Learning how to carve a turkey is an important skill for anyone planning to host a holiday dinner party. After all, it takes a lot of time and energy to cook a whole Thanksgiving turkey,
Learning how to carve a turkey is an important skill for anyone planning to host a holiday dinner party. After all, it takes a lot of time and energy to cook a whole Thanksgiving turkey, and you wouldn’t want to ruin that perfectly juicy turkey with an inferior carving. A poorly cut turkey can lead to separation of the skin from the meat, wasted meat left on the bones and an overall messy presentation. On the other hand, confidently carving with intention can take your roast turkey to the next level, both visually and taste-wise. Luckily, New York-based Butcher Girls Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest (formerly of White Gold Butchers) are here with a simple step-by-step breakdown.
Before you start, for all turkey recipes, let the whole turkey rest for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour after roasting. Using a flexible boning knife can make cutting around bones and across joints easier, but you can get by with a sharp chef’s knife, which you’ll definitely need to cut the cut-out portions. You’ll also want to grab a large cutting board with some weight (preferably with grooves to catch drips).
How to Carve a Whole Cooked Turkey
Remove the legs.
With your turkey positioned breast-up, locate the turkey legs, then gently make a small incision where one leg meets the rest of the poultry. Using your hands, carefully separate the entire leg (drumstick and thigh) from the rest of the bird. Using the knife to help you, continue to open the leg piece so that the skin side begins to lay flat against your cutting board, towards where the end of the tail meets the bottom of the thigh. In a well-done turkey, this seam will come off, at which point you can use your knife to finish cutting through the seam and remaining skin. Take care to avoid cutting through the super tender and juicy “oyster” that is now exposed. “When you see that little nugget, make sure you leave it in because that’s the best part,” Nakamura explains. It’s a treat for whoever carves the turkey (i.e. you). Repeat this cut on the opposite side to remove the entire second leg.
Then remove the breasts.
Make your first cut along one side of the wishbone (the bone that runs vertically between the two breasts) until you feel pressure. “You want to be pretty confident with your cuts because if you hesitate the skin will get all weird and then it won’t be on the chest,” warns Guest.
Continue slicing, following the curvature of the bone and keeping your knife as close to the breastbone side as possible for maximum turkey meat and minimum waste. Once you’ve cut the triangle, stop and approach the turkey breast from the other side. Once the legs are removed, you should see a pretty clear indication of where the breast meat ends. As Guest says, “He tells you where he wants you to go.”
Use your carving knife to score along the rib, then continue cutting until you can separate the entire breast from the bone. Once you reach the wing, grab it like a natural grip to gently pull the wing, giving yourself room to cut parallel to the bottom of the chest to finish removing it. Repeat these movements on the second side to remove the other breast.
It’s time to take the wings off.
One at a time, pull each wing away from the carcass to expose the area of tension, then use your knife to break this skin until you can gently pull the wing away. Finish by using your knife again to completely cut the seam that connects the wing to the rest of the bird. Pull or cut off the wingtip – there’s not much meat there – but don’t throw it away! Use the tips to make broth with leftover turkey carcass and other leftovers, bones and herbs.