Cut Your Food Budget with a Sharp Knife


Post by community member:

This week I was able to purchase a roasting chicken for 69 cents per pound. But this bird weighs more than 7 pounds. That is more than two people should eat in a week.

So I shall cut this bird into many pieces and wrap them in freezer paper and store them in my food freezer.

The skeleton I shall boil with carrots, celery and onion. I will pick the small bits of meat from the bones and save the broth to make soup. This I shall can in pint jars to use for lunches with a handful of noodles added at cooking time.

The rest of the meat–two very large breast portions, the thighs and the drumsticks shall be further divided for meal size portions for two people, wrapped and labeled for content and date.

From this wonderful chicken we shall enjoy about four jars of soup and about eight to ten meals of vegetables with rice or potatoes. The fat recovered and saved by skimming the pot will be used to make biscuits.

By these means, I am able to have some meat with practically every meal and keep our food cost below 230 dollars per month, including occasional company for dinner.

For small families, a turkey or modern oven roaster chicken is too big and too much meat to cook at one time. They are however sometimes the most economical way to buy the meat. Knowing how to cut the whole bird down to reasonable pieces for two or three people can provide many meals at a very favorable cost.

How to Cut Up Fresh Poultry:

I am starting here with a whole fresh turkey but the steps apply also to a chicken.

This is the turkey as it comes from the wrapper.

Step 1: Start by removing the neck from the body cavity and the giblet package from under the skin flap in the front. Force the legs free of the clip that shows as wire here and sometimes is strong plastic. Remove the wire clip by squeezing the sides together. The plastic ones I cut with pruning shears.

Step 2: This step requires a very sharp knife to do a neat and easy job.

Grasp the wing on the first joint, pull it away from the body, make a cut in the armpit and dislocate the shoulder joint. Finish the cut to sever the wing. Repeat this for the other wing.

Step 3: Removing the leg requires the turkey be on its back with its legs spread wide. Make a cut through the skin on the inner thigh so the leg can be pushed farther from the body. Starting near the tail, locate the hip bone and cut close to the hip until you reach the thigh bone. Dislocate the hip joint. This is a two hand job so lay the knife down. When the joint “pops” as in the picture, follow the bone along the back with your knife to sever the thigh from the body. Repeat this effort with the other leg.

Step 4: Separate the thigh from the drumstick.

Look closely at the fat lines on the leg. The yellow fat follows the thigh bone down to the joint and there is a line of fat just to the right of my cut. This is always true. It defines the location of the joint and the cut. If you hit bone with your knife, you have missed the joint. You should have about as much meat as fat showing on the thigh side of the knife when you make the cut.

Step 5: The breast portions come off next. You can see in the picture and feel with your fingers to location of the breast bone.

Locate this bone and cut straight down alongside the bone pulling the meat away from the cut as you go. This bone is wide and deep, curving to the sides. Continue to follow it, locate the ribs as you progress and cut as closely to the bones as you can. You will run out of meat close to the back and the boneless breast portion will come away in your hand.

Repeat this effort with the other side.

Step 6: All that you have left now it the carcass.

In this picture I cut the thin meat between the back portion and the ribs and broke the back by flexing it strongly and then cutting the meat that attaches it to the rib cage.

These pieces I seasoned and roasted for nibbling, then boiled them for stock.

This is the collection of pieces removed from the bones. I have separated the wings, but otherwise everything is as it was removed from the body.

I wrapped the pieces in coated freezer paper, labeled and dated them.

Get the handy print page here:
How to: Cut Up Fresh Poultry.

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  1. lisabetholson says:

    Nicely done Ross, please, don’t show this to the folks I sell whole chicken to. I don’t want to cut up everybodys chicken. Ha ha. I taught this to a class of junior high school students as their first cooking class in about….well lets say a good many years ago.

  2. Billie says:

    Great post Ross, I forget that everyone doesn’t do this. Saving money, slashing the food budget is such a part of my everday activities, that I don’t even think it is anything special. You’ve reminded me that it is. Thank you.

  3. Teresa says:

    Practical post; thanks for the reminder. Kind of like shredding cheese; I mean to-but I forget and buy those high-priced packages.

  4. Ross says:

    Lisabeth, In the butcher shop we charged extra for cutting poultry. It all came in in crates packed in ice.

  5. Ross says:

    I watch what other people buy and am always astonished to se people buying boneless chicken breast for 3 dollars a pound when right next to those is whole chichen for 69 cents a pound.

  6. Ross says:

    To the moderators: nice editing! thank you.

  7. Mary says:

    Great post. However, this is just the way I LIVE.

    A month ago I purchased two 10 pound bags of leg quarters from a local grocery. I cut off all the legs and pressure cooked the thighs. Saved the legs for DH meals (he likes ’em baked) I wound up with six quarts of rich broth and three quarts of meat. Less than $7 will provide many meals. Delish!

  8. Ross says:

    Mary , You and I are more alike than most. I often buy the leg quarters and disjoint them and save the thighs and boil the backs and drums. Same results different choices.

  9. Kathi N says:

    This reminds me of my home-ec class in high school. I almost failed ’cause I wouldn’t touch raw chicken. It’s still not my favorite, but it’s nice to know how to do this in case I ever want to eat some fried chicken, which I do like. Thanks!

  10. Ross says:

    KathiN, I have a friend that keeps a parakeet. That girl can’t eat poultry if it still looks like it had once been a bird. Cut the meat up and remove the bones and she is good to go but she can’t do the cutting, cooking and eating. Except for spicy wings and good beer.

  11. Louise says:

    I have been doing this for years. As a child I watched my mother do it and learned from her. It only takes a few minutes. Thanks for the post. It is good information for everyone.

  12. lisabetholson says:

    Jim, I’d like to add that I cut my grocery bills when BO and I married until I buy dog and cat food now and thas about all. When I raise hens for eggs, when they are too old to lay, I can them for soups, stews, and relish and dip dishes. It makes the very best quick meals.

  13. lisabetholson says:

    For the price that most of your neighbors get for the poultry they sell at $3.50 lb, I can’t do that to others. I wouldn’t want to eat the broilers because they have no taste to me and I won’t spend $3.50 per pound for chicken for me to eat. BO and I don’t charge what others do for our chickens when we butcher. We also raise the old style that have to live for 6 month before they are old enough to be butchered.(Even with the crowing because I buy roosters and raise them out for butcher).

  14. Ross says:

    In this neck of the woods we can get fresh commercially raised turkey any time for 1.30 /pound but heritage turkeys must be ordered a year in advance and cost 7-8 dollars per pound and the growers are selling all that they raise.
    My little sister raises chickens and ducks in SC and makes a very small profit after she figures her costs. But she enjoys it enough to have just purchased 26 acres that she and husband are trying to make dry and productive.

  15. JOJO says:

    Ross, as always an excellent and very informative post.
    I guess I never think about some folks that cannot cut up poultry I starting out as a kid. I would much rather cut my own, I feel the pieces are cleaner and just can bring myself to pay someone else to do it for me.
    Thanks again.

  16. Jim in Colorado says:

    Alright Ross, I like your post. I have not cut up a bird in a long time. But it does make sence. I have had way to much chicken, when my Dad had an ulser. And it is kind of hard to eat it some times.

    Now, lets talk about fried, and I am there!

  17. Ross says:

    Colorado Jim. If you take those big chunks of meat and slice them into long strips then you can marinate them and skewer them and grill them or you can cut them into small macnuggets and drege them in flour and seasonings and fry or bake them.

  18. Sundownr says:

    Ross, I really appreciate the chicken-cutting tutorial! I was never shown how to do it, and was afraid of loosing a finger or mangling the meat with the learn-it-as-you-go method! I’ll try your technique this coming weekend for sure. Thank you so much!

  19. Dede ~ wvhomecanner says:

    Informative post – and I do the same with a boneless pork loin too. Buy a whole loin for less than 2 bucks a pound, cut my own beautiful chops as thick or thin as I want, use the end piece for a roast or pork BBQ. In the stores, those boneless chops are 4 bucks a pound and up. Crazy!


  20. Ross says:

    Sundowner, Just be sure that your knive is very sharp and that your finger is not in the path of the blade should it slip.
    Use a cutting board in a tray because quite a bit of fluid is released in this effort.

  21. Sundownr says:

    I plan on keeping the fingers out of the way, it’s the slips I worry about. I finally have a good set of knives and a son who keeps them sharpened. The tray is a great idea!
    Thanks again,

  22. Ross says:

    If the knife is sharp, it slides through the meat easily and with little force required. If you stay in the soft tissue tha blade will stay sharp. Trying to cut bones istough on knife edges.

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