Here's a not-so-well-kept secret about the food industry: retailers love to take your money. And one of the ways they do that is by dividing food into smaller sizes and charging more. Have you ever noticed that a container of precut, washed broccoli costs more than a head of broccoli with the same amount of florets and stems?
This is especially true of meat. Next time you're at the supermarket, look at the per-pound prices for chicken breasts, thighs, and drumsticks. Then look at the per-pound price for a whole chicken. The latter is drastically cheaper. You'll end up paying for the weight of the full carcass, but even when that is accounted for, a whole bird is a much greater deal than precut pieces.
People don't like to buy whole chickens, however, because there's a misconception that birds are difficult to break down. So precut pieces look very convenient. But the reality is that breaking down a whole chicken is very easy, and you'll save a lot of money in the long run. Here's how to do it:
Chickens have a very smooth texture and will cut easily. But if your knife is dull or wet, it will stick to the meat... and you'll start to rip your chicken instead of cutting it. Make sure your knife is both sharp and dry before following any of the further steps below.
Flip the chicken upside-down so that the legs are pointing up. Then, take your knife and pierce the skin where the leg meets the body. You don't want to cut the meat here; the purpose is to slit the skin so that you can move the leg without pulling the skin off the rest of the bird.
Grab the drumstick firmly, then pull it towards the breast of the chicken. You want to pry the bone far enough back so that it pops out of the socket. This may seem bizarre at first, but once you get used to the feeling, it's quite intuitive.
Once you've pulled the leg back and popped out the bone, you can cut right through the joint. You shouldn't be cutting through any bone—you'll only need to run your knife along the outside of the joint that has just been popped out.
Repeat this process on the other leg; now you have two separated legs, composed of a drumstick and a thigh.
Take the removed legs and run your finger across them until you find the knuckle.
Place your knife in this spot and cut right through it.
Now the thighs are separated from the drumsticks.
Pull the wing on one side away from the body and run your knife along the joint, cutting slightly into the body of the bird. The wing should come off easily. Repeat this step for the other side.
Now, flip your bird around so that the breasts are facing up, and the wish bone is facing you. Start at the end furthest to you and place your knife on the side of the breastbone. Run the knife along the breastbone, and try to cut as smoothly as you can to retain the quality of the meat.
Instead of cutting around the wishbone and wasting meat, cut through it. When your knife meets the bone, hold the knife up at an angle, as demonstrated in the image below.
Then, hit the top of the knife blade with your hand to push it through the bone. Carve the rest of the breast off of the bone, and repeat for the other side.
Never throw away your chicken carcass because it's excellent for making stocks and soups. If there's any meat left on the bones, it will cook and add flavor to the soup or stock itself.
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And just like that, you have a perfectly jointed chicken! Once you get used to it, this process won't take more than a few minutes.
Not only is jointing a chicken a good way to save money, but you're also likely to get fresher meat. It's great to have a variety of different types of chicken meat in your fridge or freezer without having to pay whole-sale for a good deal.
Lastly, breaking down a chicken at home is both satisfying and fun—you know that the cuts of meat are quality because you are the one who butchered the pieces in the first place!