Some of us approach carving a turkey like we would sliding into the last skinny parking spot at the garage: with a great deal of trepidation. But it doesn’t need to be scary. If you have the right tools, a big platter, and the will to succeed, you can do it. (For amateur home cooks, remember that it’s similar to breaking down a chicken, just on a bigger scale.)
For a visual of the process, here’s the video you’re going to need:
For a more detailed step-by-step of the carving process, just follow our easy breakdown below.
1. Rest the Bird; Assemble Your Gear
We’ve said it once; we’ll say it a million times. You need a good 30 minutes to rest most meat, and that includes your cooked turkey. The juices need that time to reintroduce themselves to the meat itself. While you’re waiting, pick out a pretty platter for your turkey and get your instruments ready.
You’ll want to have a traditional carving set on hand, which includes a carving knife and fork, though a smaller, tapered boning knife will be what you need to cut around hard-to-reach areas, such as the joints between each bone. Take some time to sharpen your tools before you begin and the job of carving becomes instantly easier. Sharpen your carving knife first, but also have your carving fork, and a boning knife handy. (This set will do right by you.) And, though you may prefer to keep the turkey on a serving platter if you’re carving at the table, a sturdy cutting board with a well to capture all the turkey juices is infinitely more practical. Now you’re ready.
2. Remove the Legs
Use your carving fork to stabilize the bird itself, then pull the leg away until you see the pink thin skin between the leg and the body. Carve there and all around the leg, right down to the cutting board. Use your hands to pull the thigh away from the body and pop the joint. As you get closer to the bones, you’ll likely want to break out your boning knife to cleanly separate the leg from the rest of the bird, cutting around the bone as opposed to through it. After the leg is off, separate the thigh from the drumstick. You may need your boning knife again, or clean hands to twist the thigh away from the drumstick. Lastly, use the tip of your boning knife to cut along either side of the thigh bone to free the bone from the meat, then remove the bone. Slice portions to serve using your carving knife.
3. Remove the Wings
Remove the wing using your carving or boning knife by cutting around its base, then pulling it back to reveal the joint. Cut through the joint to remove the whole wing from the breast. To remove the wingette from the drumette, cut between the two and pull back the wing, then use the tip of the boning knife to separate the two. So easy.
4. Remove the Breasts and Serve!
Folks can fret about this part, but it’s a snap. Some pros like to “score” along the bottom of the whole breast and then carve out each big breast, and some like to freestyle it using one or two big swooping slices, as the cook in our video does. Both result in an elegant presentation if you use a sharp chef’s knife to do the portions. However you do it, stay as close to the breast bone, which you’ll feel with your hands, for that downward cut.
To serve, pick up the whole sliced breasts and thighs and arrange on the platter to your liking. Arrange the legs and wings in any remaining space. Garnish with sage, figs, grapes, edible flowers, seasonal citrus segments, or whatever you like. Plate with a side of cranberries and, of course, gravy.
Turkey carving: It’s now your strong suit.