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What are the 4 main cuts of chicken?

Chicken is a versatile protein that can be prepared in many different ways. There are four main cuts of chicken that are most commonly used: the breast, wings, thighs, and drumsticks. Each cut has its own unique qualities that make it suitable for certain cooking methods.

Chicken Breasts

Chicken breasts are the leanest part of the chicken. They contain more protein than any other cut, with fewer calories and fat. Chicken breasts can be prepared in a variety of ways including grilling, baking, sautéing, or broiling.

Chicken breasts are an extremely popular cut of meat. In the United States, the demand for chicken breast has steadily risen over the past few decades. According to the National Chicken Council, in 1965 the average American consumed about 28 pounds of chicken per year, with most of it being “spent hens” and fryer chicken, rather than chicken breasts. By 1985, the average consumption was up to 60 pounds per year, and the majority was young chicken. Today, the average American consumes around 90 pounds of chicken annually, and the vast majority of that is chicken breast.

There are a few reasons for the rising popularity of chicken breasts:

  • They are lean and low in fat. With rising health consciousness, many people are choosing chicken breasts over red meat for a healthier protein source.
  • They are versatile. Chicken breasts can be used in everything from soups and salads to sandwiches and main dishes. Their mild flavor makes them adaptable to different seasonings and cuisines.
  • They are quick and easy. Chicken breasts cook faster than many other cuts of meat, making them ideal for weeknight meals.
  • They are affordable. Chicken breasts are less expensive than many other types of meat.

The convenience, health benefits, and cost savings of chicken breasts make them an excellent staple protein for home cooks. Their mild taste and texture also appeals to children and picky eaters. Food manufacturers are capitalizing on the popularity of chicken breasts, offering consumers a wide array of packaged and prepared chicken breast products including breaded chicken cutlets, chicken nuggets, and pre-cooked grilled chicken.

Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the most popular cut of chicken. The bones and skin have been removed, giving home cooks a quick and easy protein option. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are extremely lean, with only around 3 grams of fat per 4-ounce serving. They can be used interchangeably in most recipes calling for chicken breasts.

Bone-In Chicken Breasts

Bone-in chicken breasts contain the breastbone and ribs. They have slightly more fat and calories compared to boneless breasts because they contain the skin and attached bones. The bones and skin keep the meat juicy and add extra chicken flavor. Bone-in chicken breasts work well for dishes where the meat is cooked on the bone, like fried or baked chicken. The bones can easily be removed after cooking.

Skin-On Chicken Breasts

Skin-on chicken breasts are boneless but still contain the skin attached to the meat. Leaving the skin on keeps the meat extra moist and adds richness from the chicken fat under the skin. The skins gets super crispy when seared or roasted at high heat. Chicken breasts cooked skin-on can be enjoyed with the skin on for added flavor or the skin can be removed after cooking.

Chicken Wings

Chicken wings are the meaty, tender sections of the wing from the chicken. They consist of three sections – the drumette, the wingette, and the wing tip. Chicken wings aresmall in size but full of flavor from the skin, bones, and cartilage. The bones make chicken wings ideal for deep frying, grilling, broiling, and roasting.

Chicken wings were initially an unwanted byproduct of the poultry industry. In the 1960s, chicken producers needed an item to do something with the wings since they couldn’t sell them. This led to the creation of the popular “Buffalo wing” by Teressa Bellissimo at the Anchor Bar restaurant in Buffalo, New York. She deep fried the wings and covered them in a tangy butter and hot sauce mixture. The spicy wings became a hit.

Soon after, the concept spread to other restaurants. By the 1990s chicken wings were a common menu item at bars and pubs for snacking and to complement beer. Their popularity boomed thanks to the rise of sports bars and increased television sports programming. Restaurants capitalized on the pairing of wings and sports, heavily promoting wing night specials and “All You Can Eat Wings” offers during big games. Several national and regional restaurant chains built their entire concept around chicken wings, like Hooters, Buffalo Wild Wings and Wingstop.

Today chicken wings remain a staple on sports bar menus and are also now common appetizers at backyard grilling parties. Consumers can easily find packaged, ready-to-cook wings at grocery stores. The demand for chicken wings has steadily increased over the last decade. According to the National Chicken Council, in 2021 the average American ate over 17 pounds of chicken wings! With the rise of delivery apps, wings traveled well and became one of the most ordered items for home delivery.

Whole Wings

Whole chicken wings contain all three sections – the drumette, wingette, and wing tip still attached. This gives a good ratio of meat vs. bone. Whole wings work well for oven roasting, broiling, air frying, and grilling. The various wing sections offer slightly different textures and flavors.


Drumettes, also called drummettes, are the thicker first section of the chicken wing. They contain more meat compared to the other wing sections. Drumettes are like mini chicken leg drums. They work well for saucing or tossing in flavorful spices.


Wingettes, sometimes called flats, are the middle section of the wing. They contain less meat than the drumettes but offer a unique shape for increased sauce coating and crisping. Wingettes are a favorite section for dipping and snacking.

Wing Tips

The wing tips, also known as wing drumettes, are the thinnest section of the wing, furthest from the chicken’s body. They contain the least amount of meat but lots of skin, fat, and cartilage. Wing tips are enjoyed by chicken wing aficionados for their rich flavor and crispy texture after cooking.

Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs come from the upper leg portion of the chicken. Skin-on, bone-in thighs contain the thigh bone and are attached to the chicken leg quarters. Chicken thighs have more fat, collagen, and calories compared to white meat chicken breasts. However, their rich flavor and juiciness makes them appealing for certain dishes.

Chicken thigh popularity varies greatly by region, with stronger preference in the American South and among soul food traditions. According to regional sales data from 2019, people in the Northeast U.S. buy chicken breasts over thighs by a ratio of 9:1. But in the South Atlantic, chicken thigh purchases nearly match chicken breast purchases.

Until modern poultry processing, chicken thighs were more economical than chicken breasts. One chicken contains two thighs yet two breasts, so chicken thighs offered more meat per bird. Additionally, chicken thighs were initially seen as less desirable than white breast meat. However, cooking trends and health movements have caused more interest in chicken thighs.

Popular diets like paleo and keto favor fattier cuts like chicken thighs over lean breasts. The fat content keeps chicken thighs moist during cooking and provides more flavor. Collagen from the skin also helps keep thigh meat juicy when roasted or braised. Chefs and home cooks also praise the richer taste of dark thigh meat. Chicken thighs can be baked, grilled, or pan seared.

Bone-in Chicken Thighs

Bone-in chicken thighs include the thigh bone and are sold skin-on or skinless. The bone adds moisture during cooking. Baking bone-in chicken thighs produces very juicy meat. The skin gets super crispy when cooked at high heat. Cooking thighs bone-in also allows for easy removal of the bones after cooking.

Boneless Chicken Thighs

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs offer convenience without the bones. They can be incorporated into recipes for tacos, stir fries, pasta dishes, and more. Cooks may miss some flavor and moisture from cooking without the skin and bones. But boneless thighs still contain more fat and collagen than chicken breasts.

Chicken Thigh Meat

Ground or chopped chicken thigh meat has increased in popularity. This allows for easily incorporating dark chicken meat into dishes like chicken salad, meatballs, and burgers. Ground chicken thigh has more fat than ground chicken breast, keeping the mixtures juicy. The strong chicken thigh flavor comes through when mixed into sauces, fillings, and stuffings.

Chicken Drumsticks

Chicken drumsticks are the lower part of the chicken leg. They consist of the thigh bone, drumstick bone, and the meat surrounding these bones. Chicken drumsticks are unique because they contain only one bone. This makes them perfect for handheld snacking. The meat also stays juicy and flavorful during high heat cooking thanks to the fat and collagen.

Chicken drumsticks are most popularly enjoyed as “chicken lollipops.” These are drumsticks with the skin on and bone attached but the foot removed. The exposed bone looks like a stick, creating a unique handheld shape. Chicken lollipops are easy to pick up and eat, ideal for snacking or appetizers.

In the poultry industry, chicken drumsticks are referred to as “value added” products. Special cuts like lollipops allow producers to sell more drumsticks rather than mostly selling boneless thighs and breasts. Removing the foot also increases appeal. To consumers, a chicken foot may seem unappetizing.

When fried or roasted, chicken drumsticks get crispy skin and succulent meat. Marinades and spices enhance the flavor. The bone protects the meat from drying out. Restaurants commonly offer deals on fried chicken drumstick buckets, making them a family-friendly and budget-friendly meal.

Chicken drumsticks are also popular for grilling. The bone gives stability on the grill grates. The bone also makes for easy holding while eating. Grilled drumsticks pair well with warm weather cooking and backyard barbecues. When properly cooked, the skin gets lightly charred and the meat becomes smoky.

Advantages of Chicken Legs

Chicken legs, including both drumsticks and thighs, offer several advantages over breast meat:

  • More fat and collagen – Chicken legs contain more fat under the skin and connective tissue in the meat. This keeps them moist during high heat cooking.
  • More nutrients – Chicken legs contain slightly higher amounts of minerals like iron and zinc compared to chicken breasts.
  • More affordability – Chicken drumsticks and thighs are typically more budget-friendly per pound than chicken breasts.
  • Handheld portability – The bones make chicken legs easy to hold and eat without utensils.
  • Suitability for slow cooking – The extra connective tissue allows chicken legs to stay tender in slow cookers and braises.

The advantages of juiciness, finger-licking flavor and affordability make chicken legs a favorite choice for many home cooks, parents, and restaurants.

Uses for Different Chicken Cuts

Each of the main chicken cuts offers versatility in cooking applications. Here is an overview of popular uses for each cut:

Chicken Breasts

  • Sautéed or pan seared
  • Baked or roasted
  • Grilled, sliced for sandwiches or salads
  • Poached and shredded for tacos, wraps, casseroles
  • Breaded and fried into schnitzel or cutlets
  • Ground or chopped into patties or meatballs

Chicken Wings

  • Deep fried into Buffalo wings, sauced or dry rubbed
  • Roasted in the oven
  • Grilled wings
  • Air fried
  • Simmered into chicken wing soup or stew
  • Smoked chicken wings

Chicken Thighs

  • Baked, broiled or roasted
  • Grilled, great with bbq sauce glaze
  • Cooked in stir fries, curry dishes, and braises
  • Stewed in tomato-based dishes
  • Fried into homemade fried chicken
  • Ground or chopped thigh meat for burgers or meatballs

Chicken Drumsticks

  • Fried into chicken lollipops
  • Roasted with spices and seasoning
  • Grilled drumsticks
  • Baked in the oven
  • Slow cooked in stews, soups, or barbecue sauces
  • Deep fried chicken drumsticks


Chicken is an extremely versatile ingredient. The four main cuts – breasts, wings, thighs, and drumsticks – each offer unique benefits. Chicken breasts are lean and mild tasting. Wings and drumsticks are perfect for snacking and deep frying. Thighs offer juicy dark meat.

Understanding the qualities of each chicken cut allows home cooks to select the best cut for their desired preparation method. Whether baking, grilling, stewing, or pan frying, there is a chicken cut perfectly suited. Taking advantage of different cuts like boneless breasts, wings, and drumsticks also provides variety to everyday meals.