Savory Saturday: What Are the Different Cuts of Chicken?

Posted by on Nov 16, 2013 in Food & Cooking | Comments


Are you familiar with the different cuts of chicken? From the breast to the drumstick, thigh to mid-wing, do you know which cooking methods are best suited to each cut for the most appetizing results?

The location of the cut of chicken (similarly to different cuts of beef) determines the texture and flavor; this can make the difference between whether it’s suitable for grilling, braising, using as an ingredient in chicken salad, or serving with velouté (or other mother sauces).

Get in-depth instruction for all of the best cooking techniques when it comes to chicken in Cooking Essentials: All About Chicken.

To get you better acquainted with the cuts and their best uses and to heighten your food and cooking prowess, here’s a primer on the different cuts of chicken.

Chicken Roasting Pan, on Craftsy

Photo via Ashley Rodriguez for Craftsy

Whole chicken

What it is:

Just what it sounds like: the whole bird. Well, usually minus the head. Whole chickens can be purchased fresh or frozen.

How to cook it:

Roasted chicken is an absolute classic, and there are many variations, from rotisserie-style to bacon-wrapped (how manly). Another popular method of cooking whole chicken is in a slow cooker. A whole chicken can also be broken down into the other cuts listed, in which case, the cooking methods are virtually unlimited, including grilling, braising, frying, baking and broiling.

What is an “eight piece cut”?

The whole bird is cut into two breast halves with ribs and back portion, two wings, two thighs with the back portion, and two drumsticks. They can also be sold as “whole cut chicken.” These are usually sold without giblets.

One cooking method that works for just about any part of the eight piece cut of chicken is braising. This slow-cooking method not only maximizes the flavor of chicken, but keeps it nice and moist, too. Craftsy course Secrets of Slow Cooking: Mastering the Braise will have you braising like a professional in no time.

Different Cuts of Chicken: Chicken and Potatos

Roasted chicken via Craftsy member bake.sew.craft.

Half chicken

What it is:

The whole chicken is split from front to back through the backbone and keel, resulting in two basically mirror-image halves.

How to cook it:

Like a whole chicken, this is a great cut for roasting, but be careful to not let it dry out. Unlike a whole chicken, it’s more manageable size makes it well suited for other cooking methods, such as grilling, too.

Half a Chicken

Photo via Andrea the Kitchen Witch

Breast quarters

What it is:

A cut that includes a portion of the back, the breast and the wing.

How to cook it:

Your favorite method of cooking a chicken breast will work with the breast quarter. Roast it, grill it, bake it. But don’t overdo it. Because it is all white meat, watch for methods that may dry out the chicken ,such as baking. It can be done, but you may consider basting to add moisture.

Cooked Breast Quarters with Green Beans

Photo licensed via Creative Commons via Flickr member Championship Catering

Parts from breast quarters

Split breast:

A breast quarter with the wing removed, which may come with or without a portion of the back.

Boneless, skinless chicken breast:

A split breast which has been deboned and skinned. It can be grilled, pan-fried or baked. Sliced, it’s great for sandwiches — fancy them up by putting them on homemade artisan bread. Since it is white meat and doesn’t have the fat from the skin to contain juices, watch any cooking method to prevent the chicken from drying out.

Different Cuts of Chicken: Uncooked Whole Chicken Wing

Photo via LilyBon USA

Whole chicken wing

What it is:

An all-white meat portion of the chicken, with three sections: the drumette, mid-section and tip.

How to cook it:

This is a versatile cut, but keep in mind that since it is all white meat, it contains lower fat, so it is more prone to drying out. So be sure not to overcook.

Wing Drummettes

What it is:

The portion of the wing between the shoulder and the elbow.

How to cook it:

Another common cut they can be grilled, braised, baked or broiled among many other things.

BBQ Chicken Wings

Photo licensed via Creative Commons via Flickr member guzzphoto

Wing mid section

What it is:

Also referred to as the “wing flat” or “mid-joint,” this is the section between the elbow and the tip.

How to cook it:

Probably its most famous use? Buffalo wings. This cut is very versatile though: it can also be broiled, baked or grilled.

Variation:

You can also purchase the “wing mid section with tip,” which includes the flat center portion and the tip of the wing.

The tip itself typically is discarded; it’s not a common cut to ask for alone. However, at least one compassionate food writer implores us to please appreciate the wing tip.

Different Cuts of Chicken: Whole Chicken Leg

Photo licensed via Creative Commons via Flickr member timothytsuihin

Whole chicken leg

What it is:

The combination of both drumstick and thigh in one unit. How is it different from the leg quarter? It doesn’t include a portion of the back. The whole chicken leg is available bone-in and with skin, or boneless and skinless.

How to cook it:

With the thigh and the leg, these are great braised or grilled. Given their balance of fat and flavor, they are also particularly delicious when fried.

The boneless, skinless version is best cooked with moisture, as it can dry out without the added fat and protection of the skin. Marinate and grill or bake, or braise it for tasty results.

Cooked Chicken Thighs, on Craftsy

Photo via Craftsy

Thighs

What it is:

The portion of the leg cut above the joint of the knee. Typically available bone-in with skin, or boneless and skinless.

How to cook it:

Being a more “worked” muscle, the thighs are well suited for braising, which softens the chicken and maximizes the thighs’ rich flavor. Grilling is another popular method of cooking chicken thighs. They can be baked, but with care: especially the boneless and skinless variety can dry out if cooked too long. Shoot for an interior temperature of 165 degrees F.

Coconut and Lime Chicken Drumsticks

Coconut lime drumsticks photo via Family Feedbag

Drumsticks

What it is:

The lower portion of the leg quarter — between the joint of the knee and the hock.

How to cook it:

Drumsticks can be prepared in a variety of ways. They are well suited to braising, grilling or even baking (this recipe for lime-marinated drumsticks coated with bread crumbs and coconut sounds like a fantastic mode of preparation).

Chicken Giblets: Different Cuts of Chicken

Photo licensed via Creative Commons via Flickr member Jeffreyww

Giblets

What it is:

Want the offal truth? “Giblets” refer to the edible offal of the chicken, including the heart, gizzards, liver. Often, the neck is included. If you buy a whole bird from a butcher, they will frequently include the giblets in a sealed bag right in the bird, similarly to how Thanksgiving turkeys are sold.

How to cook it:

The giblets aren’t so much eaten straight except by very adventurous eaters, but are a valuable ingredient in many recipes. Giblets add rich flavor to stuffings, stocks and sauces, notably giblet gravy. There’s even a French stew called alicot in which giblets are a key ingredient.

You might also enjoy our post on 2 simple ways to braise chicken and our recipe for homemade chicken stock.

Ready for dessert? Come back to the Craftsy blog tomorrow to check out the first installment of our brand new Homemade Holiday Cookie series!

What is your favorite cut of chicken?