How I became a chicken quartering goddess.
Way back in the day, I was employed at the local Boston Market. I’d spend my mornings marinating and spitting chickens, and my evenings deftly quartering them as patrons lined up orderly and patiently (or not), waiting for their “quarter chicken white.”
Despite the fact that it’s been 20 years since I’ve come home from work reeking of garlic and dill, I still remember how to quarter a bird. It’s kind of like riding a bike – once you learn how to do it, you may get squeaky with non-use, but the recall factor is pretty damn good.
The key to mastering this technique is – to borrow from Julia Child – to confront the chicken without hesitation, without fear. You must commit wholeheartedly, or you are going to shred the skin and end up with breasts that look a bit cattywampus.
You will need a pair of tongs, a carving board, and a very sharp chef’s knife – the longer, the better. Just a side note, if your knife is not ridiculously sharp, you will run into resistance when butchering your bird, as I did in the accompanying video. Also, if you need an easy recipe for roasted chicken, check out this one. For a more elegant-looking bird, feel free to truss it prior to roasting.
While I’ve provided detailed instructions below, please make sure that you watch the accompanying video to ensure that the technique is solidified in your mind.
How to quarter a roasted chicken in seconds:*
- Position the roasted bird on the cutting or carving board, breast side up, and drumsticks aimed like little torpedoes at your torso. [Note that this visual may help you to overcome any anxiety you may have over dismembering what was once a live animal];
- Now, position the tongs on top and in front of the breast near the neck, anchoring the bird to the board;
- Lightly score the breast down the middle and position the heel of the knife just in front of that spot where the breast attaches to the sternum nearest to you. Angle the knife upward slightly;
- Brace yourself, and leading with the heel of the knife, simultaneously thrust the blade forward and downward through the breast meat. The real power in this movement comes from the more heavily weighted heel of the knife, which needs to cut through significant muscle, bone, and cartilage;
- Now this is kind of complicated to explain (hence, the accompanying video), but as you are thrusting your blade forward, you want to simultaneously level out the blade so that the top of your knife is parallel to the carving board. Once it’s level, you will press forcefully and evenly downward, leading with the tip of the knife;
- With a rocking motion accompanied by significant force, cut through the ribs until you’ve entirely severed them from the vertebrae. Shift your knife over an inch or so and repeat on the other side of the spine. Save the backbone for bone broth (see this recipe);
- Now your chicken is cut in half. Take one half, cut side down, and lightly clasp a drumstick/leg combo with the tongs. Slice through the skin that connects it to the body cavity (this should take zero pressure); and use the tongs to pull back the leg from the torso, severing it with minimal pressure applied to the blade. Note that it won’t require nearly as much effort unless you have positioned your knife over the thigh bone (which is ill-advised); AND
- Repeat on the other side.
This may sound complicated, but I assure you that it’s explanation is far more complex than the action itself. Seriously, it won’t be long until quartering a roasted chicken becomes second nature.
Quartering a roasted chicken can be summarized by these three steps:
- Thrust the knife through the breastbone;
- Severe the backbone;
- Severe the leg from the torso.
If you’d like, you can cut the breasts in half, which is something I often do. But that’s it! Simple enough. Of course, there are other ways to quarter a bird. Do you have a favorite method? Please do share below!
*Note that this technique is only intended for roasted or braised whole chickens. While you can use this same technique for a raw bird, it’s not the most efficient means of doing so, and you are probably going to destroy your knife in the process.