How to Carve a Turkey Like a Professional

Follow our step-by-step guide to ensure your turkey is cut perfectly—which allows for beautiful presentation on a platter.

You just removed the turkey from the oven and it looks like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting—well done! Now for the hard part, which is making it look just as beautiful and festive when it is cut up and arranged on a platter. But don't fret: We have the expert tips and step-by-step method you need to slice effectively and achieve perfect presentation this Thanksgiving.

What You Need

Having the right tools and ingredients on hand makes the job of cutting up your turkey much easier.

  • Large, sturdy cutting board (ideally one with grooves around the border to catch the juicy drippings)
  • Pair of kitchen shears
  • Sharp knife (a standard chef's knife is fine, but use carving and boning knives if you have them)
  • Baking sheet (to transfer the turkey parts over once you've removed them from the carcass, but before they are ready for the platter)
  • Platter (to transfer the turkey to once you've carved the pieces)
  • Bowl (to catch any discards that aren't destined for the platter; save them for gravy or turkey stock)
  • Fresh savory herbs for garnishing the platter, like sage, rosemary, and thyme

How to Carve a Turkey

1. Untruss

Position the turkey on your cutting board so the legs and cavity are facing you. If your bird is trussed, take the kitchen shears and snip off the twine to remove it.


2. Remove the Legs

Pick a leg to start with. Then, position your knife at the top of the drumstick, at the portion of skin that connects the breast and the leg. Without cutting all the way through, make a shallow slice down the length of the leg.

Using your hands, gently pull the leg and thigh away from the breast. Keep pulling until you can hear or feel a "pop" sound, which indicates you've dislocated the joint. Holding the leg down against your board, take your knife, and cut in between the joints. You'll know your cutting in the right place when you don't hit any bones; it should feel easy to cut through. Cut all the way through to the skin and transfer the leg to the baking sheet. Repeat with the other leg.

3. Remove the Wishbone

Rotate the turkey so the neck is facing you. Make a triangle-shaped cut into the skin of the neck cavity; this will expose the wishbone, making it easier to remove. Using your knife, ideally one with a more narrow blade (like a boning knife), find the wishbone and gently glide the knife along the bone. Using your hands, reach in and pull out the wishbone. Place it in the bowl for stock (or find a friend and make a wish!)


4. Remove the Breast Meat

Using your knife, cut along one side of the breastbone. Observe when your knife hits something hard—that's the rib cage, which will tell you not to cut deeper than that point. Once the entire length of the breast bone has been cut, angle your knife away from the breast bone and follow the natural curve of the rib cage down, cutting the meat away from the carcass. When you get to the wings, make a cut in between the joint of the wing and the breast meat. Remove the wings by cutting in between the first wing joint and the carcass; transfer the wings to the platter or bowl if you plan to use them for stock. Repeat on the other side of the turkey breast.


5. Carve the Turkey Breasts

Starting at the tapered end of the breast, use your sharpest knife and angle it slightly so you are cutting on a bias. Make a series of 1/2-inch thick slices. Transfer to the platter and slightly shingle the meat; repeat with the other breast.


6. Carve the Turkey Legs

To separate the drumstick from the thigh, turn the leg over and find the joint that connects the two together. Make a cut between that joint, gently gliding it until you've cut all the way through. Place the drumstick on the platter.

Find the thigh bone, which runs vertically through the meat. Take your knife and gently cut around the bone, releasing it from the meat by pulling it out as you cut. Transfer bones to bowl for stock. Slice the thigh meat into pieces and nestle it onto the platter.

7. Separate the Wings

If you are planning to serve the wings, cut in-between the drumette and the flat part of the wing, then gently pull it apart to expose the joint; make a cut in-between to separate.

Marcus Nilsson

8. Garnish the Platter

Use sprigs of fresh herbs such as sage, thyme, and rosemary to decorate the platter, placing them in between the different sections of the meat.

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