Yesterday, we showed you all of the steps you need to take to humanely and quickly butcher your own chickens. If you missed it, be sure to check out the article and instructional video here.
Today, my goal is to show you exactly how to cut up the chicken you butchered to prepare it for the freezer.
Why didn’t we do everything all in one step? Well, it’s much easier – and more effective – to allow the chicken to relax in the refrigerator overnight. We prefer to wait between 12 and 48 hours before processing our meat birds, because it allows the carcasses to finish going through rigor mortis.
What we’ve found, if we don’t do this, is that the meat becomes tough and stringy. It’s downright unpalatable. This method allows us to freeze tender, juicy meat that’s delicious no matter how you cook it.
Ready to get started? Let’s go.
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I’m going to walk you through the entire process below, but you can also watch this video if you are more of a visual learner. He goes slowly enough to make it easy to understand and I tried to zoom in to show you the exact places where you need to cut.
Please disregard the lazy doggo sleeping in the background!
Tips for Cutting Up Chickens
- Make sure your knife is SHARP. Not only will this make your job easier, but it will also reduce the likelihood of you accidentally cutting yourself.
- Have a clean, sanitized cutting board – do not cut anything else on this board before you wipe it down.
- Age your chickens in the refrigerator for a minimum of twelve hours before beginning to process your chickens.
- Keep track of how many packages of meat you put in the freezer – I keep a list on the freezer door that breaks down meat type, cut, and quantity. This will help you stay organized and prevent food waste!
Gather Your Equipment
- An extra-long plastic cutting board
- A sharp fillet knife
- A food sealing system or freezer bags (I prefer the FoodSaver model I’ve recommended here, but you can use whichever you’d like)
- Disinfecting wipes to clean up after the job is done
- Your chickens!
Take Your Chickens Out of the Refrigerator
Our chickens were skinless birds, as you’ll see in the video. If you’re processing whole chickens, you can skip this entire article – you won’t need to know how to cut up your birds.
However, we chose to process our chickens as skinless parts and pieces, because that’s how we tend to eat chicken – we don’t normally have enough time to cook a whole chicken for dinner.
We will get the following cuts out of our birds:
- Chicken stock (from the bones and carcass)
Get your chickens pulled out of the refrigerator, where you should have aged them the night before, and arrange your first bird on the cutting board.
Remove the Legs
Run your knife along the hip bone, running your knife down along each side for a clean cut. The joint should pop off easily. Do this for both legs, separating them from the rest of the carcass.
Filet the Breasts
Find the breastbone and run your knife along each side. There are small wings on the chicken, but we usually leave them on to pull off of for stock. Cut along the side of the breast bone, following down the body of the chicken. Peel the meat back with your fingers and gently use your knife to pull the rest of the breast away from the carcass.
The floating rib can be tough to cut around – you might get that inside your breast when you first start filleting. That’s not a big deal – you can always remove it afterwards. If you’re raising meat birds, like Cornish Cross chickens, you can always cut the breasts in half if they are too big.
We butcher heritage breed roosters and so we don’t get the huge, meaty breasts that you’re accustomed to at the grocery store. That’s okay – you shouldn’t expect the massive breasts you’d get from a factory farm – you can read more about why here.
There will be a bit of meat left on the carcass after removing the breasts. You can try to get it off or leave it for the stock pot.
Finish Your Thighs and Drumsticks
Cut about halfway down the leg, exposing the joint. You should be able to cut all the way through, separating your thighs from your drumsticks. You will notice that there is a white fat line. Follow this to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Do this for both legs.
Package Your Meat
We prefer to separate out the drumsticks, thighs, and breasts into separate packages so that they can be used for different purposes. We usually package four breasts, four thighs, and six drumsticks per package – this usually amounts to a hefty meal’s worth for a couple, often with a little bit left over. You’ll need to figure this out based on the size of your chicken and the size of your family, though, as it will vary depending on both variables.
We use a FoodSaver to seal our meat. This helps keep out air and bacteria, making it more sanitary and also helping to eliminate freezer burn.
Last night, actually, I pulled a package of chicken thighs out of the refrigerator that were well over a year old – from last summer’s chickens to be eaten with a salad. They still tasted fantastic because they were sealed with our FoodSaver. I highly recommend!
Regardless of whether you package your meat in a FoodSaver, another sealing system, or simply in freezer bags, make sure you label it. Write clearly what kind of meat it is, as well as the date on which you packaged it. Make sure any old meat is always at the front or top of the freezer so that you’re sure to eat it up first.
Cook Down Your Carcasses
Once our carcasses have been stripped of most of the meat, we throw them in the crock pot. We can usually fit two in each one of our pots. Fill the remainder of the pot with water, and let it simmer for 24 hours. Stick the pot in the refrigerator to allow it to cool, skim off the fat, and then eat the broth by making a soup or process it in the pressure canner for long term storage.
That’s about all there is to it. You don’t need any special skills, equipment, or a ton of muscle. Just familiarize yourself with the steps I’ve outlined above, and you’ll be saving money and enjoying delicious chicken in no time.
What other tips do you have for cutting up your own meat? Be sure to let me know in the comments!
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