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Whole chicken newbie - what to do besides roasting? Freezing tips appreciated!

  • l

I never buy whole chickens. When I buy chicken, I usually wait until club packs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts go on sale, then stock up and freeze them whole or cut into cubes and divided into portions for future recipes. I'm not against dark meat, I just never seem to buy it unless I'm buying an already-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.

We're trying to be healthier, and so today I was looking at the grain-fed chicken rather than the regular stuff. (Unfortunately not on sale.) it's dramatically more expensive, but in addition to that, for only a couple of dollars more than four boneless, skinless breasts, I could buy two chickens! So that's what I did! Only now I'm stuck not knowing what to do with them.

My first thought was to roast one for dinner tomorrow and freeze the other. I was going to cut all the meat off the bones and freeze it in portions the way I usually do, but it seems like a lot of work. And two thighs doesn't seem like a good portion of meat the way two breasts does. And two wings? What do I do with those?

Buying the whole chickens seems to make the most economic sense if we're going to keep eating the better chicken, so I'd like to figure out the best way to cook and store whole chickens!

In particular:

- How do I store/freeze them for quick later use?

- What recipes do you recommend for all the parts I'm not as familiar with? (I.e. Everything that's not breast.)

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  1. Once you get used to it, you can butcher a chicken in under 10 minutes. Just check out the videos on youtube, and make sure to use a sharp knife (but not your nicest chef's knife, I usually go for my utility).

    You can cut out the backbone with good kitchen shears (save it for stock), break the breastbone, then barbecue the whole thing under a brick. Taste's great!

    I have a thigh for dinner all the time, and it's certainly enough for me. IMO, it's more filling than breast as it's got more fat and flavor in it. My favorite easy thigh recipe: pre-heat your oven to 375. Dry off the thighs with a paper towel, and season with salt and pepper. Get an oven-safe skillet good and hot (I use cast iron or stainless), then add some vegetable oil. Sear for two minutes on each side, throw some hearty vegetables in the pan, then finish in the oven.

    Cut up pieces are great in coq au vin, which lasts for a few days in the fridge.

    You can also poach the chicken by covering with water, bringing up to a boil, then bringing down to a simmer. You should end up with a flavorful broth and a fully cooked chicken. When it's done, you can shred it, use some of the chicken plus some vegetables for soup, and save the rest for other dishes.

    I cut the wings into two pieces, and cut off the wing tips to save for stock. I save the wings in the freezer, and when I have enough, I make bbq wings.

    The gizzards taste amazing breaded and fried, and I usually make pâté from the liver to spread on toast for breakfast.

    1. After you've eaten your share of roasted chicken, pull the meat off the bones and use the carcass (plus maybe those wings, though I think wings are delicious just like that) to make stock. Freeze your shredded chicken and use it for soups, chicken tacos, chicken salad, etc. You'll find more than enough things to do with a good hearty chicken stock.

      1. Anything you used to use pre-cut chicken breasts for, you can use your whole chicken for. I never ever buy pre-cut chicken now, just because we do save a lot of money buying them whole.

        I like to use my leftover roasted chickens for soup. It adds whole new dimension to the soup. It's so fabulous.

        If I don't feel like roasting it(which I rarely get tired of because there are so many different recipes out there. You can do an herb chicken, or a spicy one, or a bright lemony one, or my favorite salt, pepper, and butter), I'll cut it up and do something different with it. Maybe bread and fry it.

        There are lots of great and tasty things you can do with a whole chicken.

        1. Thanks so much, everyone!

          I just have another quick question about freezing. We eat a lot of curries and soups and things where the meat is in small pieces in sauce. Up until now, I would freeze my chicken breasts already cut up into bits, and portioned out so that I could quickly defrost as much as I needed for that meal.

          With whole chickens, am I better off cooking the meat first to get it all off the bones? Legs have so many random bits of bone and tendon and whatnot in them, I worry about my ability to get all the meat off without mangling everything terribly. Or if I'm going to freeze bits, is my best bet to cube the breasts, and freeze the legs whole for a different type of dish?

          Other threads I've read suggest that the cooked meat doesn't freeze as well as uncooked, unless it's already in a sauce. Has anyone else had this experience?

          3 Replies
          1. re: looz

            It's true, you're better off freezing raw chicken than cooked unless it's in a sauce. If you don't plan to roast it whole, your best bet would be to portion it up as you're likely to use it, then wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap and place them all in an air-tight plastic bag. I would not cube the breasts first because A) that gives you more flexibility in using them later (you may decide to do a whole breast recipe), and B) cutting them up creates more surface area, thus more potential for freezer burn.

            1. re: BobB

              I'll always use chicken bits - they're so easy to toss into a weeknight meal such as curry, soup, stir fry, etc. In the past I would come home with two club packs of chicken breasts, freeze four breasts whole, and cube the other 8-10, and run out of bits first! I have a foodsaver vacuum sealer, so that helps keep out the freezer burn.

              For lazy times when I don't want to spend a lot of time prepping the bird for freezing, how long does it take to defrost a whole chicken? How about the bone-in legs and breasts? (I'll most likely vacuum those individually.) Will this still be a practical option for nights when I just want to pull something out of the freezer and make dinner?

              1. re: looz

                A whole frozen bird can easily take a day or more to defrost in the refrigerator, so nothing last-minute there. Chicken parts take less time and can be safely defrosted pretty quickly in a bowl of warm water.

          2. i'm still wondering what exactly you paid premium money for? all industrial chickens are grain-fed -- soy and corn.

            you've gotten some good suggestions so far and i definitely recommend saving the bones and wingtips for stock.

            8 Replies
            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Sorry - antibiotic and hormone free as well. And they just looked different - I've been kind of grossed out by a lot of the chicken I've bought lately, all white and squishy. This was more "meaty" looking, less squishy.

              And from what I understand, while all chickens are fed *some* grain, they're also fed ground up bits of chicken and cow. (Feeding the bits of cow back to the cows was what spread mad cow disease, which is why you can now only feed the cow bits to chickens, not back to cows.)

              Though now that I think about it, grain-fed doesn't necessarily mean *all* grain fed.... sigh.

              1. re: looz

                there are no hormones in chicken feed. antibiotics is what they get to speed growth and as a secondary result, prevent disease.

                chickens can legally be fed other chickens, you're right. kinda gross, but honestly, a chicken will eat about anything, even its kin.

                while i appreciate your health concerns, "grain-fed" on a label is essentially meaningless, and may almost be worse, since chickens should eat a varied diet instead of being forced to consume so much gmo corn and soy.

                honestly, i don't ever buy meat at those wholesale clubs.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  These are all supermarket chickens - both the club packs and the "theoretically healthier" ones. I have to say, what really swayed me this time was how it *looked.*

                  So I'm probably another victim of marketing. I've been trying to improve the quality of the food we buy, while still being budget-conscious. It's hard, with so much greenwashing, and the better stuff being *so* much more expensive than regular grocery-store stuff, especially when it's on sale.

                  Out of curiosity, where do you buy your meat? There's an organic butcher near us, that I *swore* I would shop at exclusively when we moved here. But it's just so far out of our budget. I go there for special treats, but that's it.

                  1. re: looz

                    i very much appreciate your budget issues. i share your pain.

                    last summer, the b/f bought an organic/free-range/blah/blah chicken from the local farmer's market. it was absurdly tiny, withe very little actual meat on the thing. he paid $27 for it! i nearly had a stroke. when it was cooked? we were still hungry because it was so small, lol. never again.

                    mostly i buy meat from butchers. real butchers who cut their own meat. this means i can also get stuff like marrow bones and "off-cuts" pretty cheaply. we prefer those types of cuts to breast meat or loins anyway.

                    1. re: looz

                      I think you'll find that your chicken will improve every step you take away from the industrial chicken...even if you don't go all the way to organic, heritage breed, free range chicken that get massages and have Beethoven played to them in the incubator.

                      Here's my personal chicken chart:

                      Sam's individually frozen breasts - awful (sorry Mom)
                      Regular grocery store chicken - also awful (stringy and tough)
                      "All Natural" chicken, meaning no antibiotics all veg feed - WAY better
                      Whole foods chicken, also organic and free ranging (free-er) - Even better
                      Farmer's market specialty $$$$$ chicken - starting to go the other way, don't ask me why, several I've had taste...i dunno...bloody....gamey...we joke that they aren't "dead enough". Can chicken be TOO fresh?

                      Anyhow, I don't think you're a marketing victim, i bet this chicken WILL taste better. But I suggest that if you have a Whole Foods, watch their adds for chicken specials. They had whole chick for $1.99/lb. a while back.

                      1. re: danna

                        Yes they can be too fresh. I belong to a meat CSA and they give you instructions about cooking when you pick up your monthly bag of meat. Every month I get one whole chicken and if they were slaughtered recently they tell us to wait a day or two before making or we can freeze it.

                        1. re: melpy

                          Interesting - I usually by freshly slaughtered (as in a couple of hours ago) chicken, but have never had a problem with flavour.

                  2. re: looz

                    We believe that pasture raised chickens are one of the best you can get out there. Our local WholeFoods has them, sold for $4 a pound. These birds don't look anything like the others, not even the organic ones. The pasture raised ones has a much deeper yellow/orange color in the skin and fat. They say it's because of all the bugs they get to eat outside. The breasts are much smaller, but they have bigger wings and thighs, and longer legs.

                    However, I'm not sure what kind of feed / supplements they get in the barn. I probably should do some research on it. I just hope that the farmers probably don't need to feed them crap if the chickens are healthy to start with.

                    There's only the two of us in the house, and the only whole chicken we have roasted at home were cornish hens. When I buy a regular sized chicken, normally I butcher it up immediately. Once you've butchered a few chickens, you can do it in no time. The most time consuming part, I think, is deboning and removing the fat from the dark meat.

                    If the breasts are too big, I slice off the tenderloins and save them up in the freezer until I have enough. They're perfect for chicken fingers, kebabs...

                    I almost always debone the thighs. There's so much fat interlaced within the muscle. Once I'm done, I either have a slab of meat for roasting, or slice it into strips for stir fry. I usually dice it up and make chicken quesadilla. Sometimes I mix thigh meat with tenderloins.

                    I used to leave the legs bone-in, but they take so long to cook through. I have recently started deboning the legs as well. If I do a horrible butchering job, I simply grind the meat! Plenty of things you can make with ground chicken, burgers, croquettes, meatballs, pies... If you plan to leave them bone-in, try braising them.

                    We usually save the wings until we have enough. Marinate them overnight and they hit the grill or saute pan. YUM. Wings + leg drumsticks are perfect finger food.

                    Of course you have to make chicken stock using the carcasses. Organic chicken stocks are so expensive these days, and they are no where as good as homemade versions.

                    I was skeptical about butchering my own chicken at first, now I'm never going back. It's going to be fun!

                2. Chicken I am working on for dinner
                  Letting it maridade then will roast it in a clay pot.

                  For organic chickens,
                  I do buy mine at a wholesale club, its the same brand found in supermarkets, natures harvest or something
                  Except supermarket charges like $10 each, wholesale club has it for 2 for like $14-15 or so.

                  As others said, when not roasting I butcher it , and freeze it in smaller portions, so don't have to defrost a whole chicken when I just want a breast, and save the scrap for stock.
                  As for waste? Very little waste, and you just get better at butchering with each one.
                  Watch some videos online and they will show you exactly where to make the cuts

                  1. Well, now that we have gotten the my chicken is more natural, free range, healthier out of the way, let me try to give you a few suggestions on your post.

                    This is for short term only. Go to the store and ask a manager where the freezer bags are for meat. They will show you what works. To quickly chill and freeze the chicken pieces, do not fill the bags up. You want a single layer so they will freeze as quickly as possible. Make sure they are on the bottom of the freezer, not other items.

                    Thank you Mom for showing me two things the night before I left for college. How to write a check, and how to take a whole chicken apart. Go to YouTube and follow the action, pausing when you need to catch up. A fairly stiff sharp knife will make things a lot easier.

                    Chicken thighs are wonderful things. Loosen the connectors at both ends of the bone.Push the bone through the meat. Toss the bone in the stock pot. Now you have a pocket ready for cheese, veggies, or sausage meat. Season and bake in the oven or with a little butter and wine in a fry pan.

                    Drum sticks aren't as large as they use to be, so figure two per person. Season and broil in the oven. They go quick, so don't wander off and check other posts. Keep turning until they are an even, moist brown. In a sauce pan, combine Soy or teriyaki or worsctershire with an exotic jam. I like guave, for others it might be habenero. Heat level is at your discretion. Once melted, put thick end of drumstick down in saucepot. Put pot under broiler for a minute and serve from pot. Goes well with rice.

                    Chicken backs have more going for them than most people realize. First remove the skin and set aside. Put the backs in cold water with a table spoon of salt per quart. Half a dozen peppercorns, not ground.

                    Bring water almost to a boil and leave there for 1 hour. Meanwhile, back to the chicken skins.

                    Pierce the meat least twice with three or four short skewers and tye the ends so it looks like a fan. Brush with teriyaki sauce sweetend with honey or Karo. Put under broiler and brush with sauce and flip as it browns. Finished when it is fairly stiff and most of the fat has rendered.

                    Take the chicken back stock off the heat and let cool. Putting a hot pot into a fridge with glass shelves is a very bad thing. Pull the backs out and put into a bowl. Pick the meat off the bones.

                    You now are ready for chicken and rice. Stir meat into cooked rice, add cooked onion and celery. Add soy sauce and bake in oven until dry looking, in a greased dish. This is college level fried rice, in a popcorn popper.

                    When serving, put the fan of crunchy chicken skin artfully to one side. For chicken three way, put a fried egg on top. Four way is with the chicken stock. Remove the grease from the top and pour stock into another pot until the junk on the bottom starts to go over the lip. Add some rounds of carrots to the now soup and bring to a boil and turn it off. Taste for salt and pepper and serve.

                    Cooking a whole chicken. Split the chicken down the breast bone or down the center of the backbone. You.re choice. Spread it out and start to flatten. Don't worry, the bird can't feel a thing. You want it as flat as possible with as many joints seperated as possible. We called it roadkill method, but I have been informed that the technical term is spatchcocked. Thank you Hounders!

                    Salt and pepper both sides. Put skin side up over a base of garlic cloves, orange slices, or fresh herbs. Bake in the oven at 350 F until the juices are clear. Crisp the skin for a few minutes under the broiler. Carving is easy as it has already been disjointed and after that intimate interlude ramming it into the counter, you now know where every one is.

                    The garlic cloves taste wonderful on toast. They will slide right out of the husk and spread like butter. To make orange sauce, while the bird is on the serving platter, put back under the broiler with a sprinkling of brown sugar. When it bubbles, scrap everything into a sauce pan. Squeeze as much juice as you can out of the oranges into the pot. Bring to heat stirring and add water and cornstarch if needed to thicken. Great with root veggies that were around the edge of the bird in the oven.

                    Have fun. Experiment. You will make mistakes, and that's why we have garbage cans. With a little planning and flexibility, you will never have to pay the grossly inflated prices for boned and seperate pieces again. Your budget will love you.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      I thought it was..".if you make a mistake there is always pizza".
                      PS..I never pay more than 1.00 $ per pound for a whole chicken. It shouldn't cost more than a 4.99 $ store bought rotiesserie bird.
                      Tastes good to me and my family when properly roasted..I must be some lowbrow cad.
                      And even a storebought Wegmans chicken is still pretty good for you compared to a lot of foods. So I don't feel the need to overhealth an already pretty healthy whole food. My "healthy" clean up endeavors can be better served on more processed expensive fare.

                    2. Thank you to everyone for all your tips! I watched a bunch of youtube videos on butchering and deboning, but then got crazy busy and just ended up cooking both chickens whole. We ate one, and I pulled the meat off the other, where it's still sitting in the fridge. Butchering will come next time!

                      I *am* looking forward to trying everyone's suggestions next time I buy whole chickens (which I'm going to make a point of from now on.) Thank you again for all your ideas!

                      I did make stock from the carcasses - tried it in the crockpot. It doesn't taste as good as my turkey stock (usually done on the stove) - I may have forgotten something in the busy-ness, though.

                      I'm totally jealous of the people who get such inexpensive chickens! I live in an expensive part of town in an expensive (for food) city. Rotisserie chickens are $9.99 at my grocery store, and they're a great bargain at costco at $7.99. My grain-fed chickens were $11 each. No five dollar chickens here!

                      It never occurred to me to buy chickens at Whole Foods (we tend to only go there a couple times a year, either for lunch at the salad bar, or to sample cheeses on the weekend!) I signed up for their newsletter, so hopefully I will get some good deals on happy chickens!

                      Thank again!

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: looz

                        One way to partially break down your chicken is to spatchcock it. (cut out the backbone with kitchen shears and flatten the whole thing). It requires no skill ( tons of videos in YouTube) which is why I love it and the end product takes half the time to roast or grill. I also cut the flattened birds in half, vacuum seal them with marinade (oil, fresh lemon juice, garlic, chopped flat leaf parsley and cilantro, salt and pepper), and freeze them. When they are thawed they are ready to thrown in the oven or on the grill. As there is only two of us, half a bird makes one dinner and one or two servings of leftover cooked chicken.

                        1. re: lunchslut

                          I am completely hooked on spatchcocking using poultry shears... takes two minutes to cut out the back bone, flatting the bird and either grill it or roast it on very high heat over a bed of vegetables. I love crispy, well seasoned chicken skin, and spatchocking the bird makes every inch of the skin crisp up because it's all exposed directly to the flame or heat.

                          1. re: mcf

                            Okay, this spatchcocking sounds amazing. I'm all for things that are quick, easy, and delicious! I love that they freeze flat, and defrost quickly!

                            1. re: looz

                              It's just as easy to cut the bird in half. You'll accomplish the same thing.

                              Learning how to cut up poultry is one key to saving a whole lot of money.

                            2. re: mcf

                              brilliant stuff. i have the butcher do my thanksgiving turkey this way now too! first time i asked him to do it, he'd never heard of it, which i found kind of weird, but he instantly realized what a great trick it is.

                              it totally prevents dry white meat and undercooked dark meat. greatness.

                            3. re: lunchslut

                              Never heard the term spatchcocking
                              But that is how I bbq(grill for those terminolgy fanatics) my chickens whole.
                              Split it, flatten it, liberally cover it in dry rub(which I make myself), grill it.

                            4. re: looz

                              Chicken stock never tastes as good as turkey stock - there's something magical in the turkey that makes it much richer! Make sure you aren't using too much water - just enough to cover the bones is what you're going for.

                              Also, since you're using the crockpot, you can go much longer than with other stock-making methods. I go 18-24 hours, until the bones crumble, which gives me rich chicken jelly.

                            5. Absolutely delicious, succulent chicken can be had through Jeff Smith ( the Frugal Gourmets) Chinese method of poaching. Don't let the simplicity of the recipe make you think it will be bland!
                              You are essentially searing the skin so all the flavor from the fat creates a moist, scrumptious meat. Don't be alarmed with the gelatin that occurs in the bowl once refrigerated. This is great stuff to add to a dish and it helps preserve the meat.

                              Once this is done there are any number of quick recipes you can add the meat to. Smith's chicken with leeks and cream is a classic. Sandwiches, salads, casseroles, skillet dishes - endless possibilities.


                              3 Replies
                              1. re: meatn3

                                I used this method of Smith's many times years ago, as part of a recipe that involved taking all the meat off the chicken, piling it on a plate, covering it with cut up scallion pieces, drizzling with some soy sauce and maybe some sesame oil, and then pouring boiling hot peanut oil over it all. Great dish that I should make again. :-)

                                1. re: mcf

                                  I do this all the time as well. Note that the more "authentic" Chinese recipes call for a solution of anywhere from 25% to 50% Soy Sauce. So in a 10-quart stockpot I use 2 quarts of Soy Sauce (buy it by the gallon at Costco) to 6 quarts of water. When you're done cooking, you boil the solution down to about a quart and put it in a Mason jar, and it keeps virtually indefinitely in the fridge for use next time.

                                2. re: meatn3

                                  @meatn3 - Thanks for reminding me that I have access to the Frugal Gourmet via Youtube and that I have no excuse for not having any ideas when I'm tired of my usual chicken recipes.

                                  @looz - If you've been watching Youtube videos you may have seen these, but just in case I thought I'd post the links.

                                  In this one, Jeff Smith cuts up a chicken before beginning the recipes which include:
                                  chicken stuffed with potatoes and olives (Italy), chicken piccata (Italy), stuffed chicken thighs, pan-fried chicken strips, and chicken pieces with lime. :

                                  Fancy Chicken Dishes Part 1:

                                  If you click on the progress bar at about the 11:50 mark of the link below, you can see the finished dishes to see if you think it's worth your time watching the whole episode.
                                  Fancy Chicken Dishes Part 2:

                                3. First off, I think chicken tastes way better when purchased whole and cooked on the bone. Also, it's more economical as you discovered, and you can make stock with the carcass -- the key to delicious soups.

                                  I love me a roast chicken, but there are also tons are easy and delicious recipes in which you braise the chicken in a pot with veggies, sauce, herbs, etc. One of my favorites is Julia Child's "Poulet Poele a l'Estragon" (tarragon chicken) recipe.


                                  1. First of all, you're in for a treat in terms of flavor and texture. To me, a roasted whole bird is almost always superior to pre-cut breasts. There is just no comparison. One thing I do for a quick weeknight meal: Spread some mustard on the thighs and coat with some panko or other breadcrumbs. Roast for 20 minutes or so in a 425 degree oven. I put some potatoes in the pan and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. It's very good.

                                    The chickens that are better raised are certainly more expensive, sometimes prohibitively so for some. Small farms do not have the subsidies that agribusiness has and many choose to grow their chickens without the drugs which makes the process much longer and much more costly. Ethics and environment aside, I think it also yields a far more tasty bird!

                                    If you end up spending more on a chicken, see if you can stretch it over more meals. For us, we roast a pricey farmers market bird and have 2 meals one night with the roasted meat. Another 2 dinners the next with the leftovers tossed with some noodles or pasta, often another meal with the leftover dark meat tossed with some lime juice and black beans and served with tortillas, and yet another meal of rich chicken soup with some bread or pasta. At that point, even using a top tier bird rarely ends up costing us more than a few bucks per meal.

                                    Happy cooking and please report back!

                                    1. Hainanese chicken rice.

                                      (Look it up)

                                      1. ...or Soy Sauce Chicken.

                                        (Look this up too) :-)