How to Carve a Turkey (Without Maiming It)

how to carve a turkey
It happened. You’re handed the knife and asked to carve the Thanksgiving turkey. You can feel the hungry eyes of the guests and the panicked look of the cook 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.

Timothy Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth’s restaurant, Otium, is located in the Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles. While the Broad is famous for its futuristic design and modern art collection, Otium is a welcoming, comforting space where you’ll want to wile away the hours. The menu shows American food at its best: a creative, thoughtful, delicious blend of tastes from the vast fabric of cultures that has made up U.S. since the very first Thanksgiving. You’ll find things like foie gras and funnel cake. Falafel, grilled cheese, mole sauce, and beef tartare all seamlessly share a menu.

Otium restaurant

He also knows a thing or two about the pressure of being watched. At Otium, you’re able to look directly into the kitchen — the lucky can sit a counter running the length of it. It’s an incredibly fun experience to watch Hollingsworth and his team at work.

So, Hollingsworth, the turkey’s ready — now what?

sliced turkey thanksgiving

Step No. 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.

Step No. 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.

Step No. 3: Start by removing the wishbone, which is at the front of your bird. I always 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.

Step No. 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. I prefer to keep the turkey legs whole when plating my turkey. Not only does it look cool, someone from my family inevitably wants to eat a whole turkey leg. Go with it.

Step No. 5: Take off those thighs. I 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.

Step No. 6: Flip the turkey back over and start on the breast. First, make an incision along the breast bone 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, which you can slice in half-inch inch strips and serve.

For more Thanksgiving goodness, check out our lists of tasty cocktails and two-ingredient side dishes. If you’re feeling adventurous this year, we’ve also got tips on how to barbecue and deep-fry your bird.

An original version of this article by Amanda Gabriele ran on November 6, 2013. The article was updated by Elizabeth Dahl on November 17, 2017. Featured image courtesy of LOVE_LIFE/Getty Images.

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