How to Carve a Turkey Without Looking Like One

How to Carve a Turkey Without Looking Like Oneturkey-carving-step-1

The turkey is the single iconic representation of Thanksgiving dinner, and knowing how to carve your masterpiece is almost as important as knowing how to cook it. A Henckels knife set will help in this regard. And if the presentation of your last few turkeys has been less than stellar, it’s probably a good idea to brush up on proper turkey carving method. But you don’t need to be intimidated. There are really only a few major steps to turkey carving. And remember, turkey carving comes down to simple technique.  Look ==>

Here’s the easiest way to do it. ☺


  1. Let It Rest: Before you even touch a knife, make sure you let the bird rest for 45 minutes so that all of those tasty juices can redistribute. (This also keeps you from burning your hands.)

It’ll be easier to carve if it isn’t straight out of the oven. Also, carve it before you take it to the dining room. Tradition may say “carve at the table”, but it’ll be a lot easier—not to mention less messy—to carve it in the kitchen on a cutting board.

  1. Remove the string

Place the turkey on a carving board. Remove the string tying the legs together, using the tip of your chef’s knife.  To make sure you don’t mangle the star of the show, leave the wings on the bird for extra stability.

  1. Do the Leg Work: Leave the wings on to keep the bird from wobbling, and slice through the skin, between the breast and leg to expose the hip bone. Pull the leg away from the rest of the body, and cut through the joint. Cut through the joint connecting the drumstick and thigh, and slice thigh meat if desired.

Remove the legs and thighs

Cut through the skin that connects the breast and the drumstick. Slice down until you reach the joint. Using a paper towel, grab the leg and push down, separating the leg and thigh from the bird. Use your chef’s knife to slice through the joint.

Next, cut off the thigh. This is similar to cutting the breast, in the sense that most of it is attached to the rest of the body, so get as much meat off as you can. Then, as you reach the end, pull apart the joint like you did for the other pieces and cut through it. A little safety tip at this point never cut toward yourself—but that’s because I’ve learned that the hard way.

Before you slice the thigh, you’ll need to take out the bone. The easiest way to do this is to turn the thigh over and slice it out with your knife. Cut along the sides of the bone to remove it from the thigh, then start slicing.

  1. Remove the drumsticks

Separate the drumstick and the thigh by cutting through the joint that connects them. Transfer the drumstick to a platter; set aside the thigh meat on a cutting board to slice later. Repeat these steps with the other leg.  

Next, pull back the drumsticks and find the joint. All you need to do is cut the joint connecting it to the thigh and it should slide right off. If you find yourself sawing it like a Christmas tree, you’re probably cutting the bone instead. Move down to the joint and cut it apart there.

  1. Now Remove the Wings: Get ‘em out of the way by cutting through the joint between the breast and wing. You can even cut them in half if you have a lot of wing fans at your table.  Flip the turkey over and cut the wings off just like you did the drumstick. Pull it away from the body and cut through the joint. Again, if you’re putting a low of elbow grease behind it, you’re probably too close to the bone.
  2. Remove the wishbone

Find the wishbone at the front end of the breast. Use your fingers to pull it out.

Tip: Removing the wishbone makes it easier to carve off the breast meat.

Remove turkey breasts

Find the breastbone. Position a boning knife (Wusthof fillet knife) on one side of it, and slice downward, as close to the bone as possible. As you slice, use your other hand to pull the meat away from the breastbone, until you’ve cut the breast off the carcass in one piece. Following the curvature of the breast bone, slice the meat away from the carcass, gently pulling it away as you cut.  Cut a straight line from the bird’s sternum all the way down to the bottom of the turkey. Then, disconnect that breast from the thigh by cutting through the skin in between, and you should be able to remove the breast completely. Transfer to the cutting board and slice it up at your leisure.

Remove the wings

Using the chef’s knife, slicing through the joint to remove a wing, and transfer to the platter. Repeat these steps on the other side.

Slice the thigh meat

Work on the cutting board. Holding the thigh bone with tongs or a paper towel, remove the meat from the bone with the edge of the shun 8 inch chef knife. Transfer meat to platter.

Slice the breast meat

Using the tongs to steady the breast, position the meat so you’ll cut it at its shorter length. Slice against the grain, taking care to keep the skin attached. Transfer pieces neatly to a platter.  When you slice the thigh and breast meat, slice against the grain for maximum tenderness. And remember—the thicker you slice, the longer the pieces will stay warm, so it’s okay to go against the more traditional “thin slice” method here. Stick everything on a platter and serve.

Now that all of that meat is out of the way, you can turn your attention to the rest of the carcass, which should not be tossed under any circumstances, but made into stock for soups, stews, gravy, my personal favorite.

Alternatively, if you prefer to slice the breast lengthwise, you can skip the first step, remove the thigh, drumstick, and wing as described above, then slice the breast right off the bird itself.

This gives you larger, thinner slices (perfect for those post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches). Plus, dark meat will stay moist a bit longer than white meat, so if your turkey’s in danger of being a bit on the dry side, this’ll help you keep the breast meat moist as long as possible by cutting it last.

Good Luck!

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