How to Debone a Whole Chicken

By Fred Decker

A roasted whole chicken is a fine and glorious thing in its own right and a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate your cooking skills. Still, it feels good sometimes to take on a project that's a bit more challenging. For example, you might debone a whole chicken to cook as a rolled-up, easily sliced roast. Whether stuffed or simply seasoned with fresh herbs, it makes for an impressive presentation. The technique isn't especially difficult, but it does requires some patience and a very sharp knife.


Place the chicken on a cutting board, with its backbone facing upwards. Run the tip of a sharp, thin-bladed boning knife down the backbone, from neck to tail, to start disrobing the chicken. Pull back the skin alongside the chicken's neck, and feel with your knife tip for the wing's "shoulder" joint. Cut through it, then draw the knife along the ribs to the leg, freeing a flap of skin and thin meat from the ribs. Find the thigh joint with the knife tip, and sever that as well.

Repeat this initial series of cuts on the other side of the bird's backbone. You might find it easiest to rotate the chicken so that you're always cutting in a comfortable direction. When you're finished, the chicken's legs and wings should dangle freely from its body and the ribs mostly bared.

Follow the line of the bird's ribs with the tip of the knife, making long strokes, until you reach the breast bone. Turn the knife to follow the bone, freeing the breast meat from the skeleton. As you reach the area where the bone is closest to the skin, cut carefully; otherwise, you'll pierce the skin and spoil the bird's appearance.

Rotate the bird 180 degrees, and repeat the same set of cuts from the other side. At this point, only a small layer of membrane should be holding the skin to the breastbone. Sever this carefully with the knife blade, freeing the chicken from the main portion of the skeleton. Set this aside.

Locate the hip joint at the exposed end of one thigh and cut around it with the tip of the knife to free the knob of bone and cartilage. Run the knife down the line of the thigh bone, where it's close to the surface; then slice along the bone to free the thigh meat from it on all sides. Sever the knee joint and cut around the other end of the thigh bone, and pull it out. Repeat this process with the other thigh. At this point, if you wish, you can leave the drumsticks and wings attached for a "semi-deboned" chicken that will resemble a normal bird once it's stuffed.

Cut around the other half of the knee joint, where the drumstick bone begins, and cut the flesh away from that bone as well. The skin at the drumstick's "ankle" end contains tough strands of gristle, so just cut that away along with the bone. Do the same for the opposite drumstick; then move to the front of the bird and cut away the wing's flat joint and pointed wingtip. This leaves just the meaty "drumette" in place. Cut around the end joint and trim the meat away from the bone, as you did the leg bones. This leaves the chicken completely deboned.