Roast chicken has made a big comeback in my life, especially as I’m trying to eat more healthy, simple foods. Though I appreciate the creativity found in Zucchini Crust Pizza and cauliflower rice, sometimes I crave something less complicated. Something my grandparents would have whipped up without a thought. (Check out our favorite recipes from grandparents.) That’s where the classic whole roasted chicken comes in. Its rich flavor, crispy skin and juicy meat has vaulted it to the top of my comfort food list.
Once the bird emerges from the oven (or you unwrap the store-bought rotisserie chicken), your first thought might be, how the heck do I carve this thing?
It seems challenging and involved, but never fear. It’s easier than you think! Our Test Kitchen experts created these helpful step-by-step instructions that demystify how to carve a chicken. (You’ll get more meat off the bird, too!) Ready? Let’s go!
How to Carve a Chicken
Your preferred roasted chicken (If you’re new to the game, here’s our guide.)
Carving knife (or a sharp chef’s knife)
A cutting board, preferably with a well around the perimeter
Paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to keep your hands dry as you carve
Step 1: Set up a Carving Station
Tilt the chicken slightly over the roasting pan to empty any excess juices before moving it to the cutting board. Excess juice typically collects in the cavity of the chicken as it roasts. Save these for making gravy! Place the chicken breast side up on a cutting board and let it sit for 15 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute within the meat instead of spilling out onto the cutting board.
If you’re working with a pre-cooked chicken, no worries about letting it rest.
Test Kitchen tip: Use a cutting board with a well around the perimeter. Even though the chicken has rested, some juices will inevitably escape from the meat as you slice. The well allows you to save these juices for gravy (as well as saving your countertop from becoming a sticky mess).
Step 2: First Cut – Slice the Skin Between the Leg and the Body
Carving a chicken is all about slicing between the joints, so being able to see them is a crucial step for successful carving. Slicing the skin between the leg and body creates a hollow gap, allowing you to see where the leg joint meets the chicken’s body.
Position the chicken so the wings are facing away from you at the top of the cutting board. This positions the legs at the bottom of the cutting board, closest to you. Lightly press the carving fork into the breastbone between the two breasts to stabilize the chicken as you cut. Using a sharp knife, cut the skin between the leg and the body.
Test Kitchen tip: Keep paper towels or a kitchen towel nearby during the carving process. As you handle the roasted bird, your hands will start to get slippery. Keeping them dry provides a safer carving environment.
Step 3: Remove the Drumstick and Thigh in One Piece
Now that you have a good view of the leg joint, you can easily remove the drumstick and thigh. Pull the leg away from the side of the chicken to expose the hip joint. Pierce the joint with the tip of your knife. Once the joint is severed, the leg can be removed in one piece. If you have trouble finding the joint, wiggle the leg back and forth, using the tip of your finger to locate the moving joint.
Test Kitchen tip: Always cut between the joints of the chicken. This keeps you from slicing into the meat and keeps the meat on the bone. If there is no “give” as you slice, you’re probably not slicing on the joint.
Step 4: Separate the Drumstick and Thigh
Once the leg is removed from the body, you can separate the drumstick from the thigh. Placing your carving fork in the thigh meat, cut straight down along the curve of the drumstick until you reach the joint. Gently pierce the joint between the drumstick and the thigh to separate the two pieces.
Repeat steps 2, 3, and 4 to remove the second thigh and drumstick.
Test Kitchen tip: Separating the drumstick and the thigh takes some practice, so don’t beat yourself up if this step is difficult. You can flip the leg over (skin side down on the cutting board) to get a better view of where the two pieces meet. Wiggle each piece and use your finger to locate the joint. If all else fails, hold the drumstick away from the thigh, bending it back to break and expose the joint.
Step 5: Start Cutting the Breast Meat
Now that the legs are removed, it’s time to take on the breast meat. The first step is to loosen the base of the breast so it is easier to remove in the next step.
Place your cutting fork in the middle of the chicken’s breastbone. Starting at the base of the left breast, position your knife right above the wing. Make a long, horizontal cut, starting from the top at the wing and continuing until you reach the point where the leg used to meet the breast.
Step 6: Remove the Breast Meat
Now that the breast meat is loosened at the base, it will be easier to remove from the breastbone.
With your cutting fork positioned in the right breast, make a deep vertical cut down along the breastbone of the left breast. Once you have cut the length of the breastbone, cut in an angled, downward motion underneath the breast and toward your horizontal cut. This removes the breast meat from the rib cage, releasing it from the carcass.
Step 7: Cut Each Breast Half into Slices
This part isn’t strictly necessary, but it does make your presentation look stunning (it also makes it easier to share the white meat with a crowd). Cut the breast half into diagonal slices, being careful not to remove the crispy skin as you slice.
Repeat steps 5, 6, and 7 to remove the remaining breast meat.
Step 8: Remove the Wings
Now that the breast is removed, the last step is to remove the wings. Compared to the other steps, this one is easy!
Pull the wing away from the body of the chicken and cut through the joint. You may remove the wing tip, if desired, by piercing the joint between the drumette and the tip. The wing tips don’t have much edible meat, so I usually remove them and use them for making stock.
Step 9: Plate It up and Enjoy!
Place the sliced chicken breasts, drumsticks, wings and thighs on a large platter. Serve with an au jus gravy from the drippings or a bright chimichurri sauce.
Now, what about the rest of the carcass? After you’ve finished carving, you can pick off any remaining meat and freeze it. Those small pieces are great for quick chicken dinners, like soups, casseroles, and quesadillas.
And don’t forget to save that carcass! Use it (and the wing tips, if you removed them) to make homemade stock.