How to Carve a Turkey

The classic image of a whole, golden-skinned turkey being carved on a platter at the dinner table is nice, but impractical. Let’s be real, if the carver doesn’t know what they’re doing, it can end up being a real hack-fest, and no one wants to see that. The person who carves the turkey is holding a place of honor at the feast, so if that person is you, it pays to learn how to do it the right way. Follow these tips to learn how to carve a turkey like a pro.

The old-school method of carving slabs of meat from the breast while it’s still on the turkey has some major flaws. It results in a grainier piece of meat, and some pieces won’t have any of the delicious crispy skin. We’ll explain how to remove the breast first, in whole pieces, and slice it against the grain for more succulent white meat, and a nice ratio of meat to skin on each piece.

Breaking down a 15-pound bird can be messy a business and take up a lot of room. Best to keep it in the kitchen, and bring everything out nicely arranged on a platter.

 

What you’ll need:

For carving, it’s best to have two cutting boards, and one of them should have a moat to catch the juices that will escape from your perfectly cooked turkey. Place the turkey on the board with the moat and do the main carving there. Use the other board to break down parts and slice meat for serving. Choose your sharpest knife, and if you have a whet stone or a honing steel, get it primed for business first. You’ll definitely need a towel, which can be used to stabilize the bird, or wipe your hands or knife. Have a warmed serving platter ready to transfer carved meat.

Let the turkey rest:
After you take the turkey out of the oven, remove it from the roasting pan and let it rest and cool for at least 20 minutes before you break out your knife. This reduces the risk of burning yourself when you carve, and lets those delicious juices settle back into the meat. Wait until your bird is easy to touch, then go to town.

Remove the whole leg at the joint:
Slice through the skin between the leg and the breast and pull the leg gently away from the body. Locate the joint where the thigh meets the hip. You might hear it pop as you move the leg…that’s good. Cut through the joint and remove the leg. This should be easy, but depending on the size of the bird, you may need to work the tip of the knife into the joint and gently rock it back and forth until the joint opens. Repeat on the other side.

Separate the drumstick from the thigh:
Follow the “V” of the leg to locate the joint between the thigh and the drumstick. Slice through the joint. You could cut the meat off the drumstick, but who doesn’t love to wield the drumstick like a Medieval king?

Remove the thigh bone:
Turn the thigh skin-side-down, and locate the thigh bone. Slice along both sides of the bone to remove it. Hold the end of the bone, and carefully scrape the meat away. That’s the pro technique, that will leave the thigh meat in one piece. If you need to, you can opt to cut the meat away from each side of the bone in two pieces instead. Flip the thigh skin-side-up. Remove the skin for easier slicing (optional). Slice the thigh meat across it’s width.

Remove the wings:
Using the same method as with the thigh, pull the wings away from the body. Slice through the joint. If you like, separate this piece into wings and drumettes. Repeat on the other side.

How to carve the breast meat
Find the breast bone (it’s actually cartilage) in the center of the breast meat, just above the wishbone. Carve along one side of the bone, and gently work the knife close the body, pulling the meat away in one whole piece. Slice the breast meat across it’s narrow width. This cuts the meat across the grain, ensuring a more tender result. Repeat on the other side.

Arrange on a platter:
Make it pretty. A beautiful platter of turkey makes a great centerpiece for your table. Place all of the sliced meat, drumsticks, and wings on a warmed platter. Make it clear which is white meat, and which is dark, so your guests can choose their favorite. Decorate with fresh herbs, sliced citrus, or other garnish.