Cellar Door Cooking by Ian – How to cut a chicken into 8 pieces

Have you ever struggled with how to dissect a chicken into 8 pieces well thanks to Ian Pecoraro of Cellar Door Cooking I was taken through a step by step guide in how to dissect a chicken and make a stuffing to go along with it.

Within the safety of my own home I connected with Ian who lives in the USA via Zoom who which taught me the steps in how to cut up a chicken into 8.

Cellar Door Cooking

Ian Pecoraro, chef, consultant, and owner of Cellar Door Cooking has been working professionally in many of the best restaurant kitchens in and around Seattle for 13 years, and is extremely passionate about talking about all the tips and tricks that the top restaurants use to make their food delicious, plus time saving, and money smart advice.

His goal through this channel is to teach you how to cultivate and thrive in a kitchen that brings you joy, excitement, comfort, and inspiration, all while being able to cook the best food of your life, and to do it sustainably day after day, meal after meal.

Chicken advice by Ian

Ian explained to me how to dissect a chicken, make a stock from the carcass and a stuffing.

Cellar Door Cooking chicken

Chicken tips and tricks

Breaking Down a Chicken

The Following method is how to fabricate a chicken into 8 pieces; 2x wings, 2x boneless breasts, 2x bone-in thighs, 2x drumsticks. In addition, you will end up with bones from the ribs, and lower sections of the chicken for making a quick stock.

The Right tools for the job: There is no better knife for this job in my estimation than a western style boning knife 6-8” in length, with a thin, slightly flexible blade and a very sharp, pointed tip that is perfect for manoeuvring through all of the nooks and crannies of your bird. This knife is meant for slicing, not sawing. Try to use the tip for small, precise cuts, and the entire length of the knife for smooth slicing motions. This will result in clean cuts, and maximum yield!

If you have one, use a large cutting board, so that you have plenty of room to maneuver about. Plenty of room makes this easier!

Preparation: Start by drying your chicken. This can be done two ways– with paper towels, or, leave your chicken uncovered in the fridge overnight (You can at this point salt it if you are going to use it within the next 24 hours) which will dry the skin out on all sides. If you have the time and means for it, this is the method I recommend.

Remove the wishbone: Place the bird breast side up, front side facing you.  With you fingers, feels for the wishbone, which is located on the front, between the two breasts, similar to where your collar bone would be. With the tip of your knife, make small ‘V’ cuts on either side of the wishbone. With your fingers, reach in, loosen the bone, and in a swift motion, pull it out. If you’re really lucky, it’ll come out in one neat piece!

Remove the wings: Holding the bird by the wing tip, hold it up and make incisions at the base of the wing. The goal here is to expose the joint, which will be a white, ball and socket. Once you see it, swiftly snap the wing back to separate the wing from the joint. Cut through to remove the wing.  Repeat on the second side.

Remove the hindquarters: Flip the bird over so that it is breast side down, bottom (cavity) end facing you. With your fingers, feel for the space between the thigh and the cavity of the bird; this is where you will make your incision. Using the tip, in as smooth of a slicing motion as you can, cut the skin to separate the thigh away from the body of the chicken. Repeat on the second side. Place your hands on each underside of the thigh, four fingers on the bottom, and thumbs on top, and swiftly snap the thighs back, revealing and separating the joint. Use a good amount of pressure to do this so that you have a clean break.

Once the joint is separated, hold the chicken by the end of the leg and lift it into the air. This will plump up the oyster, which is located on the back side of the chicken and is a perfectly circular piece of meat. This is the ultimate gift of the chicken and the best part! With the tip of your knife, following the circular shape of the oyster, cut around it and then in towards the body to separate the rest of the leg. You don’t need to use a lot of pressure to do this simply let the weight of the knife, as well as a gently pulling motion with your other hand holding the leg to guide your knife. Remove the leg entirely, and repeat on the second side.

Separate the leg and thigh: Place the hind quarters, flesh side up. You will notice that right around the halfway mark of the thigh, right about where it connects to the leg is a white strip of fat. This is where the joint will be. You can press it with your fingers to feel for it to confirm. Once the joint has been located, in a smooth cutting motion, slice through the joint and separate the two pieces. You should not meet any resistance when slicing through. If you do, it means you’re hitting bone rather than the joint.  Readjust slightly, and try again. It may take a couple of attempts, but eventually it will become second nature! Just remember smooth, clean cuts, not hacking or sawing motions.

Remove the lower cavity: Almost there!  Before you can take the breast off the bone, you need to remove the lower cavity this is the part that the hindquarters were attached to.  With the cavity facing you, feel for the line of skin / connective tissue separating the ribs and lower cavity. In a smooth motion, slice through this until you hit bone.  With one hand hold the breasts, and the other this lower cavity. Snap the lower cavity down, and twist it off.  It should be fairly easy if you cut through the skin fully. Reserve this for stock.

Remove the breasts: Place the chicken, breast side up, back end facing you. With the edge of the knife, feel for the breast bone that goes directly down the middle of the bird. You can wiggle the knife from side to side to feel where it attaches to either breast. In one long, smooth motion starting from the top of the breast down towards the bottom, slice through the breast.  Repeat this on the second side. The two breasts should now be mostly exposed, but still attached. Use the tip of the knife to gently finish cutting the breast away from the bone. You want to try and cut as much flesh away as you can, but don’t be a perfectionist! If you overachieve and get every last bit of meat off the bone, you will also end up with connective tissue and cartilage, which will not be good eats! A little meat left on the bone will mean a tastier stock. Reserve/freeze all leftover bones and pieces for making stock later!

Roast Chicken Tips

  • Perhaps the greatest culinary dish in existence, I can think of few recipes that are so versatile and appropriate for either a special night or a weekday dinner.  Even more wonderful is how simple and easy this is if you follow just a few simple tips! Firstly, find the best bird you can. We have a saying in the kitchen, G.I.G.O, or garbage in, garbage out. If you start a recipe with a poor ingredient, you will end up with a poor result. This isn’t an indictment on your skill as a cook, but on the quality of your ingredients. Season your chicken 24 hours in advance. This is the easiest and most important step you can take in instantly levelling up your meat cookery in general. Seasoning in advance gives it time to penetrate the bird, making the meat more tender, juicy, and well, tasty. If you’re planning on buying / cooking the same day, season it the moment you get home. Make a mixture of two parts salt to one part freshly cracked black pepper. Plan on a teaspoon of salt for every pound your bird weighs. Keep uncovered overnight in the fridge to help the skin dry out. You can, of course, rub any combination of garlic, herbs and other seasoning you’d like, but I’m a purist, and if you’ve spent the time tracking down a beautiful farm fresh bird, I believe it’s worth it to not gild the lily. Temper your bird.  Remove it from the fridge at least an hour, but preferably 3 hours before you plan to cook it. This gives it time to come up to room temperature, allowing it to cook evenly. A cold chicken straight from the fridge will overcook on the outside and be under cooked in the middle. Factor in carry over cooking.  This means pulling it from the oven about 10 degrees before your desired temperature, to compensate for it continuing to cook even out of the oven. That means pulling the chicken at 155F (68C) so that it can continue cooking to a final internal temperature of 165F (73C). Waiting to pull the chicken until it’s fully done will mean a very dry, very overcooked, very sad bird. Rest your meat!  If you were to carve into your bird straight out of the oven, aside from it still not being fully cooked yet, it would also mean all of the juices would flood out, resulting in a dry bird. Rest your meat! The general rule of thumb here is rest for half the cooking time, meaning that if the chicken takes an hour to cook, you’ll want to rest for at least a half hour. This is the minimum! I’m a believer in resting for as long as humanly possible. Oftentimes, I will roast my bird first, take it out of the oven to carryover and rest, and while that is happening.  finish the rest of the components for the meal. If you’re worried about it going cold, tent it with tin foil and keep it somewhere warm, like the back of the stove. I recommend using a probe thermometer to track your progress. This allows you to know exactly where our bird is without having to constantly open and close the oven, releasing precious heat and poking multiple holes into various parts of the bird. Place the probe in the thickest part of the breast, away from any bone. If you place it too close to bone, you will get an inaccurate reading, as bones conduct more heat. As I will say for almost any kitchen gadget buy something simple, with as few functions and buttons as possible. It should have an on/off switch, temperature adjustment, and a timer. I recommend something like this. Recipe: Remove the giblets from the cavity of 1 chicken weighing 3 ½ to 4 pounds. Inside the cavity there are frequently large pads of fat. Pull these out and discard them. Tuck the wing tips up and under to keep them from burning. Season your bird, 24 hours in advance (No more than 48 hours) with: Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, about 3-4 teaspoons. Refrigerate overnight, uncovered.  The next day, 3 hours before you plan to cook it, remove and place in a lightly oiled pan, breast side up.  Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Roast for 20 minutes, turn the bird breast side down, and cook for another 20 minutes.  Then turn the breast side up again and roast until done, another 10-20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let rest for at least a half hour before carving.Variations & Suggestions:
    • Put a few tender sprigs of thyme, savory, or rosemary under the skin of the breast and thighs before roasting.
    • Put a few thick slices of garlic clove under the skin, with or without the herbs.
    • Stuff the cavity of the bird with herbs; they will perfume the meat as the chicken roasts.  Don’t hold back, fill the whole cavity!
    • Stuff the cavity with a bread based stuffing for a more festive and filling approach.

Stuffing for poultry

This stuffing will work with any poultry, including chicken, duck, or quail.  The following recipe is enough to stuff a 4 pound chicken.Combine 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped, 4 oz shallot, finely chopped, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Add it to a saute pan over low heat. When the mixture begins to sizzle, add 8 ounces escarole leaves, washed, spun dry, and roughly cut up, cooking for a minute or two until wilted but not limp. Turn the leaves leaves immediately out onto a cutting board and chop them fine. Transfer to a bowl and combine it with ½ cup ricotta cheese, 2 ounce prosciutto, finely chopped, 2 ounce freshly grates parmesan, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, 2 eggs, and 2 cups of torn croutons (or breadcrumbs).  he stuffing should not require any more seasoning Nonetheless, taste it and add a little more salt and pepper if you think it needs it.Stuff the cavity of the bird loosely but evenly with the filling. An overstuffed bird can break open while cooking.  Cook as you would for a normal roast bird.

Chicken Stock

In general, I believe that chicken stock should be a flavorful, but ultimately neutral ingredient. By that I mean that it should taste strongly and definitively of chicken, and little else! The real purpose of stock is to 1) impart more flavor than water would have and 2) through the collagen in the stock, add body and texture to a soup, braise, or sauce. The following method will do both in spades.

As mentioned above, texture is the name of the game. The way to do this is through collagen, which, unfortunately chickens don’t have a lot of in their bones in the same way beef / veal / pork do.  Never fear!  Chicken feet are amongst the best sources of collagen anywhere in the world. I use a 40/60 split of feet to bones / necks that results in a stock that tastes intensely of chicken and when refrigerated sets into a firm jelly.  

Somewhat controversially, I don’t believe in adding aromatics (Also referred to as ‘mire poix’) such as onion, carrot, or herbs at least not at this stage. These impart too specific and strong of a flavor that won’t be compatible with every dish, and since most recipes will call for onions/herbs/aromatics anyway, it’s redundant to do so here. As well, by the time your stock is done, the aromatics will have been cooked to the point of tasting dull, losing all of their freshness. This stock is your starting point, and can be used for any purpose or recipe, with the ability to tailor it in the moment with any flavor profile. Freedom never tasted so good!

In a large pot (At least 5 qt) add 3# of chicken bones, caracasses, and necks.  Use any leftover bones from whole chickens, as well as bones bought from the butcher counter at your local grocery store. Oftentimes they will sell these bones in the freezer for a great price. Add 2# chicken feet to the pot.  Fill to cover the bones completely with water.  Turn the heat to medium high and bring it to a boil. Boil for 3-5 minutes, or until you see a large collection of greyish gunk floating on the top of the pot. This is all of the blood and other impurities from the bones coagulating. Skim them off with a spoon or ladle and then dump all of the bones and water into a colander set in the sink. Rinse the boiled bones with cold water to wash off any left over gunk. Add the boiled and cleaned bones back to the pot and fill to cover again with cold water, about 4 qt. Place back on the stove and slowly bring back up to a scant simmer. You’re looking for light bubbles every couple of seconds or so. DO NOT BRING TO A VIGOROUS BOIL! A heavy boil will cause the fat that is rendering from the skin and bones to emulsify with the water, which will result in a cloudy looking and tasting stock. Turn the heat down to low and let slowly simmer in this fashion for 3 hours, or until a chicken foot when pierced with a knife falls apart easily.

Set a colander over a pot or bowl large enough to hold the stock and pour the contents of the bones into it. Let the bones drain for 10 minutes so that all the stock is captured in the bowl underneath. DO NOT PRESS ON THE BONES for the same reason you don’t want to vigorously boil your stock. It would be a shame to create a cloudy stock at the last moment.

Once drained, toss the bones, and strain your stock a second time, through a fine mesh strainer. This will filter out any remaining small bones, pieces or cartilage or meat. The resulting filtered stock is pure liquid gold. Allow to cool on the counter for an hour before pouring into quart containers and chilling overnight to set. With any luck, it’ll set into a firm ballistics jelly much like this one.

Suggestions & Variations:

  • The above method is the most traditional and common way of making stock, but truthfully, I don’t and haven’t used it in many years. Instead, I use a 5 qt pressure cooker. Every step is the same, but rather than letting it simmer for many hours, I snap the lid on the cooker, set it to 20 bars of pressure and cook for 90 minutes. It takes half the time, and because of the pressure, it breaks the collagen down much more efficiently, resulting in a stock with an even richer texture and deeper flavor.  
    • I’ve used the same Fagor pressure cooker for the last 10 years and can’t recommend them enough. It also doubles as a nice pot even when not using it as a pressure cooker! Look for one like This that has as few buttons and gadgets as possible.  Simpler is better (And cheaper!).
  • Try any combination of bones, such as pork, lamb, beef, veal, or duck.  I’m particularly fond of as many types of bones to create a ‘master’ stock.  When doing this, keep your ratio of 40:60 (source of collagen:flavorful bones) as you would for the chicken stock.
  • You have a delicious stock, now what!?  Decide a recipe you want to use it in, and from there you can decide what flavors to impart in the stock.  For instance, if making a minestrone, I would recommend creating a sachet (Cheesecloth bundle) of bay, peppercorn, thyme, and rosemary to give a fresh spicy and herbaceous quality.
  • Freeze your stock in pints or quarts to easily pull and thaw when needed.
  • If you have a pot that can accommodate it, I highly recommend doubling this recipe and freezing your leftover stock.  This is a pantry staple ingredient that you never want to be out of!

Video class with Ian


I loved this virtual class as Ian taught me many tips and tricks which I never knew when it came to cutting up a chicken, making stock and stuffing. For a start I never knew it was very important to use the right knife (boning knife) as makes dissecting a chicken much easier, plus the pre salting method to give the chicken that crisp skin and succulent taste. The downfall I wished that he demonstrated how to cut a real chicken up rather than just talking through and explaining. However he did say he might upload a video of how to cut a chicken in the next few weeks on his YouTube channel so that would be very handy.

Ian though was a pleasure to talk to and with his many years experience very insightful. So if you are looking for tips no matter what it is that you want to learn be it how to get the perfect roast pork or how to make a key lime pie then I highly recommend booking a one on one tutorial class with Ian.

Update (4 October 2020)

Since posting Ian has now published a YouTube video on how to cut up a chicken which can be seen here.

Cellar Door Cooking

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Ian Pecoraro

Email ian@cellardoorcooking.com

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YouTube channel Cellar Door Cooking YT

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From my stove to yours,
written by Ian Pecoraro of Cellar Door Cooking

Thank you Ian of Cellar Door Cooking for teaching me the ways of cutting up a chicken and much more.

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