Step 1: The Tools
To break down a chicken, you'll need a chicken, a sharp chef's knife, and either a set of poultry shears or a cleaver. Extra coolness points if you've got the cleaver.
Step 2: Spread'em
Grab the chicken by the drumstick and pull the leg outwards from the body until the skin is stretched taught.
Step 3: the First Incision
Start the operation by cutting through the skin between the leg and the body. Don't cut too deep—just through the skin. No matter what Cat Stevens says, the first cut should be the shallowest.
Step 4: Pop the Joint
Grab the leg in one hand and twist it downwards away from the body until the ball joint pops out of the socket. This shouldn't require much force.
Step 5: Remove Thigh
Use your chef's knife to completely remove the leg by cutting through the joint you just exposed, making sure to get the little nugget of meat that sits closest to the chicken's spine (this is called the oyster, and should be fought over at the table).
Step 6: The Other Foot
Repeat steps 2 through 5 on the second leg.
Step 7: Crack the Back
Hold the chicken by the backbone and position it vertically on your cutting board with the butt end pointing up. Use your chef's knife to cut through the skin and cartilage between the breast and the back. Cut until you get through the first or second ribs.
Step 8: Break Out the Cleaver
Switch over to your cleaver, and continue cutting through the ribs using short, firm strokes. Alternatively, use poultry shears to cut the through the ribs on both sides.
Step 9: Cut Through Shoulders
Use the tip of the cleaver to cut through the shoulder bones on either side (or use poultry shears).
Step 10: Half Way Done!
The backbone should now be completely separated from the breast. Save it for stock.
Step 11: Split the Breast
To split the breast, cut through either side of the breast bone until you hit the sternum. Using your free hand, press down firmly on the blade until it cracks through the bone.
Step 12: 4-Piece Chicken
If you are only looking for 4 pieces of chicken, you're all done! To continue breaking it down into 8 pieces, read on...
Step 13: Find the Ball
Use your fingertip to locate the ball joint between the thigh and drumstick.
Step 14: Cut at Joint
Cut through the joint with your chef's knife, separating the thigh from the drumstick.
Step 15: Divide the Breasts
Cut each breast in half crosswise by pressing down on your knife blade with your free hand until you crack through the breastbone.
Step 16: Finished
Eight pieces of chicken, ready for stewing, braising, frying, or handing out as Halloween treats.