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Break It Down: Turkey Carving Basics

By Natalie Boike
Created December 8, 2016
Carved Turkey
Exactly how to carve your holiday turkey, in five completely easy steps—plus all the turkey-carving tips you can shake a (drum)stick at.

Carving a turkey can be an intimidating task, particularly when you have a kitchen full of turkey stalkers just waiting to nab a bite pre-mealtime. I sat down with our resident kitchen pro to take the guesswork out of turkey carving. Here’s her five-step how-to, and our favorite handy tips for turkey carving success.

Carved Turkey

First of all, you’ll want a large cutting board—one big enough to hold the entire turkey. Some cutting boards even have a channel along their edges to collect any juices. If you don’t have one, simply place your cutting board inside a rimmed sheet pan to help collect the drippings for making gravy later, or drizzling over your carved turkey as-is.

Be sure to let your turkey rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. Resting gives time for the juices to redistribute, ensuring everyone gets a tender piece of meat. It also makes it much easier to carve the turkey. It can rest up to 30 minutes and still be warm enough for serving. It’s not essential to cover the turkey with foil while it rests, but if you do decide to cover it do so loosely to prevent steaming and keep the skin crisp.

Start with the slightly cooled turkey resting breast-side up on your cutting board, with the legs facing toward you. Remove any ties or skewers from trussing. Be sure to have your serving platter nearby so you can plate as you go. If your turkey is still too hot to handle, you can wear clean kitchen gloves.

Whole Roast Turkey

Step 1. Separate the white and dark meats.

While pulling leg away from body, cut to separate the drumstick from the breast. Repeat on the opposite side.

Carving a turkey

Lift the breast while holding down the legs to separate the top from the bottom. Use one firm cut through the backbone to cut your turkey in half. Set aside the breast meat—either on a second cutting board or by returning it to your roasting pan.

Carving a turkey

Step 2. Carve the leg and thigh meat.

Use your hands to open the turkey thighs and reveal the joints. Cut down again, this time separating the thigh from the backbone.

Carving a turkey

Now you can pull the thigh away from the drumstick and cut through the joint to separate.

Carving a turkey

Most people serve the drumstick whole. Remove the thigh bone from the underside of the meat. You should easily be able to do this with you hands. With the skin-side up, cut into slices.

Carving a turkey

Step 3. Remove the wings.

Clear your cutting board and bring your white meat back to the cutting board. Rotate the wings to find the joint. While firmly holding the wing, cut where it meets the body. Serve whole.

Carving a turkey

Step 4. Carve the breast meat.

Remove excess skin by lifting from the neck cavity and cutting close to the body.

Carving a turkey

Cut alongside the ribcage to remove the breast and tenderloin in one large piece. Use a sweeping motion to ensure you get the tenderloin underneath.

Carving a turkey

Hold the skin in place as you cut into slices, being careful to tuck your fingers and run your knife alongside the path of your knuckles for safety. Your slices should run opposite, or perpendicular to, the direction of your cuts to remove the meat from the ribcage. This across-the-grain cut ensures even slices that stay together for serving.

Carving a turkey

Don’t forget the wishbone! It’s easier to locate when the wings and breast meat are gone. Look in the V-shaped space above the breasts.

Step 5. Plate and serve.

As you can see, the whole process can get kind of messy, so we recommend carving in the kitchen before serving.

Carving a turkey

Gather those juices from your carving board and strain them into your pan to create your gravy.