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While I was preparing bones for chicken stock today, I was rudely alerted to the fact that my cleaving technique was inadequate for bone-cutting when I nearly chopped off my left thumb. Fortunately my reflexes were quick enough such that I got away with only a cracked thumbnail and what felt like two simultaneous heart attacks.

I know that it's a supremely bad idea to have a hand anywhere near the cutting area when "hacking" with a cleaver. However, my work area is small, and the chicken does not really have a flat surface to rest on, and attempting to just hack one-handed would (and did) result in flying chicken shrapnel.

Is there a technique I can use for cutting through bone that is safe and precise?

(Related: How to cut a cooked chicken, including the bones, with a cleaver? That question, however, deals with cutting an entire chicken, which, unlike my scenario, doesn't require chopping through some of the thickest parts of the bone; most of it can even be done with a kitchen scissors.)

(Note - I did manage to solve this one myself after doing some digging, and will post my own answer, but I welcome other suggestions/techniques as well.)

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  • 5
    GladToHearYouWontBeTypingLikeThisInTheFuture.:)
    – hobodave
    Nov 6 '10 at 21:50
  • @hobodave: If only you knew just how close I came! It was a stupid move, but people do stupid things when they get desperate (and flying chicken bone projectiles counts as desperate in my book).
    – Aaronut
    Nov 6 '10 at 23:33
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The most reliable technique I found was the following:

  • Hold the cleaver in your left hand (assuming you are right-handed);

  • Press the cleaver from the top with your right hand to make a slight indentation into the bone, in order to maintain a stable hold for the next step;

  • Use a wooden mallet to pound the flat (top) end of the cleaver, again with your right hand.

This is completely safe and doesn't require precise aim. Usually even the thickest bones can be cleaved through completely with 2 or 3 hard whacks from the mallet.

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You can usually cut through the breast and back with a pair of shears. Then you can lay the chicken on the board and it will stay put.

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  • I've had very limited success with this approach but some people do swear by it. It's certainly worth keeping in mind as a potential option.
    – Aaronut
    Nov 8 '10 at 15:05
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    If you cut next to the spine it’ll be way easier for the shears.
    – Stephie
    Oct 30 '20 at 5:13
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I place the chicken on its back. Then place the cleaver against one side of the breast bone and hit the back of the cleaver with my palm, directing the cut to the center of the backbone. This breaks through the breast completely. Then I align the cleaver to the center of the backbone and hit the back of the cleaver with my left hand again. This splits the bird. I then rock the cleaver to cut any skin that didn't cut.

My cleaver is curved and very sharp but not too thin a leading edge, the trailing edge is rather thick. One could use a mallet if they prefer.

From that point I can quarter or piece the bird with a slicing movement through the joints with the same cleaver.

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