How to Carve a Turkey

Take a deep breath and a thin knife and follow these steps to carve food this holiday season.

Carved Turkey on a platter
Photo: Marcus Nilsson

So you've cooked a turkey. The hard part of figuring out the best way to cook it is done – you've brined or spatchcocked, roasted or fried, and now you have a beautiful, bronzed bird ready to serve your guests. Only one problem: How to carve a turkey.

Cutting up a bird as big as a turkey might seem daunting, but it really only takes a few simple steps. If you know how to carve food like chicken or duck, the same principles apply, just more so.

First, let that bird rest

Just like a steak, a turkey needs to rest when it's out of the oven (or the smoker or fryer). If you carve the turkey right away, the juices from the meat will pour out onto the cutting board and all the work that went into properly cooking the turkey to keep the flesh tender and juicy will be for naught. Give the turkey at least 30 minutes before carving to allow it to reabsorb those good juices and finish its carryover cooking.

Choose the right knife and cutting board for the job

Next you'll want to set up your workstation. A sturdy cutting board is important. Choose one large enough to accommodate the bird, preferably one that has a trough for any of the juices that do escape to prevent the board from getting slippery. Then, select your carving knife. Opt for a thin, flexible blade if you have one. The closer you can get to the bone of the turkey, the more precious meat you can extract. You're basically going to use your knife to trace around the carcass and loose the meat in large pieces, so a thin blade will help. If you don't have one, use a standard chef's knife.

How To Carve a Turkey
Matthew Caserta

Remove the legs

Take hold of the drumstick with your non-dominant hand. With the knife in your other hand, cut through the skin that attaches the leg to the breast. Push the leg back to expose the joint that connects the leg to the rest of the turkey. Don't be afraid to push a bit until you can clearly see the ball and socket. Then take the tip of your knife to cut through the cartilage connecting the joint and free the leg piece. If you hit bone, don't worry — wiggle your knife gently until the piece pops out. Do this with both legs.

How To Carve a Turkey
Matthew Caserta

Separate the thigh and drumstick

The leg you just removed from the turkey will be both the thigh and the drumstick together. Your next move is to separate them. Locate the joint that connects the two and slice through again with your knife. It's easiest to do this on the underside of the leg — you can usually see a thin line of fat that separates the drumstick and thigh pieces. Just slice down along that line. Don't be afraid to use your fingers to feel out where it is before you involve your knife, too.

How To Carve a Turkey
Matthew Caserta

Remove the breast

If you haven't already removed the turkey's wishbone, do that now — it'll make the breast easier to carve. You can find it at the front end of the carcass. Hook your finger into it and gently pry it loose. Then use a carving fork or tongs to stabilize the bird. Position the knife to one side of the breastbone and slice down, doing your best to trace around the rib cage until one half of the breast has been removed from the bone. Repeat on the other side.

How To Carve a Turkey
Matthew Caserta

Carve the breast

Now that the breast meat is off the turkey, you can carve it into pieces for serving. Slice the breast crosswise into pieces, as thick or thin as you like. If you have wings to deal with, now is the time to slice them up too. To remove them from the breast, locate the joint, as you did with the drumstick, and again wiggle your knife until you can slice through and separate the pieces. Do this for both sides.

Now you know how to carve a turkey. And don't forget to hang onto those bones. They make for excellent turkey stock.

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