How to Carve a Turkey

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Introduction: How to Carve a Turkey

Learn how to carve a turkey in 6 easy steps! 

You know that moment at the dinner table when everyone is sitting around the turkey, waiting with anticipation for it to be carved?  Are you the one standing there with knife and fork in hand, beads of sweat beginning to form on your forehead and upper lip, as you realize you are the center of attention and have absolutely no idea how to begin?  I mean, it looks so easy when other people do it, serving up perfectly sliced pieces, handing them out with grace.  But now that you're at the head of the table, where do you start? How do you save face and serve the bird without making a mess of it all?  

I'm here to help.  This was my first turkey too, and it was easier than I thought! So just follow along, and we'll take this one side at a time.

Step 1: The Drumstick

First of all, I recommend a cutting board with a well around it to catch all of the juices that are going to run off from your bird.  And there will be a lot of juices.  Learn from my mistake.

Secondly, you don't need a special knife or fork for this.  A butcher's knife is great, and a table fork will work just fine.  But if you're in it for the glory, might as well go big and get the bone-carved handle set, right?

OK, let's get started.

Let's aim for the low hanging fruit first, and remove that drumstick.  It's easily identifiable and you can pretty much just pull the sucker off with your hands.  But let's attempt this with a scoach more grace (a Scooch more grace?).  

Pull the drumstick towards you and away from the turkey, using your knife to slice away the connecting skin.

Slowly cut through the meat surrounding the joint until it is exposed.  

Cut through the joint (or just pop it out using force) and remove the drumstick.

Whew, that was easy.  Let's continue.


Step 2: The Wing

Using a similar technique, pull the wing away from the body of the turkey, using your knife to slice through the surrounding skin.

Cut through the meat to expose the joint.

Cut through the joint (or just pop it out using force) and remove the wing.  

Step 3: The Secret Magic Cut

This is the trick that's going to make your white meat fall away from the bird in perfect, almost cinematic slices:

Pull the thigh away from the turkey and lay your knife against the breast, parallel to and just above the thigh.  
Slice into the breast just above the ribs until you reach the breastbone.  Now watch what happens when you slice the breast.  

Step 4: The Breast

Slice vertical cuts down the breast, using a carving fork to hold the bird steady. 

See how the pieces just fall off the bird in magically perfect slices?  Use the knife and fork to transfer your elegant slices to a plate or serving tray, just like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Step 5: The Thigh

To remove the thigh, slice through all of the meat connecting the thigh and body until you expose the joint.

Again, use your knife or force to pop the joint and remove the meat.  

You can slice the thigh into pieces, or serve them whole.  I like to cut away the meat on each side of the bone.

Step 6: The Oyster

You may notice one round medallion of meat left over on the body.  This is the oyster. 

Using your knife, carefully separate this piece from the body of the turkey.

Do not serve this piece.

Why?  Many claim this is the best part of any bird, sing its praises, and swear by its mystical powers.  This, my friend, this piece is for you.  You've earned it.  Just pop it on your own plate if anyone's watching, or directly into your mouth if no one is.

Step 7: Repeat

Now you've got the hang of it!  Even if that first side didn't go as smoothly as you'd hoped, you've got a whole other side to perfect your technique.  You might consider carving the bird in the kitchen away from prying eyes until you've mastered your technique.  But even if that's not an option, these simple steps will guide you towards a perfect carve.  

Happy Holidays!

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28 Comments

Ha ha! Perfect! For the breast part, however, I would cut it more cross-grain and not get such large slabs of white meat. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the oyster bit! And I sure did save it for myself!

Really appreciated this, particularly the secret cut - why didn't I think of that years ago. And the two oysters - that's my secret, no-one else gets those bits. Come Christmas Day I will be the carving master!

I prefer slicing the entire piece of breast meat off each side by starting at the breast bone and cutting down to remove the entire breast. Then, you cut perpendicular to the grain and create smaller slices with a little skin on each one. It creates a cleaner cut of the breast meat. Watch this: https://youtu.be/939uGzs484M

"I recommend a cutting board with a well around it ... Learn from my mistake"

So this is the first time you've carved a turkey?

This is a darn good primer on carving a turkey. If it wasn't so close to Thanksgiving a person might want to roast a whole chicken and take a practice run.

Only thing I can suggest is that the "any knife" will do may get some people into trouble. I'm a fiend for sharp knives. Any knife can be made to be sharp with a couple caveats some knifes will get beyond razor sharp (scary sharp) this type of knife may not hold that edge for long. That's why the guy at the carving station keep a steel to frequently refresh the edge. Other knives will stay as sharp as they ever get for a good period of time. Problem is they don't really ever get that sharp. Also knife technique is important. I see way to many people try to use a knife like a cleaver or an axe. They push down on the blade trying to push it through whatever they are cutting rather then using the blade to slice through. You see this when bread is sliced and the loaf just squished down.

While on the topic of turkeys if I may digress somewhat to the subject of stuffing and jamming it into the body cavity. Please don't shove warm freshly made stuffing into the turkey the night before and store the stuffed turkey until the next day. People die every year from doing this. Don't believe me Google it. What you can do is put the amount of stuffing you'd have put in the turkey into a roasting bag and store that in the fridge. Next day just before you pop the bird in the oven, shove the dressing filled roasting bag into the bird ( cut a few slits in the bag to allow the juices to flow into the bag for that "cooked in the bird flavor". The extra bonus is this makes getting the dressing out of the bird a breeze. No trying to scrape it out and leaving a lot in and making for a messy turkey carcass.

Absolutely right on all counts, oilitright. Slice, slice, slice--don't push! And no night-before stuffing unless you're trying to kerep 911 in business.

But please: 'rather THAN' not 'rather THEN.'

What attractive hands you have.

It's nice that this technique keeps them intact.

Very nice. I prefer to take the whole breast off in one piece and then slice it crosswise (across the short side of the breast). It's easier to keep skin on each slice that way (for me).

BTW - the way I explain is the Alton Brown method... as that's how I learned. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d739zXtd8XQ

Great instructable! Very well done. I learned to carve meats and poultry in the Boy Scouts Cooking Merit Badge. Brought back some nice memories!