while you may not end up with 3 pounds of wings, or 8 thighs, your can buy and break down an entire chicken for 1.29 lb. if you bought 3 chickens (averaging 3.5 lb apiece) which would be 10.5 lbs of meat total, you would only be paying $13.54 that's almost a 50% savings. for that $13 you will get 6 of each - wing flats, wing drums, breasts, tenders, thighs, and drumsticks. not to mention you will also get a back, wing tips and neck that is soup stock making glory, as well as a liver, gizzard and heart for stuffing, gravy, or chicken sausage. whew!
i realize that sometimes, all you want is a great big pile of chicken wings, this is fine on occasion. but, in all honesty, buying animals 'by the piece' is not a sustainable practice and part of the reason humans have had to go to mass producing methods to provide for ourselves.
the next time you buy a big bag of wings, count them. for every 4 pieces you have, that is one whole chicken. how many chickens are in that bag? 5? 15? 25? that's a lot of birds. to get that amount of wings, i would need to buy and part out an entire case of whole birds. if i were to do this i would also have and equal number of breast, thighs, drumsticks, etc. this means that i am using the whole animal. not cutting off the wings and hoping some Joe-Smo buys 80 drumsticks.
or think about it this way, if you raised your own birds, would you kill them all for the wings? i doubt it. perhaps you would butcher a larger quantity at one time and then have a pile of wings and a pile of all the other various parts that you would package and freeze. that is fine, and you earned your hot wings, but you are also going to be needing to eat through all those other parts before you end up with a pile of wings again.
the way that we are producing and consuming foods is taking a heavy toll on the way that we raise our food. wings in particular are selling at an alarming rate. the week of a Superbowl a poultry farmer might have to kill 10,000 birds to meet the demands of the market (think restaurants, parties, caterers plus home events). that 10,000 birds will produce 40,000 wings. it will also produce 20,000 each of breasts, drumsticks, thighs, tenders and then 10,000 of each neck, back, liver, gizzard and heart. while the wings may sell out manufacturers may not be able to sell the surplus of other parts the animal generated. the manufacturers may have to throw out excess that they cannot sell to supermarkets, supermarkets may have to toss excess that they did purchase (perhaps at a reduced price due to over abundance) and a whole heck of allot of waste is created
for every four hot wings you eat, you should eat a whole chicken. how many wings does the average person eat in one sitting? probably more then four.....
if you ate 12 chicken wings in one sitting, would you eat 3 drumsticks, thighs or breasts at your next meal? Houston, the butchers have a problem
please forgive me for the rant, but every time i buy a whole bird, i think about this. chickens are small enough that the average family can buy them whole and utilize the whole bird (its a bit harder to do alone that with an entire cow) . i would prefer to buy a case of whole birds at a time, separate all the parts and then freeze them in the portions i would use. 6 drumsticks together, or four thighs, all of the wings. i find that by doing this i am saving money and making an effort to even out, on the grand scale of things, what me and my family consume.
to do this, you are going to need to know how to break a chicken down into what they call '8's'. technically i usually break my chicken down to 10 pieces, as i split both the legs and the wings, and do not count all of the items that i toss into the stock pot. in the meat industry they normally just call it 8's and then specify that they want the wings split as well.
Step 1 - Removing & Splitting the Wings
turn the bird on its breast with the tail end facing toward you. grip the chickens right wing in your hand and pull out from the side. when full extended, look for the bump formed by the birds shoulder. cut into this joint and work your knife between the ball end of the wing and the socket of the shoulder. once you have your knife in the joint, gently slice through the skin on the opposite side while pulling the wing out and too the right. avoid cutting into the meat as this is breast meat that you want to leave whole. repeat with the left hand side.
once you have removed the wings, hold in one hand and tighten your fist until the wing flexes out strait. place the wing in the flexed position onto the cutting board. you will be able to see the two ball joints through the thin skin of the wing cut between these balls on both the joint between the flat and the tip and the wing and the flat. start with the tip and the flat, as you will have more room to grip the wing. reserve your wing tips for soup broth.
this next step is one that i take preemptively as it later makes the birds back much easier to remove from the breasts. with the bird still lying breast down, turn it so that the tail end is facing away from you. trace your knife down the spine of the bird until you are approximately two-thirds of that way down the back and still one-third away from where the head had been. i imagine this is where the tips of the shoulder blades would sit if a chicken had shoulder blades. angle your knife strait up and puncture down along the sides of the spine. be careful to not puncture too far and slice into the side of the breast on the opposite of the birds cavity. repeat on the opposite side of the spine.
now you can flip the bird over onto its back, again with the tail end facing toward you. will see two legs and the large body cavity facing you. hold your knife with one hand and grab the right leg with your other. pull the leg out from the body until all of the loose skin is taunt. cut the loose skin, but do not cut the meat. this way you can see where the top of the thigh meets the breast. take the bird in one hand and the leg in the other and fold both backwards until the ball of the thigh pops out of the hip joint. start as the end closest to the tail and hugs the hip bone with your knife. work up to between the ball and hip bone and stop. as this point your should be able to pull the leg free from the body. pulling is preferable as all the meat comes cleanly from the bone, but use your knife to help the meat along if needed. Pulling the last of the meat free from the hip helps keep the 'oyster' of the chicken intact and attached to the thigh meat. the 'Oyster' is considered by many to be the finest part of the chicken. approximately the size of a marble, it is dark boneless meat. while not substantial on their own, oysters are sometimes used collectively in fine dining dishes. attached to the thigh is a good place for them in my opinion. once you have removed the right leg, repeat the process with the left.
Once you have removed the legs, place them on your cutting board horizontally with the inner thigh area facing up towards you. there will be less skin on this side and you should be able to see a 'line' of fat that lays between where the thigh and drum meet. place your knife over that line and then angle your knife toward the drum to form a 'V'. slice down and into the meat, you should feel your knife go into and through the place where the ball of the drumstick and joint of the thigh meet. if you hit bone, re-position a bit or feel the leg to find the joint and cut through there. some folks even like to take the leg in one hand and the thigh in the other and bend them backwards (much like we did with the thigh and hip bone) to pop the bone out and make it clearer where to cut.
now that you have removed the wings and legs you only have a torso remaining. if you separated the back earlier, your job will be very easy at this point. all you need to do is grab the tail end of the bird and pull the back up and off of the breast portion. add the back to your pile for the stock pot.
if you are splitting your breasts and keeping them bone in, this will be very easy. if you choose to debone the breast (which i prefer to do) your task is a tad more difficult. do not get mad at yourself if you don't do this perfect the first time, it will still taste good and chicken is CHEAP.
if you are going the bone-in route, what you want to do is place the breast meat down on the cutting board in front of you. look for the bone going down the middle and place you knife over the center of it. place your free hand on top of the knife and use pressure to push down and cut through the bone. this will take some force, but do not be afraid to use the weight of your body and bounce the knife down a few times to cut through. also feel free to turn the breast over and cut down through the breast side. on occasion you will cut through the bone but not the skin. just give a quick cut through the remaining skin and do not 'pull' at it. if you pull you may end up with areas of the breast that are not covered in that moisture keeping skin.
to completely debone the breast follow the same process as splitting the breasts, but when you go to split through the bone in the middle, simply 'crack' it but you do not need to go completely through. at this point you can take a side of the breast in each hand and fold back to expose the thick sternum bone of the breast. this bone looks like comma with a long strait tail and the meat should free itself from the sides of this bone. if any sticks, simply run you fingers down the sides of the bone. the other side of this bone connects directly to the skin of the breast and once your meat is freed, you can take the bone in your finger tips and gently, but firmly, pull the bone from the meat. remove the bone completely, sometimes the lower thinner area and the rounder top area will separate but just go back and give it a firm tug.
now look to the split rib cage on either side of the breast, glide the knife underneath the thinnest part you can manage and begin skimming the bone while pulling the meat back. down towards the pointed end there will be a long thin rib bone you will need to cut under. often, rather then having the breast flesh up and sitting under the meat, i will have the ribs facing up and cut just under the bone. as you release flesh each side of the ribs should come up and off. add the ribs to the pile for stock. (actually, while i am dividing the birds, i will normally get a pot of spices, and vegetable scraps simmering. this way i can add the chicken as i part it out. stock is easier to freeze then bones.)
here is the easiest part of the whole bit. if you left the bone in, forget about getting yourself tenders. the tenders lie against the central bone in the breast and are not coming out unless you bebone the breast as a whole. you can leave the tenders attached to the breast, actually, most boneless/skinless chicken breasts you buy in the store still have the tenders intack. personally, i like to leave the breast whole, with the skin on after deboning. by removing the tenders at this stage i allow for more room the suff the breast before tying and cooking.
to remove the tenders, lay the breast skin side down, you will see a white 'tab' that is the top of the tender. don't even use your knife, just get your finger under the tab and pull the tender up. if the meat is a bit stubborn, feel free to use the knife to ease the tender up and make it a 'cleaner' cut. i like to cube tenders to use in my chicken soups. another practical application for chicken tenders is the Italian dish Chicken Marsala, but this is much a situation like that of wings, you need to butcher allot of birds to get allot of tenders.
in a nut shell, that is how you part out a bird, i like to do at least 2-4 birds at a time and freeze everything in dinner sized portions. that way i have a bag of drums a bag of breasts, a bag of wings ect.....i always reserve the chicken innards for stuffing, except for the hearts. they are delicous right out of the frying pan (it's ok, my mom thinks im crazy too) but seriously, once summer rolls around i will post a recipe for Chicken Heart KaBobs that will blow your mind. until then, happy cutting