How to Carve a Chicken Like an Adult

How to Carve a Chicken Like an Adult

It doesn’t matter if you’ve painstakingly roasted your very first broiler chicken, or you’ve realized that tearing apart the grocery store rotisserie bird with your hands isn’t good etiquette for when your date comes over. At some point, you’ll need to know how to carve a chicken. The good news is, it’s pretty easy. Here’s how to carve a chicken in a few simple steps. 

What you’ll need:

Why carve a chicken?

Sure, maybe I could take down a whole rotisserie bird alone with these two paws, but occasionally I like to join polite society and plate my dinner. Carving a chicken is the practice of slicing the cooked chicken into separate parts so it’s easier to eat and share—plus it creates a rather attractive presentation. 

If your chicken is cooked properly (and by that I mean it’s not undercooked), it practically carves itself. Aside from the breast, the thighs, legs, and wings are all carved through the joint. When cooked completely, the connective tissues around the joint shrink and weaken significantly. If the joint is giving you trouble and the tendons seems really stubborn, make sure you’ve checked the temperature of your chicken. There’s a chance it needs more time in the oven.

In the best cases, carving can be as simple as finding the joint and applying some pressure to separate it from the rest of the chicken; the knife really just helps you make clean and tidy cuts through the skin.

How to carve a chicken

It’s very similar to carving a turkey, with one small upside: It’s much smaller. Turkeys are hulks, comparatively, so you’re going to take it apart from pretty much one angle only. The petite stature of a chicken means you can actually flip it around and rotate it easily to manipulate the joint and get the best angle for your cut. 

Step 1. Work on the thighs first

The first thing you should do is set up a cutting board on a flat surface and put your chicken on it. Start with the chicken breast-side up. A lot of photos show folks carving with a carving fork, but I usually get in there with my hands—not because I’m a barbarian, but because you can locate the joint easier if you can actually feel it. Grab the thigh and begin slightly pulling it away from the body. Feel along the outside to identify where the thigh muscle is connected to the body. 

Sometimes I’ll flip the chicken for a better angle to score the skin.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Use your knife to cut through the skin along this line. That’ll help the thigh to come away easily without tearing the skin. I actually like the angle from the underside, so I flipped my bird for this part, but many folks prefer to go through from the breast-side.

Now you can flip the chicken back breast-side up (if you had it turned over), and use your hand to pull the thigh away. It may begin to easily separate. Feel around for the joint and use the tip of your knife to separate the bones, or cut through the cartilage. Feel free to rotate or flip your chicken for this. Cut straight through any remaining muscle or skin to completely remove the thigh and leg. Repeat this on the other side.

Step 2. Separate the leg from the thigh

The same idea applies here. Move the leg away from the thigh to see where the two meet at the joint. Use the knife to slice through the skin and cut through the joint. Repeat this with the other leg and thigh. Arrange the four pieces on the plate.

Find the joint to separate the leg from the thigh.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Step 3. Carve the breasts

Make sure your chicken is breast-side up. Locate the center of the breast plate and use your knife to cut through the skin slightly off to the left or right so you don’t hit the bone. Slice with the knife while also using it as a wedge to pry the entire breast off in one piece. It may also help to make a cut horizontally at the base of the breast by the “armpit” so it comes off cleanly. Plate the breast and repeat this on the other side, rotating the chicken for the best angle. 

Score the skin first, and then use your knife to slice and push the breast away.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Step 4. Remove the wings

Now you just have a carcass with wings. Use your knife to cut through the joint that holds the wing to the body. Now you can either plate it as-is, or clean it up. I like to cut off the wing tip and separate the drum from the flat by cutting through the joint (which you’re very skilled at by now). Plate the wing pieces alongside the rest of the carved chicken.

Separate the drum from the flat if you like.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

I actually find that you can swap these last two steps if you want, but it’s a personal choice between you and your bird. Sometimes I do the wings first because if they’re too chunky they get in my way, but if you leave them for last they can help stabilize the rib cage and make it easier to carve the breasts. 

Now your pretty plated chicken is ready to serve. Save the carcass to make chicken stock tomorrow, or tie it up in a plastic bag and pop it in the freezer to do so at a later date. 

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