Knife Skills: How to Cut Chicken Breasts Into Cutlets

Knife Skills

Videos and step-by-step guides, each highlighting an essential knife technique.

[Photographs and video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Learning how to cut a chicken breast into thin cutlets is an essential skill for weeknight cooking. Thinner chicken cutlets cook more rapidly than full-sized breasts and are ideal for searing or breading and frying in dishes like Chicken Marsala, Chicken Schnitzel, or Chicken Parmesan.

The most difficult step is the cutting: It requires a sharp knife and a bit of practice. If you're still a little green in the kitchen, you'll probably make a few holes in your chicken breasts before you get the hang of it—no worries, they'll still taste just as good.

Once you've got the breast split, the pounding is fun and easy. The key is not to pound too hard, which gives you less control over the final thickness and can lead to holes in your meat. So easy does it, okay?

Step 1: Split Breast

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Place a boneless, skinless chicken breast, with the tender removed, on a cutting board, and hold it flat with the palm of your non-knife hand. Using a sharp chef's, boning, or fillet knife, slice the chicken breast horizontally into two even pieces. It helps if you do this close to the edge of the cutting board.

Step 2: Open Bag

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Using your knife, split a gallon-sized zipper-lock bag along both edges so that it can be opened up into a flat sheet. Alternatively, you can use layers of plastic wrap, though plastic wrap has a tendency to tear during pounding.

Step 3: Sandwich Chicken

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Place the chicken between the layers of plastic, and spread the plastic out tight to avoid wrinkles, which can leave imprints on the meat's surface.

Step 4: Pound Chicken

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Use a meat pounder or the bottom of a sturdy eight-inch skillet to gently pound the chicken. When pounding, go slow and steady to avoid making holes. Rather than moving the pan directly up and down, use slight lateral motions to gently coax the chicken into shape. The goal is an even thickness and form.

Step 5: Done!

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When finished, the chicken should be an even quarter inch in thickness all around.