Chicken is one of the most universally loved and eaten meats. A simple whole roast chicken is a thing of beauty, just ask chef Thomas Keller.
But how much do you know about the main chicken parts? Breast, legs and wings, of course, but what about their constituent cuts and how about chicken offal? What can the ‘other’ poultry cuts be used for? Did you know for example that you could eat the comb, the usually bright red fleshy crest on the top of the bird’s head?
We’ve put together a guide to all the different cuts of chicken and how to cook them, including brilliant recipe ideas, and an infographic detailing all the types of chicken cuts. You’ll never be stuck for chicken recipe ideas again!
The different cuts of chicken can be divided into four main parts: the breast, the leg, the wing and ‘other’.
The two breasts of a chicken are to be found on the underside of the bird. The lean white meat is the most desirable chicken part for many and also the most expensive. Each breast is attached to a thin tenderloin (or fillet) cut – this is what ‘chicken tenders’ are. Due to very little fat content the breasts can dry out easily if overcooked, but are a great source of lean protein. They are often sold without skin. A chicken crown consists of the two breasts together on the bone, skin on, sometimes with the wings attached too.
Breasts can be cooked in many ways, with poaching a great way to preserve the moisture of the meat, or grilled and placed atop a healthy salad. They can also be fried, baked, or roasted. Brining the meat first is a chef’s tip and a good way to stop it drying out. This is why often, at top restaurants, chicken breasts can be breathtakingly moist. Chicken breasts are also great breaded and stuffed (as in a Kiev), or wrapped with cured meats to give extra flavour.
The leg of a chicken can be broken down into two main parts: the thigh and the drumstick. Both are dark meat that is less expensive and more flavourful than the breast due to higher fat content, which also makes these chicken cuts great for a barbecue – think Jamaican jerk chicken – or for long slow-cooking, as they won’t dry out. They are also delicious breaded and deep-fried Southern fried chicken-style, or shredded into soups. The legs are sold both whole, and separately as drumsticks and thighs, with the latter coming both bone-in and deboned – check out this guide to how to debone them yourself. Bone in thighs will take longer to cook, but are more flavourful.
The wings of the chicken consist of three parts: the drumette (which is attached to the body of the bird), the wingette (or “flat”) in the middle and the wing tip. The wings make great snacks when breaded and deep-fried or coated in a glaze or sauce, as in Buffalo wings. Though the wing tips, which are mainly skin, bone and cartilage, are often removed when you order wings at a restaurant, they can be served as a snack in their own right, such as tebasaki, a type of Japanese yakitori. Wings are usually sold skin on and either whole, or broken down.
Though a relatively cheap snack and a particular favourite of sports fans, chefs such as Brazil’s Thomas Troisgros have added their own elegant touches to the dish.
Other chicken cuts
So now you know the main different cuts of chicken and how to cook them. But there are many other chicken parts that can be utilised to create delicious meals.
Two pieces of meat that many people forget when carving a chicken are the “oysters”. These tender, mollusc-sized nuggets of dark meat can be found on the back, close to the top of the thigh and are arguably the tastiest parts of the bird. Unsure where they are? Watch chef Mark Moriaty expertly break down a chicken for sauté as well as prepare an unctuous pan sauce from the roasting juices, in the video below.
When you buy a chicken whole from a butcher, often its giblets (the edible offal) can be found in a plastic bag inside the bird. When you buy a chicken from a supermarket, the giblets are sometimes removed, as people can be squeamish about them. However, these can add a great richness to gravy for example, so it’s well worth trying to find a chicken with them in.
So what else can you cook with chicken offal?
Many people will have been introduced to chicken liver via pâté and what would a hearty, rustic French-style meal be without a rich and smooth chicken liver parfait to kick things off? Chicken gizzard, a muscle found in the digestive tract, is a popular street food around the world and is great dark meat for braising. Livers, gizzards, hearts and other offal are popular as a skewer food from Mexico to Thailand, and up to Japan.
Chicken comb, typically taken from the rooster, is used for a type of Japanese yakitori called kanmuri, as well as in the Italian dish of cibrèo (which also makes use of wattles, which are the fleshy parts under the beak, as well as livers, hearts and testicles), and dim sum. The comb will need to be blanched in boiling water to remove the skin before cooking, and the texture is quite gelatinous. In this way chicken comb is quite similar to chicken feet, a chicken part that is particularly popular in Chinese cuisine, although the comb is boneless.
Chicken necks, though often used for stock and usually found in the same bag as the giblets, can make a tasty deep fried snack or can be stripped and skewered. The meat is rich and flavoursome. The same can be said for chicken tail, used, for example, in a yakitori dish called bonjiri.
Of course, one of the best uses for a chicken carcass/bones is to make stock. Check out these stock recipes from some of the world’s best chefs. And last but not least, who can forget chicken skin, which is great when turned into crackling or simply eaten straight off the bird.
More tips for using different cuts of chicken