There’s a good reason a lot of people buy ingredients that are already prepared and just need to be tossed into a pan or a pot – preparing them yourself is a hassle. Sometimes you might not even know what to do with most of the meat or vegetables that you buy, and you will end up throwing most of it out.
I think it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. If you know what you’re doing, you can make use of almost every part of the ingredients you buy and make the most of them. You learn a lot by doing that, and you will save yourself money in the long run.
So, today I will walk you through making use of every part of a whole chicken. Let’s get right down to it!
Buying the Entire Chicken vs. Buying it in Parts
This is a dilemma I know a lot of people have and that I have had in the past. There are many reasons for this dilemma, but it usually comes down to two things – you aren’t sure you’ll know how to use every part of the chicken, and you don’t know if you’ll be able to eat it all before it spoils.
You should know that those are valid concerns. If you’re not sure you’ll need that much meat and that you’ll be able to eat it all in time, buying the chicken in parts is a better option.
However, if you’re not sure what to do with certain parts of the chicken, but you do have a need for a lot of meat, then don’t be worried. In this article, I will teach you how to utilize practically every part of it – even the bones.
Of course, it is easier and faster to make a meal when you buy chicken parts, but it’s also not as good as buying an entire chicken. For starters, getting the whole chicken is far cheaper in the long run – yes, preparing it and dismembering it takes time, but it is worth it.
Not only are chicken parts more expensive, but most chicken parts that you can buy in a store have been “plumped up” with liquid. In general, around one-fifth of the weight of a pack of chicken breasts will be liquid, usually a saline solution.
Pre/packaged chicken meals can be even worse and are usually filled with stuff like corn syrup, dairy products and a lot of other things that aren’t meat – which is what you want.
So, overall, with a whole chicken, you get more actual chicken meat for your money. Of course, a whole chicken comes with bones as well, but they are useful, and you shouldn’t waste them. Deboning the chicken can seem difficult as well and not worth the hassle, but it’s easier than it seems, and I’ll walk you through some of it in the next section, don’t worry.
One other thing that you might be concerned about is finding the right place to buy a whole chicken. Finding chicken parts on sale in grocery stores is easier than finding a place where you can buy an entire bird that you’re sure is good.
Of course, that’s not as difficult as it seems at first – you just need to ask around a bit. You will probably find a local farmer with a good reputation that’s selling whole chickens or a grocery store or a butcher. I never knew how many good shops were close to me until I started looking.
Overall, I would say that buying a whole chicken is better if you need that much meat. If you just want to eat some chicken wings or you need a bit of lean chicken meat, you’re still better off buying it in parts rather than getting a whole chicken just for that.
How to Dismember the Chicken
Once you get your chicken, you should cut it up into parts as soon as possible so you can prepare and preserve them properly. At first this might seem like a difficult prospect – after all, you’re probably not a trained butcher. Neither am I, but I still managed to do fine on my first try with some instructions from a friend. Hopefully, today I can fill the role of that friend for you.
To start with, you should get your tools in order. Don’t worry – you won’t need more than a sharp chef’s knife, though also having a cleaver and some kitchen shears on hand might prove useful. You will also need a cutting board of some kind.
Once you got everything ready, you should lay the bird on its back and take one of the wings into your hand. Wiggle it a bit to see where the joint that attaches it to the breast is located.
Then, you should take the knife and cut through that ball joint. Do the same with the other wing.
Next, you should take a leg and pull it away from the body to determine where it connects to it. Then take your knife and cut the skin between the breast and the thigh. Pull on the leg some more and wiggle it to see where the joint is, then use a knife or a cleaver to cut through the joint. Do the same with the other leg.
Once you have separated both legs, place them on the cutting board, skin-down. Flex them a bit to determine where the joint that separates the thigh and the drumstick is. Find a line of fat next to it and cut through it to separate the leg into the drumstick and the thigh.
Now that you’ve separated all the limbs, it’s time to work on the body. First, you need to remove the backbone. You will find that there are a few different ways to do this, but here’s the one I would recommend.
You should take a pair of kitchen shears or just a sharp knife and start cutting through the rib cage on one side of the backbone, from top to bottom. Do the same for the other side, and you can remove the backbone along with the neck and move on.
The next things on the chopping block are the breasts. Place the torso skin-down and use a cleaver to chop straight through the center of the breastbone. You can also do this with a knife, but make sure to protect the hand you’ll be using to push the blade down – you will need a lot of force to cut through the bone.
After you’ve done this, you have two breast halves. You can cut each breast in half again, crosswise, for easier storage and preparation.
With this, you should have eight chicken pieces in total – all the essentials you might need.
Most Popular Parts
In this section, I’ll outline some of the most common ways to prepare the most popular pieces of chicken meat – the breast, the wings, and the legs/drumsticks. I’ll also provide you with some neat recipes for each piece.
Cooking the Breast
Chicken breasts are often used in recipes that call for chicken meat, but they are often misused as well. The breasts can be quite delicious when prepared right, but you will often find that they are dry and almost tasteless when improperly prepared and overcooked. This is the reason a lot of people dismiss chicken breasts out of hand in favor of thighs or wings.
However, chicken breasts can still be great when made in just the right way – juicy, tender and delicious. You just need the right technique, and here I’ll present some of the best recipes I know.
Lemon Pepper Chicken Breasts
This is an easy and quick recipe that I have used countless times so far, and almost everyone liked it. The lemon pepper adds a lot of zest to the chicken and makes the taste of the meat stand out.
You will need the following ingredients:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the lemon pepper, flour, and salt along with the zest from one of the two lemons in a medium-sized bowl. After you mix it all, toss the breasts into the mixture until they are completely coated. Slice the remaining lemon into thin rounds.
Heat the oil in a large skillet and roast the chicken breasts on medium heat until they are golden on the bottom, around 5 minutes. Then, add the broth, garlic, butter and lemon slices and transfer to the oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. After it’s done, take it out and put some sauce and garnish on it – done.
Seasoned Baked Chicken Breasts
This is a quick recipe that you can whip up in less than an hour, and that can be modified to your liking with different seasonings.
You will need the following:
First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, take a medium-sized (9 by 13 is ideal) baking dish and grease it with olive oil. You can use olive oil cooking spray as well; it makes things easier.
Rub the chicken breasts in minced garlic and season them on both sides before placing them all in the baking dish. You can use these seasonings or replace them with others that you like. You can also use different amounts if you want more or less of some spice. Place a pat of butter on each chicken breast.
Place the sheet of parchment paper over the breasts and bake for 30 to 33 minutes. After that, you can serve the dish straight away or store it for up to 5 days.
Chicken Breast with Cheese
This is one of my favorites since it’s easy to make and you can make it with ingredients that you might have lying around. You can also easily modify it to your liking. It’s tasty and just melts in your mouth.
To start, you will need these ingredients:
First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next up, take a medium-sized bowl and use it to mix the mayonnaise with the cheese and the seasonings. You can add other spices or take out some of the ones I listed that you don’t like, but I find that this mixture works the best.
Once you’re done, cover the chicken breasts in the mixture and place them in a baking dish. Put them in the oven and bake them for 40 to 45 minutes at 375 degrees. Once the dish is done, take it out and serve it immediately for the best results.
Cooking the Wings
There’s a good reason why chicken wings are one of the first things that come to mind when someone mentions chicken meat – they’re delicious and readily available in fast food restaurants.
However, because of that, there is a prevailing notion that chicken wings need to be deep-fried to taste good. That’s not the case, and there are many different ways to prepare chicken wings. They can be crispy; they can be tender and juicy and more. Here are just a few recipes that I like and constantly use to prepare delicious chicken wings.
Crispy Oven-baked Chicken Wings
One of the things that people like the most about chicken wings is the crispiness and this recipe delivers on that. It won’t be KFC, but it will still be more than enough to satisfy your craving for hot chicken wings!
These are the ingredients you’ll need:
First off, you should preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, take the wings and cut them at the joints.
Next, combine flour with paprika, black pepper and garlic salt in a small bowl or a plastic bag. You can also add more spices if you want the wings to be hotter – wasabi or cayenne pepper are nice additions. Once everything is properly mixed, coat the chicken wings in the mixture.
Then, line a large baking sheet with foil and melt the butter on it. After that place the chicken wings on the baking sheet. Turn them once to coat them in butter.
Bake the wings for 30 minutes in the oven then take them out and turn them over. Bake them for another 15 minutes or until they are sufficiently crispy for you. Serve them immediately.
Honey and Ginger Chicken Wings
This recipe requires a bit more time than most, but it is incredibly delicious and worth the effort.
You’ll need the following:
Now, for starters – you don’t need to use 16 chicken wings. You can easily adjust the recipe for 8 chicken wings or even just 4. You can use a similar amount of ingredients to make the marinade anyway.
Combine the honey, lime zest and juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, scallions and ¼ teaspoon of both salt and pepper. Save half a cup of marinade for later, put the rest in a zip top bag. Add the chicken wings and seal the bag. Put it in the fridge for 6 hours. Once you take them out, let them sit for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking pan with parchment. Put the wings on the sheet. Cook for 20 minutes, flip them, baste them and cook for an additional 20 minutes.
Pour the saved marinade into a pan and bring it to boil over medium-high heat. Pour it over the baked chicken wings and serve.
Vietnamese Lime Chicken Wings
This is a recipe that is meant for use on a grill and produces some incredibly delicious results.
For this recipe you’ll need:
Again, you can easily adjust this recipe to work with less than 24 chicken wings – you can probably do it even with only 2.
Combine the powder, honey, oil, chili sauce, rice vinegar, onions and lime leaves and whisk them into a paste. Reserve some of it for brushing, place the rest in a plastic bag with the chicken wings and let it marinade for an hour.
Next, set up the grill with a hot charcoal fire on one side and place the chicken wings on the opposite side. Cover the grill and cook for around 30 minutes. Flip the wings after 15 minutes of cooking. After they’re done, brush them with the paste and char them over the hot coal fire.
Transfer them to a plate and serve with cilantro and peanuts.
Cooking the Legs
Chicken drumsticks are almost as popular as chicken wings. They are easy to buy and prepare while being full of flavor. There is also something special about chomping on every last piece of meat until only the bone is left.
Of course, while they are easy to prepare they can also be mishandled, resulting in a burned mess rather than a nice, crispy drumstick.
Here I’ll outline some of my favorite recipes for chicken legs – don’t worry, they’re all easy to apply as long as you follow the instructions properly.
Baked Chicken Drumsticks
I’ll start off with a recipe that you can make rather quickly and without a lot of effort. However, it is still delicious and easily modified to your tastes if you don’t like the basic version of the recipe that I will present here.
You will need the following ingredients:
Before you begin, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
First off you should get a medium-sized or large baking pan, probably around 9 by 13, and cover it with olive oil. Then, put the drumsticks inside without them touching each other and soak them in the oil. Sprinkle them with the pepper, garlic powder, and salt, to your liking.
You can add other spices as well, like oregano or rosemary for example. Only add half of the amount you intend to use.
Bake the drumsticks at 375 degrees for around half an hour. Then, turn them over and add the second half of the spices you’re using. Bake them for another 30 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Take them out and serve while hot.
Spicy Roasted Chicken Legs
For those of you that like your chicken hot, this will be quite a treat. With this recipe, you will get a load of juicy, delicious and spicy chicken meat.
The ingredients you will need are as follows:
You can use less than 24 chicken legs – that’s just the optimal amount of this recipe. You can even make it with only two chicken legs – just adjust the amounts of spices, and you’re good to go.
For starters, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and line the baking sheet you’ll use with foil.
Melt the butter then combine it with lemon juice, garlic, black pepper, cayenne, and salt. Use metal tongs to dip the chicken legs into the mixture and then place them on the baking sheet. If you want, you can also coat them further with a pastry brush.
Bake them for 30 to 40 minutes and baste them at least two times during cooking. Watch them closely and take them out when they achieve a golden brown color. Serve while hot.
Teriyaki Pineapple Drumsticks
As the last recipe, I’ll present you with something a bit more unconventional but still delicious. I like this recipe a lot, and I use it often – I hope you will also find it to be to your tastes.
For this recipe you will need:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix the garlic salt, minced chives, paprika, pepper and regular salt and sprinkle them over the chicken. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown the drumsticks in it then transfer them to a roasting pan.
Combine pineapple, water, sugar, sauce, and mustard and pour it over the chicken. Cover the chicken and bake it for around 90 to 120 minutes. Uncover it during the last 30 minutes, so it gets crispy.
Remove the drumsticks, transfer the juices to a saucepan and bring them to boil over medium heat. Mix cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water and stir it into the juices. Cook them until thickened and serve it with the drumsticks.
Less Popular Parts
Not all parts of the chicken are as popular as the ones I just mentioned. Here’s a look at some of the less popular pieces and how you can use them.
Cooking the Organs
The organs of the chicken usually referred to as “giblets” are often an understated part of the chicken when it comes to cooking. This includes the liver, the heart, the neck, the kidneys and the gizzard. Sometimes this also includes the feet and the head, but most whole chickens that you can buy these days won’t include those parts.
Most of these parts can be quite delicious and have a lot of cooking uses, so it’s strange that most people disregard them. Here I will try to give you a few tips and recipes to show you how good these parts can be.
Recipe and Tips for Cooking the Liver
The chicken liver can be incredibly tasty, melting in your mouth as you eat it. In some countries, it is rightfully regarded as a delicacy.
Sadly, it’s quite understated here, and a lot of people don’t know how to prepare it properly, so they use it for bait or to feed their cats. Well, here are a few tips on how to use it well.
First off, before cooking the liver, you should clean it properly. Remove any sinew or greenish looking part since that will make the liver taste too bitter and ruin its texture. For getting a more mellow flavor out of the liver, you can also soak it in milk or lemon juice for a few hours, in the refrigerator.
When cooking the liver, avoid overcooking it – the taste will be okay if it’s a little bit undercooked, but overcooking will simply destroy the flavor. To check if they are done, stab them – if there’s no blood, they’re good. After cooking you should also quickly rinse it with hot water – this will remove exuded particles and further improve the taste.
Chicken Liver with Onions
For this recipe you’ll need:
Heat the oil in a big frying pan and fry the bacon until it’s golden. Add the onions and stir-fry for a few more minutes. Turn down the heat and add the tomato and the liver. Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the pepper, majorams, and wine and cook for 4 more minutes.
Turn the heat up a bit and stir until it all thickens. If the livers are done, turn off the heat and add the salt. You’re done, and you can now serve the liver alone or with other foods like rice or mashed potatoes.
Recipe and Tips for Cooking the Neck
The neck is one of the worst parts of the chicken; I’ll be straight about that. Most people just use them to feed their pets. However, it is far from useless in regular cooking, and there are ways to make it work.
For starters, they can be roasted with the entire bird but can also be prepared separately. You can boil them to make stock for gravy or to make some chicken broth. The neck can also be used to give extra flavor to a soup or a stew. The meat from the neck is edible as well, as long as you pick it clean of all the small bones.
Chicken Neck Stew
For this recipe you’ll need:
Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot until it starts to boil. Add the necks and season them with salt then fry them until they are properly browned.
Once the necks start browning, add the carrots to the mix and fry for one more minute. Then add the onions along with the curry powder and sauté it for another two minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for two more minutes before mixing in the soup powder along with a little water. Let it simmer for around 2 to 3 more minutes, and your stew should be done.
You can also add other spices to the stew and eat it by itself or with something like rice.
Recipe and Tips for Cooking the Heart
Now I get to the slightly gross parts. Yes, some people are quite grossed out by the idea of eating a chicken heart. However, it’s not much different than eating any other part, and it can be quite delicious. They can also be prepared in a variety of different ways, either by themselves or in other dishes, stews, soups and so on.
Chicken Hearts with Mushrooms and Onions
The ingredients you will need are as follows:
Prepare the hearts by slicing their tops off and cutting them in half.
Take a six-inch skillet and place it over medium-high heat with ½ cup of oil inside it. Slowly add flour and make a roux. Cook it for a total of 6 minutes and then turn the heat off.
Take a 12-inch skillet and add 1 tablespoon of oil to it along with onions and mushrooms and cook it all on medium-high heat for around 3 minutes. At that point add the chicken hearts and the onions, and then cook for another 3 minutes.
Stir in the chicken broth, the garlic salt, black pepper, and oregano. Add the roux as well and keep stirring until you bring it to a rapid simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover it and cook for 10 more minutes.
Once the hearts are finished, take them out and serve them with cooked rice or other condiments you may like.
Recipe and Tips for Cooking the Gizzard
Here’s another part of the chicken that most consider too disgusting to eat – the gizzard. What is the gizzard exactly? Well, it’s a special digestive organ that can be found in some birds, fishes, and crustaceans. Everything a chicken swallows goes through the gizzard before it gets to the stomach since it’s a tough muscle that grinds up the food.
Don’t be too skeptical – the gizzard can be incredibly tasty and is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. But it is difficult to cook properly. You need to clean them well before cooking and tenderize them – either by stewing them slowly or soaking them in a marinade.
Southern Fried Chicken Gizzard
The essential ingredients are:
Put the gizzards, onion, celery, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon of celery salt into a deep saucepan. Pour water until the gizzards are covered by 1 inch. Bring the gizzards to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer for around 2 and a half hours until the gizzards become tender. Pour in more water during simmering if it’s needed. Remove the gizzards to a bowl, save the broth and discard the onion and celery.
Season with ½ teaspoon of celery salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, cumin and hot sauce and stir it all to combine properly. Pour ½ cup of broth over it and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Stir it often.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan to 375 degrees.
Place the flour inside a plastic bag and add the gizzards. Shake it to coat the gizzards, fry them in the oil for around 5 minutes. Drain them on a paper towel and serve them while hot.
Cooking the Chicken Whole
Of course, if you want to use the whole chicken, the best way to do that is to cook it whole! Here’s a recipe I use all the time.
Roasted Whole Chicken
For this recipe you will need:
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the entire chicken in a medium-sized baking pan and rub it with olive oil. Combine the salt, pepper, basil, oregano, and paprika then sprinkle it on the chicken.
Bake the chicken for 20 minutes then lower the heat to 400 degrees and continue baking for 40 to 45 minutes. When the chicken is golden brown and exudes clear juices, it is done. Take it out and let it sit in its own juices for 10 minutes before you slice it and serve.
What to do with Leftovers
In a lot of cases, you won’t be able to eat the whole meal you make, especially if you’re cooking the entire chicken whole. So, what to do with leftover chicken? You can just reheat it, but that’s boring and produces a bland taste.
I usually combine it with fresh noodles which make the meat moister and improves the flavor. You could also use the leftovers to make chicken soup or use them in a stew. You could even put them in a burrito with some vegetables and eat them that way. There are lots of options.
Using the Bones for a Broth
What remains after you’ve used almost every part of the chicken? Well, the bones of course! Sure, you could just feed them to your dog, but you could also do a bit more than that. Using the bones to make a chicken broth is a good idea. It’s tasty, it’s healthy, it’s useful, and you can still give the bones to your dog as a treat afterward.
To make chicken broth, you will need:
Place the bones into a twelve-quart stock pot and cover them with water. Add the vegetables, herbs, and vinegar and bring it to a low boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover it and let it simmer for 5 hours or more. Once it’s done strain it and store it in the fridge.
There you go! Now you have a nice batch of chicken broth that you can drink or use to enhance other dishes.
The Final Word
Well, that would be about all I have for you today. It’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? But now you have an idea of how to use every part of the chicken to make a wide variety of delicious meals. These are only some of the recipes I like though – if you want more, search around, I have written about some others on my blog as well.
If this article was helpful to you, and I hope it was, share it around. You can also share some of your own recipes in the comments if you have some.
Until next time, have a good meal and good luck with your cooking!