat.
Step 7 : Split breast into quarters. Using two fingers locate the notch in the breast bone and cut just above your fingers. I like to use a cleaver, as you’ll need to apply a lot of pressure to cut through the breast bone. Cut the 2 large pieces in half lengthwise. Ensure each bag gets 2 peices of breast meat.
That’s it! Good luck!