While there is really nothing wrong with serving them up whole, I’ve found that when you are making wings, most people usually prefer to see them in smaller sections.
I don’t know about you, but I think wings are a must for all game day gatherings or party appetizer spreads. There’s just something special about a juicy piece of chicken that’s tender on the inside, and crispy on the outside. They’re totally addictive, and you can change them up however you want.
They can be baked, grilled, or even fried. Not to mention, there are so many sauces and spice mixtures that work with them.
No matter how you plan to prepare them, whether you bought them whole intentionally or maybe picked up a package of the whole variety at the store by accident, the first thing you need to know is how to break down a whole chicken wing.
Why break down whole ones yourself instead of buying them already broken down?
While you can buy poultry that has already been broken down into wingettes and drumettes for you, this tends to be more expensive than buying them whole.
And here’s a secret: this is really a simple kitchen task that isn’t very difficult to do yourself.
All you have to do is grab a pair of cooking shears, and start cutting.
Seriously, it’s that easy. It takes just a couple of seconds with each one, and you will never buy them already broken down again once you realize how much of a breeze the whole option is to work with.
Once you break the poultry down, you have to decide how you want to prepare it. I like to choose a sauce or flavor profile first. You can go with traditional buffalo sauce, or try a dry rub if you want to shake things up.
I recently discovered the wonders of Jamaican jerk seasoning as a marinade for poultry, and it’s downright magical.
After that, it’s time to choose a cooking method. There are a handful of basic ways that you can cook these.
My personal favorite is grilled. You get a nice char on the outside, but the inside stays juicy and tender.
Other options are baking, frying, cooking them in a slow cooker, or smoking them.
If you want, you can even break them all down ahead of time and freeze them, so they’ll be ready to go when it’s time to cook for a party.
Once you’ve finished breaking them down, pack them into a freezer bag and remove as much air as possible from the bag before sealing. Place the bag in the freezer, and freeze for up to three months.
This is what I usually like to do when I buy whole chicken wings. Breaking them down as soon as I get home from the store and then freezing them saves time when I’m ready to cook.
To thaw them, simply stash the bag in your refrigerator overnight. You can also defrost them in the microwave if you need them to thaw in a hurry.
And if you’re excited to go above and beyond and break down a whole bird, we have a guide for that too.
Let’s get down to business!
How to Break Down Whole Chicken Wings
Step 1 – Find the Joints
First, use your fingers to find the joints between the wingette (sometimes called the flat), drumette (the part that looks like a little drumstick), and the tip (the pointed, protruding part on the end, sometimes referred to as a flapper).
This is easily done by wiggling the wing. You’ll be able to see right where the pieces connect, in two places. Where the meat moves at the joint is where you will need to cut it.
Step 2 – Cut Between the Joints
Use a pair of kitchen shears to carefully but firmly snip through the center of each joint, leaving you with three parts – the drumette, the wingette, and the tip.
That’s all there is to it!
Tips can be added to a homemade chicken stock or discarded. Or you can throw them in with the rest of the batch, just keep in mind that these smaller parts will cook more quickly than the flats and drumettes, and they don’t have much meat on them.
Feel around with your fingers for any loose bone fragments, and toss these if you find them. You can give your chicken a quick rinse before saucing just to be safe, and remember to clean and sanitize your kitchen sink after you’re done, as well as any cutting boards and cutting implements that you used to prep the poultry.
Did one get away from you, and you accidentally dropped it on the floor? Don’t panic! We have some tips for you in that department as well.
Just a little familiarity with chicken anatomy and some swift cuts are all that’s needed for your poultry parts to be ready to sauce and smoke, or rub and roast.
Flavor-ify and fry? I’m getting a little loopy here, but you know what I mean…
Favorite Recipe Suggestions
What’s your favorite type of chicken wing? Here are some of our favorite recipes to enjoy those perfectly butchered pieces of poultry:
- Moroccan Lemon – The blend of spices in the marinade for these is delightful, with pungent garlic and tart fresh lemon.
- Italian-Style – For a tasty twist on your favorite snack, try these. Flavored with a hefty dose of garlic, they are herb marinated and covered in Parmesan. What could be better than that?
- Spicy – If you prefer to keep things simple, this spicy version always does the trick. With an easy marinade, they really pack in the heat in the best way possible.
- Jamaican Jerk – These are savory with a hit of acid from the citrus juices in the marinade. And with smoked paprika, thyme, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, you get a little bit of everything.
How will you cook your home-butchered poultry? Tell us in the comments below!
Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. With additional writing by Allison Sidhu.
About Meghan Yager
Meghan Yager is a food addict turned food and travel writer with a love for creating uncomplicated, gourmet recipes and devouring anything the world serves up. As the author of the food and travel blog Cake 'n Knife, Meghan focuses on unique foodie experiences from around the world to right at home in your own kitchen.