I recently started buying locally-grown chickens. When it comes to buying chicken this way, it seems my only option is to buy a whole chicken.

Right now I only know one way to cook a whole chicken, and that's roasting the entire thing in the oven. This is perfectly fine but I'd like a little variety.

Can anyone offer any suggestions? I don't need every meal to include the entire chicken, of course, but if I cook something that only uses breasts, for example, I'm going to need some complementary recipes for the rest of the bird.

7 Answers 7


If you use only the breasts, you can use the rest to make a broth/stock hybrid using meat and bones. You can also roast the rest of the bird and shred the meat to save up to put in soups, pot pies, chicken salad, or with a one-pot pasta meal.

Besides a standard roast, try butterflying (otherwise known as spatchcocking) your chicken. I do this regularly. The result is, in my opinion, much more flavorful than roasting the regular way.

Cooks Illustrated has many recipes that use chicken thighs. You may want to investigate those. You can also simply look into googling recipes for the different parts of the bird.

Finally, remember to freeze your bones and, when you get a quantity of them, make stock. It will be far tastier than store-bought stock and you can control what goes into it.


I'd say you should definitely learn how to break the chicken into serving pieces, and also how to de-bone the breasts and thighs. After all, this is what happens to chicken parts before they get to the supermarket--why not do it at home?

It's true that if you have a recipe that calls for four breasts you'll need to break down two chickens, but it's not like you have to throw the other parts away--you'll have them on hand for recipes that call for four legs, thighs or wings. And of course the rest of the carcasses are good for stock.


If you have a grill you have lots of options. You can roast the whole bird beer-can-chicken-style, which is of course similar to oven roasting but makes the meat very moist. My preferred method on a grill is to break the chicken down and marinate or season with a dry rub. Then you can control the cooking time of the individual pieces and parts: longer for the thighs and legs and shorter for the breasts and wings.

If you are breaking down and don't want to cook the whole bird at once, breasts can be prepared in a hurry by doing a quick pan fry and making a simple pan sauce, or an asian-style stir fry. You could freeze the legs and thighs until you have several and then do a long slow braise with them like a coq au vin. I'd definitely recommend seeking out similar braising recipes for legs and thighs. I also prefer the dark meat for fried chicken, so that's an option with them.

If you're not cooking the wings with the other parts, I'd save those with the bones and use them in making stock.

  • How could I forget beer can chicken? There was a great question about how to do it well a while back. Mm...
    – justkt
    Jan 13, 2011 at 21:27

I like to partially freeze a whole chicken by putting it in the freezer until it is just starting to freeze. At this point I can easily strip off the skin and put the whole thing in a big pot, like you cook spaghetti noodles in.

I also put a collapsible colander in the bottom. This catches the bones for easy removal later.

I toss in a couple of bouillon cubes or a Tablespoons of powdered soup base, along with some roasting veggies such as whole carrots and celery, and then put the chicken (skin removed) into the pot. I will sometimes boil the skin in a seperate pot so that I can have the skimmed fat saved for a few days in a jar to add as flavor enhancing to other dishes.

Cover the chicken with water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and put lid on loosely. This is a good time to throw in some herbs either loose or in a bag made from a square or cheesecloth or a ball tea-strainer.

Simmer until meat falls off of the bones. Allow to cool in the broth (it will absorb the broth and remain moist) so you can handle the meat.

Remove the meat from the broth by pouring off the broth into another container and separating out the meat.

Lift out colander and discard everything but the broth.

Save the broth for future meals by freezing or storing for a few days in a jar in the fridge, for a delicious stock.

Now you have precooked chicken you can put in a freezer bag or container. Use it anyplace you would cooked chicken in a recipe. Tacos, enchiladas, lasagna, chicken and dumplings, chicken sandwiches, stir-fry, chicken and rice pilaf, you get the idea.

You can also put this whole chicken in a crockpot on medium overnight instead of boiling it.

  • I don't have a good source for chickens like Jason, but I do the same, and poach chicken when it's on sale for later use.
    – Joe
    Jan 13, 2011 at 21:52

If you don't want to cook the whole bird, invest in a good knife, and cut up your chicken. Package the pieces into meal-sized units (thigh-leg, breast-wing). Use the remaining parts as you see fit (stocks, organ meat recipes, etc). That gives you a lot more flexibility on what you can do with the meat.

  • 1
    Search on youtube for jointing a chicken. You should get 2 x legs, 2 wings, 2 breasts, 2 thighs and the carcass. This gives up to 4 meals from a single bird.
    – NBenatar
    Jan 14, 2011 at 12:33

You can also put the whole chicken in the crock pot. Much juicer than oven-roasting, and you can make stock in the same pot after you pull the chicken out.


I often cook whole chickens by loosening the skin on the breast, creating a large pocket, and then stuffing the the space in there with finely chopped herbs. Often parsley, garlic, chili (without the seeds), thyme, plenty of salt, and plenty of olive oil.

I normally first pour olive oil and salt in the pocket, using my fingers to distribute it, and then the herbs.

Then cut a lemon in half, and put the two halves in the body of the chicken.

I just use the fingers to loosen the skin, but between the left and right sides of the breast, the skin is fastened to the breast. I loosen this using a knife, creating one large pocket, instead of two smaller ones.

Make a few cuts in the legs, and add as much as possible of the herb mixture in there as well, and then in the oven.

If you put the chicken on a layer of potatoes, the fat from the chicken will melt and add a nice flavor to the potatoes.

I once served this dish for a person who normally didn't eat chicken (I didn't know), but she was converted. Not only did she like it, because of it, she now willingly orders chicken when dining out. :)


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