Chicken Parts 101: What to Do With Each Cut

Here’s your guide to chicken anatomy.

What's the difference between a chicken thigh and a drumstick — and where do breasts and wings fit into the equation? If you've ever found yourself staring blankly at the poultry aisle in the grocery store, you've come to the right place. Here's what every cook should know about the different parts of a chicken (and how to use each one):

Whole Chicken

Raw Chicken in Butchers Paper
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When you've got a whole chicken on your hands, you've got the whole shabang: One breast (with two halves), two thighs, two drumsticks, and two wings. If you don't want to cook the chicken whole, you can segment it at home or let a butcher handle the dirty work. Buying a chicken whole is cheaper than buying it piece-by-piece, so this is a good option if you're working with a tighter budget.


The options here are pretty much limitless. Roast or grill the bird for an impressive dinner, cook it in your slow cooker or Instant Pot, or use its parts separately. Don't even think about throwing your leftovers away: Use them to make a cheap and versatile chicken stock.


Juicy Roasted Chicken

More: Ways to Use a Whole Chicken


Raw chicken breast on white plate
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The breast is a lean cut of white meat found on the underside of a chicken. A whole breast includes two halves, which are usually separated and sold individually. The breast is loosely attached to a thin muscle called the tenderloin (this is where chicken tenders come from). Because the white meat from the breast is generally considered more desirable than other parts of the chicken, it is often more expensive.


There are countless ways to use a chicken breast. Try them baked, grilled, boiled, fried, or barbecued. Breasts are low in calories but high in protein, so they fit seamlessly into a healthy diet.


Chef John's Chicken and Mushrooms
Chef John

More: Chicken Breast Recipes


Two chicken legs on chopping board
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Each leg consists of two dark meat cuts: thighs (the top portion) and drumsticks (the bottom portion). You can buy leg quarters — which includes a thigh, a drumstick, and a portion of the back — or you can buy drumsticks and thighs separately. Leg meat is generally less expensive than breast meat. Legs are fattier than breasts, so they're quite juicy and flavorful when cooked correctly.


Drumsticks and thighs are great for smoking, frying, barbecuing, as their extra fat makes them difficult to overcook. Pair them with a side or stir their meat into a hearty soup.


More: Chicken Leg Recipes


Raw chicken wings.
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Each wing can be divided into three parts: the wing tip (the outermost section that is typically thrown away), the drumette (this looks like a small drumstick), and the wingette (some people call this part the "flat"). Chicken wings, which are considered white meat, are budget-friendly and easy-to-prepare.


Chicken wings are most commonly baked or fried and eaten as a finger food. A sports bar staple, they're served as an appetizer or an entree.


Restaurant-Style Buffalo Chicken Wings
Photo by Tricia Winterle Jaeger.

More: Chicken Wing Recipes

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