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Turkey - How to Carve a Turkey

Updated on November 15, 2017
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Jan has been cooking and writing about food for over 20 years. She has cooked on multiple television stations, including the Food Network.

How to Carve a Turkey - Simple Tricks for Carving a Turkey

Carving a turkey can be a little bit messy, but it's not hard. Don't be afraid - this will show you exactly how to look like a pro!
Carving a turkey can be a little bit messy, but it's not hard. Don't be afraid - this will show you exactly how to look like a pro!

Ok - you've brined the bird, roasted it off and allowed it to rest. Time to carve!

This particular chore seems to be rather daunting - perhaps it's too many images of someone approaching the turkey with carving knife and fork in hand. And I personally find it a bit unfair to do all the cooking and then allow someone else to have the 'ta-da' of carving. I made that turkey! I'm going to carve it!

Of course, you may not want to do the carving in front of your guests - it can be rather messy, and turkey carcasses are notorious for their desire to shoot off serving platters. You can cheat - like I often do - and have two smaller birds instead of one large one. Not only are smaller birds more tender and juicy, it lets you carve one in the kitchen in private for a platter, and have another for presentation at the table! Cheating and winning! Yay!

Seriously - carving a turkey isn't hard. Check out the video for how quick and easy it is. There are step by step instructions there, and I'll list the easy steps below. So relax, grab that carving knife and have at it!

Keep in mind....

Two things you can do to start off on the right path to carving - make sure you're carving on a sturdy surface, and make sure your knives are as sharp as possible.

Pretty as they are, serving platters aren't great for carving. They are often lipped or curved, and the best surface for carving is absolutely flat. Be careful with the carving surface - if you have to have it on a platter, just pay attention to where the bird is. It'll be less likely to slip away from you.

Sharp knives are a must as well. The legs, thighs and wings will pop off at the joints just by slicing through the skin that holds them on. But pretty slices off the breast require a very sharp knife. A dull knife will shred the meat and make slicing the skin difficult if not impossible - so this is a very first step.

One other thing to keep in mind - the more the turkey has rested, the easier it will be to carve. Resting is allowing the bird to sit for half an hour after it comes out of the oven. This allows the juices in the meat, which rushed to the surfaces during cooking, to redistribute throughout the meat itself. The meat will be firmer and less likely to shred. In addition, once rested, the bird will have dropped in temperature from about 180F to less than 160F. 160F is still pretty dang hot, but it's much easier to manage than the additional 20 degrees. Hot poultry and sharp knives can be an ugly combination. Don't skip the resting. Not only does resting make sure that the meat will stay juicy it also makes the carving that much easier. It does too much to skip.

All right! Ready to carve!

 So you've got your rested bird on a steady surface, and your knives are nice and sharp. You're ready!

  1. Start by removing the legs and thighs. Take off all trussing, and grasp a drumstick at the end. Slice through the skin at the juncture of the thigh and breast. You'll see two joints - one for the leg and thigh, and one for the thigh and back. It doesn't matter what order you separate them in - just slide the tip of a sharp paring knife into the joint, wiggle it gently, and it should pop right apart. Slice through any additional skin holding the leg and thigh to the bird and to each other, and set the four pieces on a platter. These can be carved further for the dark meat.
  2. Turn the bird and repeat the process to remove the wings. Although they get in the way a bit, the wings will actually help stabilize the bird on the platter, so sometimes I leave them in place until I've carved the breast. Especially if I'm carving in front of anyone. The order doesn't matter a bit. But once you've popped them off, set them on the platter. They don't have anything you can carve off further, but lots of people like them for the extra acreage of crispy skin, and the tiny bits of succulent white meat they have.
  3. To carve the breast, make a horizontal cut, lengthwise down the bird, at the bottom of the breast. You can do this with a paring knife, feeling your way as close to the bone as possible, or just make one long cut with a chef's knife. This releases the white meat at the bottom, which will allow you to make nice slices that release easily.
  4. With the neck end toward you, on the outer edge of the breast, make a vertical cut, downward until you hit the horizontal slice. This will allow the first slice to just fall away. Repeat, until you've sliced the entire breast, and just repeat on the other side.
  5. If you want to carve the dark meat from the legs and thighs, hold each piece steady, making small slices away from the bone, until you've approached the bone. Then just rotate the piece, and repeat on each side.
  6. That's it! You did it! Go enjoy!

Seperate the Thigh Joint

Separate the leg and thigh

Carving the thigh

Horizontal cut on the breast

See it step by step!

Fabulous Herb Roasted Turkey Recipe

© 2010 Jan Charles


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