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Butcher Your Own Chicken

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Live Chicken in a FieldI had heard of a suggestion that you could save quite a bit of money by butchering your own chicken, so I thought I’d give it a try. Last week a Purdue Oven Roaster whole chicken was on sale for $0.99, so we picked up a 6.73 lb. chicken for $6.66 (ooooh, creepy!). This was the first time I butchered a chicken, so it took a little longer than it will in the future, and it took me about a half an hour to complete.

Here’s what I got out of a 6.73 lb. oven roaster chicken:

  • 10.8 oz. – Wings
  • 30.2 oz. – Drumsticks & Sides
  • 30.4 oz. – Breasts
  • 22.0 oz. – Carcass
  • 8.0 oz. – Innards Sack (neck, gizzards, etc.)
  • 3.7 oz. – Skin

The total weight of all that was 105.1 oz, meaning the package had 2.58 oz. of plastic wrapping and liquid. So, was it worth it? If we peg the price of chicken breast at $2.99 and the wings, drumsticks, and sides at $1.79 (those are typical prices here), we get a total value of $5.68 for the chicken breast and $4.59 for the wings, drumsticks & sides. On that meat alone, we have a total value of $10.27 – or we saved $3.61 and that’s not even counting everything else. I tossed the skin but used the carcass and the sack of innards to make chicken stock.

$3.61 on $6.66? That’s a return of 54%. Not bad right?

In the end though, the process did take a half hour so from a strictly time is money perspective, it may or may not be worth it to you. Personally, I thought it was a fun experiment.

Here’s a good instructional video on how to break down a chicken:

(Photo: protohiro)

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25 Responses to “Butcher Your Own Chicken”

  1. You totally chickened out (pardon the pun) on this one- really butchering your own chicken means starting when the chicken is live and flapping. Trust me, it’s not fun!

    But cutting your own meat can certainly save you a bit, and your time to complete the task will lessen fairly quickly as you get the hang of it. You can also do the same with steak- you can buy a full striploin and cut your own, and save a bundle at the same time. Plus, you can cut them 3 inches thick if you like!

  2. jim says:

    Can I get a live chicken for less than 99 cents a pound? :)

    I do anticipate I’d get better at it and I have considered doing the same thing with steak. In fact, I’ve already done it with pork loin in slicing up our own chops. It’s amazing how much you can save just by pulling out a knife and doing it yourself. All those people with fancy knife block sets, myself included, can put them to good use!

  3. Brandon says:

    I totally thought this was a post about buying a live chicken at first. I am not sure if you could buy a single chicken for 99 cents a pound, but you probably could start a backyard chicken farm for cheaper than that, especially if you offset the cost of eggs you would also be getting. Of course, I am kind of talking out of my butt here.

  4. jim says:

    A lot of families in Hawaii, where my wife and I spent our honeymoon, had “pet” chickens in their backyards. I’d try it myself but I think the HOA would throw a fit, plus I don’t have much in the way of space.

  5. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Jim,

    I’ve bought home a whole chicken once and it sat in our freezer for months on end and I finally had to give it to my mother to do with it what she willed. It was a nasty business – the idea of carving my meat. I was frankly too timorous to do the butchering work.

    I learned my lesson with that experience. I now strictly confine myself to buying boxes of chicken breasts for a nasty price. The family is used to this one luxury. Besides which, for a person who can’t cook, it is dead easy to bake chicken breasts in fifty fairly edible ways.

    I’m glad you had fun with your experiment. Are you going to do a live chicken experiment next? Be warned. They flap around a bit when they are in their dying throes!

  6. We raw-feed our dogs, so at Thanksgiving I get a whole bunch of nearly free 20 lb. turkeys and cut them up into 1/2 pound pieces. You haven’t really lived until you’ve chopped up your own bird :)

  7. jim says:

    When I was younger, I went to a live chicken mart in Taiwan with my grandmother and watched them kill one. They grab it by the neck, slap it dizzy with the flat edge of the budget knife, and then cut off the head. They drain the blood into a bucket and then dump it in hot water to open up the pores and release the feathers.

    There’s no way I’m doing that. :)

  8. Perhaps this process will inspire you to become a vegetarian? Vegetables generally cost much less than meat and are much more healthy. If done properly, there is no reason to eat meat at all…

  9. Jackson says:

    @ Jim

    > I went to a live chicken mart in Taiwan
    > with my grandmother and watched them kill one.

    Ha! I did the same thing as well. For me the weirdest part was carrying it back and realizing the meat was still warm…

    @ Kent

    Do vegetables really cost less than meat? I guess it depends on what kind, but whenever I check out my grocery aisle the fresh veggies are often equal or more expensive…

  10. Jeremy says:

    Hah, you are a chicken n00b!

    No, seriously, I buy whole chickens, or whole pre cut chickens all the time, it’s a huge savings. And I don’t know where you get your boneless/skinless breasts for 2.99/lb. We’re lucky to get that as a sale price around here. But we always see whole chickens for about 99 cents or maybe 1.19/lb.

    But rather than spending time butchering it into separate pieces, I have a great tip. Spatchcock it. No, I didn’t make that word up, google it. But all it means is you basically cook a whole bird in the flattest means possible. It’s simple to do and won’t take more than 2 minutes to prepare.

    Take your kitchen sheers and cut out the backbone. Cut all the way along one side of it, and then all along the other side and completely remove it. Then, open the bird up and look for the sternum or breast bone. Cut some of the thin silver skin that covers it so you can get your finger under it and wiggle it and pull it up. It helps if you spread the bird apart even further and the breast bone thing will start to pop out. Once you can pull the little triangle bone thing out, flip the bird over skin side up and press down and flatten it. If you want to make a really nice package, cut a little slit in the skin by the ends of the legs and tuck the legs into the skin to hold it close to the rest of the chicken.

    And there you go, whole bird that’s all flattened out and you can grill it, roast it, broil it, or even pan fry it. When it’s time to serve, just take a knife chop off whatever piece you want to eat.

    This way you don’t spend all of your time fussing with butchering the raw chicken, you don’t have a bunch of loose pieces to worry about, and the flatter meat means faster cooking time.

  11. Julie Ali says:

    Dear Jeremy,

    Perhaps you can provide all this information about chicken dissection in a video format for whole chicken butchering averse types like myself? Sure to do god, there is a reason why we go to the supermarket and buy our chickens in deconstructed kits?

    I admire a man who cuts his own birds. Hubby won’t do it. But I’ll goad him into attempting it with the details of your courage. Only problem is I don’t think we have kitchen sheers. Will a hedge pruner work?

  12. Jeremy says:

    Julie, luckily there is already an excellent video on how to do it on youtube :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-8tMEwBnSA

    As you can see, it really does only takes just a minute or two. This video is less than 4 minutes long and he’s taking his time explaining everything.

    Any any type of scissor will work. Just use something that can be thrown in the dishwasher or cleaned since you’re cutting poultry.

  13. Well, my goodness, I thought you were talking about buying a live chicken. I guess times have changed! I had no idea cutting up a chicken was any big deal. I think I was probably in junior high when my mother taught me to do it. I just assumed everyone knew how! I bought a couple of chickens the other day to make dog food and paid .69/lb for them. Everything is expensive here except for meat, I guess.

  14. Anon says:

    We have backyard chickens, yet to butcher one yet. The rooster will be first to go, that mean, cock-a-doodling alarm clock! I thought you meant that! Come on, cutting up a whole store bought chicken, people! I remember a friend of ours from Canada said her mother would never think of buying expensive pre cut pieces when cutting up a whole one was so easy and you had all the tasty pieces. That got to me thinking our friend in California (he was typical from what I could tell) who hated any chicken with bone. Only chicken tenders thank you. He visited us on the East Coast and we went out to get lobster, he had no idea what to do with it! He told the waiter the only lobster he had was butterflied lobster tail. He had NO IDEA what to do with a whole lobster and was horrified by twisting the tail off, breaking it open, juice squirting, etc. Hilarious and so true! People would be much happier I think to know what it means to really be living!

  15. fred@opc says:

    Jim, this type of article is what makes your blog great.

    I have heard (although never had confirmed) that Rotisserie-style chickens at the supermarket are actually loss leaders. It costs the market more $ to buy the chickens, prepare them, and keep the oven running than they make on the sale. They’re hoping you’ll buy all the fixins to go with that chicken while you’re there.

    The Sams Club by us frequently sells these already cooked for $5.99/bird (up from $4.99 last year). Add a side vegetable (which we buy in bulk) and milk and a dinner for 4 costs only $8.00…and you get some leftovers.

  16. Patrick says:

    Cool experiment Jim to show how it can save to buy a whole bird. I would really like to buy a whole bird from a local farm where there chickens are naturally raised and contain no hormones. These types of chickens in whole foods and other natural stores are usually much more expensive than chickens from purdue when cut up. I bet the savings on cutting up this type of bird would be huge over buying them in the store.

  17. Donna Freedman says:

    A friend of mine told a story about his mom, a city gal, marrying a country boy. Mother-in-law said she was going to market and would new daughter-in-law like a chicken for Sunday dinner? That’d be lovely, thank you.
    Back comes MIL with, you guessed it, a live chicken. My friend’s mom panicked inwardly, thinking her MIL would think she was an idiot for not being able to deal with this.
    Mother-in-law looked at her closely. “You don’t know how to butcher a chicken, do you?”
    No, replied my friend’s mom in a faint voice.
    Pause. “NEVER LEARN,” advised her mother-in-law, and went out to do it for her.

  18. Matt says:

    I’m sad to say you missed an opportunity, there. If you’re making stock, don’t throw the skin away…throw it in the stock pot. Lots of collagen in skin, and that’s what you want for stock feed. (There’s also, of course, a lot of fat in skin. But when you’re making stock, the fat gets skimmed off at the end, so that’s not really a big factor.)

    I doubt Vanessa and I will ever buy whole chickens regularly. Neither of us likes breasts (I’m a leg-and-wing man, and she’s ga-ga for thighs), and when you consider strictly the parts we actually _want_ to eat, it’s cheaper to buy them pre-butchered. But if you’ve got productive uses for the whole chicken, you definitely save money by buying it that way.

  19. Celesta Dickerson says:

    Well, We are going to butcher our brood of eight hens, in which we have had for 3 years. We have never done this before-as they were just used for laying eggs. I think its a great return to have raised them, as it costs less than $20 every two months, and we get eggs everyday. Big brown fresh eggs-that we have enough for friends & family to buy! I can’t wait to try this out. Thank you for the information!

  20. Dawn Nakroshis says:

    Folks seem to get all in a knot over your reference to “butchering” your chicken. You did butcher your bird, i.e. you cut it up. “Slaughtering” is the correct term for turning the live bird into dinner.

  21. Jim says:

    I have 70+ chickens that I’ve raised from peeps. I get around 4 1/2 – 5 dozen eggs per day which I sell. I ended up with 6 heavy bred roosters that I am going to butcher (starting with cutting off the heads) and if you have never had home-made noodles cooked in real chicken broth from one of these fresh, range fed roosters that are almost as large as a small turkey, you don’t know what you are missing. The worst thing of killing, cleaning etc your own is that they can get pretty smelly when they are scalded.

  22. Charlotte says:

    We are a small farm growing what we eat and sell the surplus. We just butchered roos this past weekend.

    Can’t speak for other “small farmers” but I would welcome folks to buy my hens that are older and have slowed down on egg production or even the extra roos.

    Check your local listings for folks selling eggs may be a good start to find “true range” chickens for meat or a family that does not need a lot of eggs.

  23. Rey Valdez says:

    What is the proper name of the chickens tail? I know it goes by the name of “______’s” nose but I can’t remember. I need the information for my culinary arts class.

    • Dawn says:

      The chicken’s tail (where the tail feathers are attached) is apparently called the “pygostyle”, but I think the term you are looking for is the “pope’s nose”.

  24. arianna says:

    Hi!!

    I am a new chicken farmer. raising your own chickens for meat is a wonderful experience. It is costly to begin with. You need a coup, insulated if your in a cold climate, some people free range, other enclose them in a pen. Then there is the cost of the chickens, feed and bedding or litter. My initial cost is up to around 1000$ for an insulated coup and pen, and 125$ for 30 day old chicks. Once the initial cost of start up is swallowed and your chickens start laying, you can in turn sell your eggs which in my case pays for feed,(i free range all summer, and feed them veggies and layer mash in winter) and also you can in turn sell day old chicks which will pay for some of your start up costs and straw. In the end you get all your eggs and meat for free. There is a real demand for fresh eggs these days and if your lucky enough you can even sell some fresh chicken meat.


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