How to Cut up a Turkey or Chicken

It’s that time of year again!  Pumpkin is being celebrated, leaves are turning a stunning red, orange and yellow, and in the early morning your breath comes out in white puffs.

This is the time of year I love most.
For us Canadians Thanksgiving is this weekend.  Which means everything was on sale this week, so I was sure to stock up.  With some clever menu planning, and a few hours checking out flyers I was able to pick up everything we need to get us through until December, at which time all the stuff will go on sale again due to Christmas, and we will do it all over again.
One of these wonderful sale items is turkeys.  Now I whole heartily believe that we should be obtaining food that we can’t grow ourselves through local sources, but in some cases that is not always good for a family on a budget. And this ol’girl is on a st-reeked (yes not strict, st-reeked!) budget. So I went with the option that was best for my wallet. (I will be awaiting your hate mail.)
At Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, I try to grab a couple of turkeys.  As a whole bird it doesn’t make sense for me to buy it, but the price per pound cannot be beat. What’s a girl to do?  A girl is to chop that sucker up, that’s what!
Once upon a time I was in a grocery store with my mother, and she was trying to talk herself into paying the ridiculous price for boneless skinless chicken breasts.  The bone in and skin on breasts are always cheaper, but at this time they were even on sale.  I suggested to her that she should buy the bone in one for a quarter of the price, and just cut the meat out herself.  You would have thought I was speaking Spanish the way she stared at me.  As an avid food network watcher in the first few years of my marriage I had witnessed the chefs do this many times, and had given it a go myself.  I’m not a perfect butcher but it sure did help save the pocket book.
So for people like my mother, this post is for you!
Start with your bird, a good cutting board, and knife.  The knife I use for cutting up birds, is a cheapy little one that is serrated on one side.  You can use any knife that you are comfortable with no matter how expensive, this just happens to be the one I love.
This same procedure can be used for turkeys, chickens, and even ducks, and you defiantly don’t need to buy whole birds to do this.  Buying a pack of bone in skin on chicken breasts and turning them into boneless skinless is totally acceptable.

(Note: You can click on any of the pictures to make them larger, and easier to see.)

I start with the legs of the bird.  Following the base of the body, cut through the skin attatching the leg and straight down.  Follow the thigh around the bird until the only thing attaching the leg to the body is the leg joint.
To keep this simple I always detach at the joint.  It saves me from trying to saw through the bone.
Find where the joint is and pop the leg bone out.  I do this by getting the tip of my knife in the joint and rocking the knife back and forth until it is released enough that I can cut it out. If you want to detach the leg from the thigh you would do the same thing.
Once you have both legs off, repeat with the wings.
To cut out the breasts I find it easier to do them boneless, skinless.  Mostly because my knife isn’t the best at sawing through the bone.  If you have a good cleaver and can chop through the rib cage you can keep the breast meat on the bone.
To start I cut the skin open to expose the breast bone. The breast bone is going to be your guide for cutting out the meat.

Follow along the breast bone until you get to the rib cage, then follow the rib cage until the breast slides off. I do this is several swift cuts, instead of sawing my knife back and forth.  I start up near the head and cut to the bottom, following the natural curve of the bird. I also pull the meat back as I cut so I can see how far in I am.

If you want the skin off, it should easily pull off from the breast at this point.
Once you have both breasts removed, pat your self on the back (figuratively that is, if you’re like me you have turkey juice up to your elbows!).
If you don’t want all your meat freezing together into a big lump, place the pieces onto several cookie sheets, and place in the freezer for several hours.  Once frozen you can bag them. Or you can be like me and put the pieces into bags, being sure they lay flat in the freezer and separate the pieces in the bags, and well, hope for the best.
But wait!
Don’t throw out that lovely carcass!  I don’t bother taking out the back meat, and I don’t worry about doing a thorough cutting job when I’m taking the meat off because that carcass is going into the crock pot baby! (I do usually throw away the skin, because it has a lot of fat in it)
Put the leftover bits, bones, and organs into a slow cooker, or large stock pot, and cover with water. Slow cook for several hours.  I put mine in the crock pot and let it slow cook on low overnight. (In this case I put the bones into the crock pot at 4 pm and shut it off at 8 am the next morning – but it doesn’t really have to go that long.  I just really wanted all the flavour I could get out of those bones).
Once done, place a strainer into a large bowl and the pour the broth and bones into the strainer.  The bowl will collect the broth, and strainer will collect the bones, and meat.  I always pick through the bones and collect the meat (a slightly disgusting task for a vegetarian.  Aww the things I do for love).  This can be used in soup or made into turkey sandwiches.
So there you have it!  Stop wasting money on expensive cuts of meat, and do it yourself.  You don’t have to be a professional butcher or a world class chef, you just gotta want to save a few bucks!

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