I have a family member that works as a chef for two different restaurants, and he has never had to cut up a chicken. Everything comes flash-frozen, delivered on a truck.
So, it is not unimaginable that so MANY people who are otherwise able to function well in the kitchen have just NEVER tackled this simplest of butchering tasks. As things become more expensive, this is a skill worth knowing as (per pound) a whole chicken costs less than the pre-packaged variety. Also a whole chicken can be used for more than one meal.
You will need a cutting board (I use a metal tray that I can sterilize later), a VERY sharp knife and a thawed chicken carcass. It is important that the carcass is thawed. It's no fun trying to separate the pieces when your hands are red and stinging from the cold and the bird is as hard as a rock (although we've all done it on occasion).
For thawing, I usually remove a bird from the freezer around breakfast. I set the frozen chicken in a plastic bowl on my counter and check it throughout the day for proper thawing. If I wanted to refrigerator thaw the carcass (something I do for larger birds, like turkeys), then I place it in a pan and place it into the refrigerator one to two days before it is needed. Everything I have read about safely thawing birds recommends that you use the refrigerator method. All I can say is that I use the method used by my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before her . . . So far, we haven't killed anyone.
On this note, I will tell you that a healthy bird is not necessarily a larger bird. A bird that has been organically fed and allowed to run around and scratch for bugs and such will be relatively smaller than the hormone-fed, corporate farm raised variety. I figure if they fed the bird something to give it large breasts, eating the bird may do the same for your sons (and send the females into hormonal fits). So we try to avoid that in our family. You will also notice that the hormone injected, factory raised chickens will have a yellow tinge to their skin and lots of fatty deposits. In contrast, a free range chicken has a pink color.
My recommendation for those that cannot get an organically fed, free-range chicken is to remove the fat and skin and toss the bones. The broth made from the neck and backbone will contain the contaminants to which the bird was exposed, so I would toss those as well.
Before you cut your bird, look over it and get familiar with it. Pick it up by the wings and notice where all of the joints are. Hold it by the legs and do the same. Ideally, a chicken carcass should yield 8 to 10 pieces plus a backbone for broths. When your bird is finished, you should have 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings and 2 breasts -- these can be cut in half each to make a total of 10 pieces. Additionally, you should have the backbone for making chicken broth.
Now for the fun part. There are as many ways to cut up a chicken as there are cooks that do it.
My method works for me. You'll likely want to follow instructions the first time or two and after that, develop your own system.
I lay my bird breast down and make two cuts along the spine. I cut this through to the cavity. I remove the backbone and tail. This, I place into a bag and store in the freezer for later use.
I have a few reasons for removing the back FIRST. This makes separating the thigh from the breast much easier. You won't have to remove the ball from the socket as the socket is cut away with the backbone. Sometimes I'm in the mood to prepare butterfly chicken. This method prepared the bird for that in short order. Also I can go ahead and get the parts that I store away for later (the neck and back) out of my way as I continue to prepare the rest of the chicken.
Turn the bird over -- breasts up -- so that the inside cavity is facing down on your cutting surface. The carcass should be flat. This helps stabilize the bird. Feel with your fingers for an indentation at the top of the breasts where the head was. Use this as your guide to begin cutting down the center of the breast. There is a natural line that you can follow down the front of the bird. You will have to cut through some bone here. Unless you are very strong, you may have to make more than one pass to get through the bone and gristle.
Now you've completed the hardest part of cutting up your bird. The following steps I vary in the order (it just depends on my mood). *wink*
You now have two halves of a bird. Pick up one of the halves by the drumstick (leg) and give it a shake, dangling the bird. The breast will separate from the thigh and only be attached by skin. Cut the skin to separate the breast/wing from the thigh/leg.
Hold the bird by its wing. Slide the knife under the 'armpit' of the bird and cut while still holding the wing. Cut towards the breast and then upwards. Holding it by the wing will help guide the knife into the joint so that you aren't cutting through bone. You now have a wing and a thigh.
Turn the tip of the wing backwards and fold it over the drummette. This will keep the wingtips from burning when cooking . . . Or you can remove the wing tips and place them into a the baggie with the backbone for later use in stocks.
The breast will be longer than it is wide. Halve it across it's width. This will give you two smaller pieces about the size of a thigh. One of these will contain a portion of the bony breastbone. The other will contain the gristle.
Turn the leg/thigh skin side down onto your cutting surface. If you look at the flesh (pull the skin back) where the drumstick meets the thigh, you will notice that there is a white line. Follow this line with your knife and you will be able to cut through the joint to separate the two pieces, rather than attempting to saw through the bone.
Of course, there is really no only way to cut a chicken into pieces. The first few attempts may look as though they have been 'chewed,' but don't let that discourage you. Keep trying and be patient with yourself. You'll become an expert in no time.
Below is a video example of yet another way to cut a chicken into 8 pieces. Notice that Brandon begins by cutting through the breast bone. You'll notice that a man pretty much muscles his way through the bird. Most women will have a more delicate touch and that's fine. He also starts to try and cut the legs from the skin side, then thinks better of it and turns them over, finds the white line and cuts along the joint.
How to Cut Chicken for Cacciatore Recipe -- powered by ExpertVillage.com
If you don't like having to cut up your chicken prior to each meal, you can still save money purchasing a whole bird. Simply set aside a segment of your time and cut up several birds at once. Separate the pieces to suit your preference and store in bags in your freezer.
Remember to sharpen your knife (knives) afterward and sterilize all of the surfaces and utensils.
NOW your cookin'! *wink*