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Do You "Bone" or "Debone" a Chicken?

My wife and I have this ongoing debate, usually rekindled every time I bring home a rotisserie chicken from Costco.

When I want to remove the meat from the bones, I tell my wife I am going to "debone the chicken." She jumps in with "There's no such word as 'debone.' You're going to BONE the chicken."

I see the word "debone" used in many recipes and think it's quite descriptive of the process. Please tell me you think I'm right.

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  1. I'm with you 50'sGuy. I believe that only God can "bone" a chicken. It's up to you to "debone" a chicken.

    You'll find both terms used online, and in some instructions, interchangeably.


    2 Replies
    1. re: Axalady

      If you can't 'add bones' to a chicken, you don't need to make a distinction between the words. Languages tend to drop meanings that aren't needed. At the same time, languages abound with synonyms, duplicates and other redundancies.

      It shouldn't be surprising that English uses 'bone' to mean 'remove bones', and at the same time add the common 'de' to mean the same thing. It really doesn't matter whether 'debone' is the earlier use, and 'bone a shortened version, or v.v.


      1. re: Axalady

        There's also such thing as a boning knife.

      2. Really interesting question.

        First, there is indeed such a word as "debone." You'll find it in Web3 Unabridged (the editor's bible) as well as in the Web Collegiate dictionaries. Interestingly, Web3 defines the word as "to remove the bones from." Web Collegiate defines the word as "to bone."

        Although I'm sure you'll find the word "debone" in cookbooks, I can tell you that as a cookbook editor in my former life "to bone" is definitely the more common parlance.

        2 Replies
        1. re: JoanN

          The online Websters gives the date for "debone" as 1944, but they don't list citations online. Too bad, as I'd be curious. This sense of "bone" dates to the 16th century. I wonder what earlier English speakers did with their chickens, I guess they probably "removed the bones from" them.

          If you have the citations in your Webster, I'd be curious if the origin looks like it really was to create a term that doesn't sound like a synonym for porking the chicken. Or if maybe it was part of the odd trend in American english that will surely have us in 100 years talking about debonification.

          1. re: tmso

            Just found your message.

            No citation in Webster, but I looked it up in the condensed OED. "Debone" isn't listed, but the earliest citation for "bone" is from Henry VII, Act II, in 1494: "Fish . . . not boned or splatted."

        2. Just like shrimp are shelled, but deveined. You peel a banana, and pit an olive, but deseed a tomato. And declaw your cat (but not normally as part of a recipe).

          3 Replies
          1. re: DeppityDawg

            On the contrary, I would assert that you (universal) are much more likely to seed a tomato than to deseed one, if following commonly used language. Clawing your cat would be unkind.

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              I'm with you, I "seed" Tomatoes. and I don't have a cat.

              1. re: starlady

                I've never seeded a tomato but it sounds right. And declawing or clawing a cat is just wrong.

                Boning and deboning I've used interchangeably.

          2. Bone is the more common usage. I wouldn't get overly technical about it, since vocabulary is a-rational.

            By the way, if you think about it, boning a chicken is really about harvesting the valuable bones from the chicken. Only a people who foolishly discard chicken bones without thought would think the job was merely removing the unwanted part of the chicken. For most of human history, using everything was a matter of course.

            1. This is in the same vein as wondering which aisle the pickles are located. A normal person approaches the staff and says, "Could you please tell me which aisle the pickles are located in?" Someone from NJ approaches the same person and says "pickles?"

              Since jfood is from NJ and people from NJ are notorious for minimizing the words needed to express a thought - jfood bones a chicken to remove the bones.

              4 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                Here in Calif we ask "How can I help you?" I understand the equivalent on the east coast is "What do you want?"

                1. re: PeterL

                  As an East Coaster transplanted to the Midwest, I want to thank you (and jfood) for your astute observations (and my big chuckle for the day!) I lived in the Philly area and now I'm in Indiana. It takes a little getting used to the friendliness in the supermarket--I don't even have to ask, I just look a bit quizzical and someone asks if they can help me! And they smile a lot!

                  That said, I have boned and deboned poultry, but I've only ever seeded a tomato. And I have defatted a stock.

                2. re: jfood

                  I laughed loudly at "pickles?" because I do it constantly. Typically (and since I am not standing in NJ when I ask for pickles or whatever it is I need) the person will respond, "What? Excuse me?" and I will have to repeat myself. Usually they will blink a few times and silently wait until I pretty it up by asking (slowly), "Would you please help me find the XQZ?"
                  Anyway- I don't enjoy handling whole, raw chickens, so I get them boneless and/or pre-cut. I hate that squishy/fleshy noise that you get when you cut through bones. Plus any whole, raw chickens are made to dance during dinner prep, so I had to stop buying them until my husband (ok me too) grows out of it. Strangely, the pre-cooked Costco roasted chix are never made to dance. No one knows why.

                  1. re: Boccone Dolce

                    i can't stand cutting up a raw chicken either!

                    btw, those costco (or any roasted birds) just don't have the insouciant flexibility to dance well! ;-)

                  1. If you can cleave to your mate while they cleave the chicken in two, then you certainly may either bone or debone that cluckless, free range pecker if you so desire, and get the same result. English is a language up with which we all must put. ;-D

                    1. Here are some interesting stats.

                      Google hits on:
                      - "boned chicken": 49,600
                      - "deboned chicken": 27,300
                      - "mechanically deboned chicken": 11,100
                      - "mechanically boned chicken": 6

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: carswell

                        A boned chicken has its bones removed.
                        A boned corset has bones added. (Or stays, originally made of whalebone.)

                        Context and the nature of the item with or without bones determines usage.

                      2. This is hysterical, I just had almost this exact conversation with a few friends at a picnic yesterday. It started while we were eating cherries, and realized that we always say pitted cherries but if we were to talk about removing the stems we weren't sure whether stemmed or destemmed would be linguistically preferable. This led to a discussion of whether boning a leg of lamb would be a necessary prelude to butterflying it or an unnatural act, at which point the conversation descended into realms best kept off of Chowhound.

                        3 Replies
                          1. re: eastcoastgirl_westcoastlife

                            You also bone something when you *add* a bone, like adding bones
                            to a corset, or the unnatural/natural act mentioned.
                            Another corset reference above.

                            Maybe the confusion about the word -- are you adding or taking away bones? -- led to the advent of the word de-bone, clearly meaning to remove.

                          2. re: BobB

                            When you de-stem (the verb) something, you remove the stem, as in thyme or wine grapes at harvest. The thing is then de-stemmed (adjective).

                            When something is stemmed, it's an adjective that describes an item *with* a stem, like stemmed glassware -- meaning wineglasses.

                          3. "Boned" is correct, but I think that over time it will be eclipsed. Remember that dictionaries change over time to reflect usage, so in that sense they aren't strictly canonical.

                            A bit of a derailer: Something that drives me *NUTS* is the appending of "off" to cooking verbs. This is a completely unnecessary relatively recent innovation. A decade or so ago, one "browned" or "seared" or "steamed" something, not "brown it off" (different meaning entirely!), "seared it off", "steamed it off". I never heard this construction at all until I heard it on FN, and now it's everywhere.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: hungry_pangolin

                              Hallelujah, you are so right! This drives me crazy. Along with people who pair "a jean" with "a cute shoe" (you're only wearing one shoe? what does one jean look like?) But that's another channel and another bulletin board.

                              1. re: optimal forager

                                That is a borrowing from French, in which un pantalon has two legs. Utterly pointless in English, of course.

                                My Oxford Reference Dictionary has no entry for "debone", but defines "bone" as removing bones from meat or fish.

                                Sure, in French we say "d├ęsosser", but like un pantalon that is French, not English.

                                And isn't a "bake-off" a baking competition? Being "browned off" is a phrasal verb and a euphemism for stronger ones. (He was mightily browned off at not winning the bake-off")...

                              2. re: hungry_pangolin

                                When I worked in food R&D in the 80s, I first heard "bake it off", "cook it off"
                                and it sounded like ludicrously bad English to me.

                                Then I realized it was a food industry-ism. Now I also realize that that industry-ism is being repeated by those outside the industry -- normal folks.

                                My only guess as to how this awful "off"-ness got started was that once a food product was manufactured it was "done" -- even though the item had not been prepared. And when you "baked off" a frozen food item, you were testing it, evaluating it, treating it like a consumer naturally would. It still sounds awful to me.

                              3. true story: several years ago, mr. alka and i went to a resto in duck, n.c., where i ordered the "boned duck." lo and behold, the duck came.... with all the bones where the good Lord had put them. when i said to the server, it was supposed to have the bones removed, he replied, "well, it is, in fact, a BONED duck." he also "confirmed" that with the chef.

                                it was in the summer tourist season.....now i think of this in context of various chefs' stories of restos in summer in the hamptons.

                                ps, hungry pangolin, i too share your "off" pet peeve. i tried posting months ago to find why it is said, but my op was deleted!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: alkapal

                                  That's very funny. Some friends of mine and I used to vacation annually on the Outer Banks, so I know Duck, NC. I loved the area, but I would never accuse it of culinary sophistication. Things might have changed since then.

                                2. I unbone my chickens. They appreciate it.

                                  1. "Debone" came into vogue when "bone" came to mean you had to get engaged to the chicken when you were finished (anyone should be judicious in using the term "bone" with regard to any item that has cavities or orifices - -or could be made to have them). :-)

                                    1. I bone chickens, scale fish (and gut them), shell eggs, husk corn, skin small game, pit cherries and seed cucumbers, milk cows...all of which involve REMOVING the named component from the relevant item or creature.

                                      If you want to pick on a common phrase that is REALLY silly, how about "hot water heater"?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                        Or "dishwasher"? Mine doesn't wash dishes - mine just gets them hot. We have to wash them before we put them in the dishwasher.

                                        BTW: I've always wondered why "flammable" & "inflammable" meant the same thing.

                                      2. As a CA guy about to move to NJ, I couldn't stop laughing about the "What do you want?" remark. The grocery store staff in most CA markets in almost annoying in their insistence on greeting absolutely everyone with whom they make eye contact. In NJ the checkout person is much more likely to be an ill-trained part time teenager who doesn't speak to you at all, but the quality and selection of food in a good ShopRite blows Vons and Ralphs into the weeds. In NJ you bag your own groceries, in CA you pump your own gas. Different strokes...

                                        1. I often say 'bone out'. Not sure where I got that from. In the kitchens I have worked in, debone was more common than bone.

                                          Just don't use the word 'unthaw'. I used to work with a cook that would say she was taking things out of the freezer to 'unthaw'.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Sooeygun

                                            Hmmm...wouldn't "unthaw" be the same as "freeze"? ;-)

                                          2. I've had a long time to think about this thread -- long enough to start shopping for new knives. I have never seen a "deboning" knife -- but there are many high-end boning knives to be found. Maybe this is the clue.