how to break down a chicken (a video!)

What seems like a lifetime ago, the Chef and I put together this photo tutorial on how to chop an onion. We had only been married a month, Little Bean was just a hope in our hearts, and he was still the chef at that restaurant where he used to work. We loved putting together that post, because so much of cooking is about having the confidence that comes from knowing the right techniques when working with food. Your responses were pretty voluminous too. We planned to do more. Many more.

But life intruded. We went to Italy. My book came out. We went on tour to promote it. Little Bean was conceived. I was pregnant, joyfully. She arrived, with some tremors, and then singing with health. The Chef quit his job and came home. We wrote a cookbook. Little Bean amazes us every day.

And then we bought a video camera, to record her squeaks and giggles. Every day, she does something astonishing. She’s talking now. She deliberately says Mama! when I leave the room, a gentle call to say, “Hey! Come back!” When I put my face around the corner, she smiles a grin like this. The other day, she was laying on the Chef’s chest, her head under his chin. And she looked up at him, and said, “Papa!” with wonder in her eyes. We both had tears in ours. Suddenly, when she wants to eat, she looks at us with great intent and says “Baba! Baba!” This talking thing sure makes it easier to know what she wants.

We don’t want to miss a moment.

So we bought a video camera, this miraculous little video camera called Flip Video MinoHD. Oh my goodness, we’re in love with it. Small as a cell phone, which makes it far more portable than more expensive cameras, it comes with a USB arm embedded in it. Push a button, out it comes, and we can plug it into the computer to download videos every night. The grandparents are ecstatic. We love it too.

And then we looked at each other and said, “Hey, let’s make some food videos!”

So we have. We filmed these in our kitchen, the other day, as Little Bean took a nap. And we had so much fun that we’re going to continue. Every Wednesday here, you’ll find a video of the Chef demonstrating a technique with food. It could be basic, it could be fancy. It could be him showing you how to make a recipe on this site. Most of them won’t be surrounded many words. Just today, I wanted to share.

This first video is a long one, with no cuts or edits. It’s the Chef talking you through the process of breaking down a chicken. (I realize this might be the first time that some of you hear his voice, except in writing.)

Those of you who don’t eat meat will not want to watch this. It’s a clear demonstration, with bones and sinews. (And I’m sorry that the static shot is one of raw meat. I don’t know how to make that change. I’m new at this.)

And so, I give you: the Chef breaks down a chicken.

This next video is the same process, but close-up, more slowly, and without words. Again, the sounds are real. If you are a vegetarian, you might not enjoy this.

But we wanted to show this in component parts so that, if you are new to this, you can watch it in snippets, pause, and do this yourself. Be sure to wash your hands before you touch the computer again.

So there you go. A little sliver of life in our kitchen. There will be many more in the weeks to come.

Here’s the question: what would you like to see demonstrated on video next?

56 comments on “how to break down a chicken (a video!)

  1. jenny

    That is so funny because JUST THIS AFTERNOON, I needed to cut up a chicken for my dinner and was in a quandry, but pressed for time such that I didn’t want to bother looking in a cookbook (and I was already all chickeny). So in the end, I threw it in the sink and attacked it with my kitchen shears. Not very pretty, but it cooked up okay. Now I’ll watch the video!

  2. Ali (Whole Life Nutrition)

    This is great Shauna! Thanks for the camera tip too. I am sure a lot of people will benefit from his chef expertise!

    Tom and I have been planning on making some simple cooking/food prep videos too. But with 4 kiddos that is a little tough.

    Hope you get a lot done while Lucy is still young and takes naps! I love hearing about her. She reminds me so much of what Lily (our first born) was like as a baby. Super mellow, never cried, always happy, slept through the night, talked early. Enjoy it while it lasts, they grow up so quickly!

    –Ali :)

  3. Steve

    Great video, I can’t wait for more! Do you use the same procedure to break down a chicken after baking it whole? I usually take the legs off first then carve the breast, kind of like a turkey, but that’s probably not the best way.

    Thanks,
    Steve
    http://www.iHateWheat.com

  4. Vincci

    What a great video! Educational, and you can tell how much in love you two are by the way you giggle behind the camera :)

    I’m jealous of how sharp your knife is.

  5. mina

    this video only confirms my belief that you two are the sweetest couple ever. and the next one should be of skinning a fish, please! ^^

  6. sweetpea

    Brilliant! You’re headed for fame! I love the simplicity. I am begging, next video, stocks! While I consider myself very proficient in the kitchen, homemade stock intimidates me and I was shocked just yesterday when I called my local butcher to find how how much bones for veal stock would cost. (The lamb post inspired me to make those braised shanks for Tina and my recipe called for veal stock) You mention that you could freeze or roast the carcass! What would you do with the roasted carcass?!? Is that part of your method for making stock. Needless to say we have something really fun to look forward to on Wednesdays!

  7. Janel

    I can’t wait for more videos to come. It’s a great way for us amateurs to benefit from the Chef’s expertise!

    What about a video on making fresh pasta? Start with making the dough, please!!

  8. David

    This video was so so so helpful. I have always wanted to know how to break down a chicken, but it doesn’t make much sense when you read about it! So watching the Chef do it helped tremendously. I feel so much more confident now; plus, I’ll be able to watch it over and over while I hack my already-dead chickens to pieces!

  9. Holly

    Hi Shauna,

    I love your blog. You guys are so great. I think sometimes that you would really like Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Do you know who they are?

    Any meat deconstruction would be such a great help. De-boning a leg of lamb. Another thing — trussing with all those fancy knots and patterns would be helpful. I tried to tie up a stuffed roast pork and mostly just made a mess of it.

  10. Lizzzzzzzzz

    The videos don’t bother me. I mention this because I am a vegetarian. I think the word you wanted for people that the videos of dead chicken might offend is maybe “animal-lover” or “person who may or may not eat meat but can’t handle the thought of it once being alive”.
    I’m a vegetarian because eating meat causes global warming. If you’re not convinced, type it into google and find out why.
    I have to admit that if I was gluten-free, I might not be meat-free. It’s difficult to be that free!

  11. StuffCooksWant

    Cute cute baby face! I remember my kids at that age…all bald and round…now they’re 8 and 10. Savor it all.

    Speaking of savoring…that chicken video makes me want to become a vegetarian. Ick. I will not be doing this anytime soon…like ever. I think I’ll stick with my boneless skinless, and even that doesn’t seem so appetizing now. Beans for dinner, kids!

  12. Dana McCauley

    Great to see this lost art being revitalized. (Okay, so maybe it isn’t an art but it is a skill that every home cook used to use on a weekly basis, right?)

  13. katie stone

    Wonderful post, Shauna! This is awesome. I appreciate it not only for the information, but for the raw aspect as well. I think it’s important that we know where our meat comes from, how it was raised, and how it’s broken down before it hits our plate. We should be connected to all of the food we eat, and if we aren’t connected to every step then we shouldn’t be eating it.

    Loved the lamb leg photos as well. Hope you’re enjoying your post-book adventures!

  14. Anonymous

    Thanks Shauna and Danny!
    I second Sweet Pea’s suggestion — STOCK! It seems so basic, yet so easy to screw up.

    :) tracy c

  15. Crystal

    BRILLIANT! You make a daunting task approchable and non-threatning.

    I loved the Chef’s sound effects by the way…a whistling cook is a happy cook! ;-p

    Next…butterflying a pork loin maybe?

  16. Anonymous

    How fun and informative! Thank you, both, Chef Dan and Shauna! What a great video — the Chef is a natural teacher, and Shauna’s chuckles add a nice chorus of support along the learning trail. I hope you have more to come!

    (I would use that yummy chicken stock for a big batch of chicken and herbed gluten-free dumplings to cozy up in this PNW Full Snow Moon weather.)

    Brenda
    dvschoolmarm@yahoo.com

  17. Diane Carlson

    This is awesome! I’m a good cook, and can chop vegies fantastically. But my butchering/breaking down skills? Mehhhhhh…not so much.

    I can do it, and I know the THEORY of how to do it, but my chicken parts, fish fillets, etc always end up a bit raggedy. The only thing I can do without embarrasing myself too much is to separate the drumstick from thigh.

    Requests: fish filleting please?

  18. Anna Lee

    Fantastic! I really enjoyed the extra little tips, maneuvering around the wish bone, and dealing with the wing. Those two areas always ended up a little raggedy in previous attempts. Such pretty pieces in the end. Now to sharpen my knife…

    I am interested in seeing leg of lamb deboned and trussed, as well. I would also like to see deboning fish, and butterflying chicken/pigeon/cornish hens. Thanks in advance.

    BTW Lucy is just darling. It’s so fun to watch them grow. When my daughter was her age she was saying mama, and grabbing rice off my plate to eat. It was her favorite food for years.

  19. Anonymous

    That was fun to watch! The last time I saw a man cut up a chicken was when my dad showed me how to do it years ago, when I was twelve or so, during the butchering process on our little farm.

    I’ll have to disagree with the Chef on what to do with the fat. I like to leave it in the simmering broth so that after I strain and pour it into jars, the fat rises to the top and forms an airtight barrier. That way I know my broth is always fresh, no matter when I use it. (Ok, I could freeze it in little cubes, but I tend to have more fridge space than freezer.) And I sometimes use the fat for sauteeing soup vegetables.

    Kris in Virginia

  20. Cove Girl

    AWESOME!!!! I’m always confused when it comes to doing stuff like that but the chef makes it look simple. Being a visual and tactile worker the video is great! I can’t wait to try it.

  21. Cove Girl

    AWESOME!!!! I’m always confused when it comes to doing stuff like that but the chef makes it look simple. Being a visual and tactile worker the video is great! I can’t wait to try it.

  22. Cove Girl

    AWESOME!!!! I’m always confused when it comes to doing stuff like that but the chef makes it look simple. Being a visual and tactile worker the video is great! I can’t wait to try it.

  23. Diana Lee

    This is fantastic! I was just wishing a had a good guide to this when I saw whole chickens on sale.

  24. Vivian

    i like videos. More please. (I don’t have suggestions yet) I’ve been a long time reader, first time commenter.

    I don’t have to eat gluten free and sometimes you use unfamiliar ingredients but i like your blog because you have a love for life and a love for food.

  25. Bree

    I really like the format of showing it twice. I tend to get a little distracted trying to listen to people explain a process and watch at the same time, so it was nice to be able to listen then watch it again and pay a little more attention to the action. I look forward to what you two do in the future!

  26. Anonymous

    Please, please, please do a video on stocks! I have been experimenting trying to get them right for about a year now and something is missing.
    –a GFCF girl

  27. GREEN KEY

    Wow, that was really interesting. You guys are so sweet. I’m really interested in your mini camcorder too. I might have to get one of those …

  28. Anonymous

    Many of us would like to see how someone properly washes things like nails, hands, kitchen surfaces (floors, counters, cutting boards, etc), cookware and implements!

    References to food safety courses are a bonus!

  29. dancing kitchen

    Oh how I like the Chef..good for you girl..how fun! (Did I just say that about cleaning a chicken??)

  30. L Vanel

    That was a great demo! I am going to see what the math does and consider buying more chicken, actually. Right now I buy a lot of just wings and necks.. But I love a nice stuffed chicken breast now and again. The breasts are ridiculously expensive if you just buy them plain.

    I would love to see a demo film on what your Chef does for knife maintenance. Stone and also punctual sharpening. His knife looked wonderfully sharp, and I know I could definitely benefit from a tutorial on how this is done. MERCI!

  31. jbeach

    Wonderful resource, and so fun to watch and listen — thank you!!

    I am seconding other people’s suggestions for making stock and filleting fish.

    ‘Can’t wait for the next intallment!

  32. Anonymous

    Please demonstrate how to make chicken stock and how to store it. It is so expensive to buy it in those cute boxes and I would prefer to make my own (with your recipe — of course)!

  33. Sara

    that is so helpful! What a great idea to do those videos, thank you!

    Let’s see — I have to second the ‘more butchering’ idea, it really is a hard thing to learn all on your own. Other ideas — it would be really cool to learn some of the more complicated types of cookie/pastry techniques? my pie dough skills are lacking. Maybe when the season of plenty rolls around, a canning demonstration?

  34. Chez US

    This is great. I always butcher my chickens so badly that the breasts don’t look like breasts and the legs have big massive thighs on them! Thanks!

  35. Melissa

    Chicken schmicken.
    Your child is adorable. And she kind of looks a lot like her daddy. (Sorry! From someone who totally doesn’t know you at all! But she is so cute!)

  36. Jenn Sutherland

    Thanks for that wonderful video! For your first published video — that is excellent! I don’t think the folks at Cook’s Illustrated have anything on you and the Chef! And the Chef is so friendly as he cleans a chicken, I love it!

    And of course the Bob’s t-shirt ROCKS. :)

  37. Ann in B'ham

    Thank you for that video– it was really well done and fun! I’m inspired to finally get my knives sharp and get to it.

    I’ve love to see a video on butterflying a pork roast and more on knife skills.

  38. Ryan

    Yes!

    I just bought a chicken to roast, but after seeing this, I’m going to break it down instead. This is perfect. Thank you!

  39. GFE--gluten free easily

    Terrific video! My mom has been doing this all her life and I always loved her fried chicken more than anyone else’s because of the skinnier, more succulent breasts. I make fried chicken gluten free now, and very rarely, but the store-bought chicken pieces are not as much fun to work with as the ones cut from one chicken. Chef did a great job! I think I can do this now. :-) I’m looking forward to the upcoming videos!

    Shirley

  40. Lisa

    I always cut up my own chicken but now I realize … I NEED A SHARPER KNIFE! I’m sure Chef’s knife skills had a lot to do with it too but it looked like he was cutting butter as opposed to the sweating and hacking I can be accused of. Thanks for the great video!

  41. Michelle

    thanks for the great video! I’ve read about breaking down chickens, but have always been a little intimidated. Nothing is quite like seeing someone explain and do a task. No more $8 chicken for me!

    I second Mina’s comment, I’d love to learn how to clean and fillet a fish.

  42. Barbs

    hi shauna! i just have to break my silence this time (been a long-time lurker here, heheh) and i just to congratulate you and the chef for a job well done! the only thing i knew about cutting up chicken is to “cut through the joint”; this tutorial has truly been helpful, in that it can make our home-cooked meals look “gourmet” and sassy. more power to you and the chef! :D

  43. Patricia <3

    I agree with Janel — a video on GF pasta would be excellent. Texture is so hard to capture in text, and while it can be difficult even on video, it does help.

  44. Patricia <3

    I agree with Janel — a video on GF pasta would be excellent. Texture is so hard to capture in text, and while it can be difficult even on video, it does help.

  45. Patricia <3

    I agree with Janel — a video on GF pasta would be excellent. Texture is so hard to capture in text, and while it can be difficult even on video, it does help.

  46. Pink of Perfection

    love the prospect of more videos from you and the chef. awesome!

    also, when i read the comment asking for “a video about stocks” i totally thought it was a plea for your financial advice. what is wrong with me?!?

  47. Brenda

    I’m so excited that you’ve added videos. Woo-HOO! Can’t wait for the next one. We need more close ups too so we can see what’s going on in there.

  48. alison mc

    oh my gosh — do you know how much i needed this? now, can you show me now how to work with fish?

  49. Cory

    Thank you! I am a new chicken eater, so I figure if I’m going to eat it, I should know how it’s put together, and how to take it apart with minimal waste. I’ve been practicing, but the Chef’s video will put me miles ahead.

  50. Katya Kosiv

    I was so glad to see your video. I too have tackled the whole chicken with mixed results. I live in the Caribbean where Whole Foods and other nice grocery stores are absent and so I buy whole chickens from the chicken guy. I especially found your tutorial on cutting the chicken breast helpful. I made stock with my carcass and truthfully, I just warm it up and drink it like tea throughout the week. So nice on the tummy. Thanks Chef.

  51. Sara

    Eee! I just butchered my first chicken. Would not have ever really thought I could do that, thank you so much for your guidence :) it is baking in the oven right now. I definitely mangled the thighs trying to separate them from the legs though, will have to watch that bit more carefully next time — I forgot to check that i’d cut all the tendons before just yanking!