How to Carve a Turkey Without Maiming It

It’s finally happened. You’re handed the knife and asked to carve the Thanksgiving turkey. Perhaps it’s your father passing along the knife for the first time ever. Maybe you’re with your partner’s family for the first time and they’re making you the guest of honor. You’ve had a Thanksgiving cocktail or two to loosen up and you realize you can’t put off what’s about to happen by taking time to sharpen the knife or begging off to put the finishing touches on the weed-infused lobster mac and cheese you brought (after confirming you wouldn’t be kicked out for taking the Thanksgiving meal a little higher).

You can feel the hungry eyes of the guests and the panicked look of the cook (read: Mom, unless you’ve been given that honor too) who spent hours ensuring poultry perfection as you look down at the beautifully plated bird — where the hell do you even start? Don’t worry! We have you covered. We asked chef Timothy Hollingsworth to explain how to carve a turkey. With his instructions, this bird will be your masterpiece. So, Hollingsworth, the turkey’s ready — now what?

How to Carve a Turkey

how to carve a turkey
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  1. Prep your tools. You’ll need a meat fork, a small paring knife, a pair of kitchen scissors, and a 10-inch carving knife — you can use the old school version or an electric carving knife. (More on each of those knives can be found here.)
  2. Let it rest. After the turkey comes out of the oven, wait about 20-30 minutes for it to cool down. This will keep your turkey moist and prevent finger burns.
  3. Start by removing the wishbone (which is at the front of your bird). It’s good to take it off first because it’s just hard to carve around. Take your small paring knife, and slice down both sides of the bone. Then, use your fingers to wiggle it out a bit, and cut it free with your kitchen scissors.
  4. Remove the legs. Using your knife, make a cut between the breast and each leg. Then, make a cut at the joint where the leg attaches to the thigh. Start to bend the legs towards the front of the turkey so they pop out of the joint. You can also use your kitchen shears to help this process along. Some people also prefer to keep the turkey legs whole when plating my turkey. Not only does it look cool, but someone from your family will inevitably want to eat a whole turkey leg. Go with it.
  5. Take off those thighs. Flip the turkey over, and find the joint. Cut alongside the joint to completely remove each thigh. You can stick the knife under the bone to make sure you’re maximizing this slice.  Once the thighs are removed, start to scrape the thigh meat off from the bone. It should come off in one piece. Slice this up, and add to your serving plate.
  6. Flip the turkey back over and start on the breast. First, make an incision along the breastbone on the top of the bird. Then, make a horizontal slice just above the wings, from the neck to the back cavity.  This will ensure you have clean and tidy slices of breast meat. You should now be able to cleanly remove your two breasts.
  7. Slice the breasts into half-inch inch strips and serve.

If you’re feeling adventurous this year, we’ve also got tips on how to deep-fry your bird or some suggestions for alternatives to roast turkey.

Article originally published by Elizabeth Dahl ran on November 23, 2017. Last updated Sam Slaughter on November 15, 2018.

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