How to Carve a Turkey in Four Steps
There's a lot of effort that goes into roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving, including (but not limited to!) brining, trussing, stuffing, roasting, and basting the bird for hours. When it's finally out of the oven and well-rested, the last thing you want to do is let all that hard work go to waste with a mediocre carving job. You owe it to yourself (and to the turkey!) to end on a high note, and that means carving with precision and, dare we say, flair.
Carving a turkey can be a breeze with a little advance preparation. Some people like to practice ahead of time on a chicken, and while there's a considerable difference between a 4-pound chicken and a 15-pound turkey, the anatomy is generally the same. Even if you don't do a dry run, having a game plan of how you'll get the meat off the bones will definitely help.
On the following slides, we've laid out a four-step technique for carving, which creates neatly sliced portions of meat. Before you carve, be sure to let the turkey rest for 30 to 40 minutes, to let the juices redistribute. And have a large serving platter ready, with one or two serving forks available for guests to serve themselves. One of our most important pieces of advice: carve the turkey in the kitchen, not the dining room, since you'll need plenty of elbow room to maneuver around the turkey (and if you're a little nervous, at least you'll have some privacy instead of being on stage in the dining room!).
Using an 8- or 9-inch, recently-sharpened carving knife, as well as a two-pronged fork to help keep the turkey in place as you cut, remove the legs from the body. The tip of your knife should be able to help you free the ball joint that connects the leg to the rest of the bird. Set the legs aside for now.
Cut the wings off at the joint and save them for gravy or stock. Then, remove the breasts: Keeping the blade close to the rib cage and using it as your guide, score the meat, tracing along both edges of the breast bone (otherwise known as the keel bone). You should then be able to peel both breasts away, using your hands. You'll have two torpedo-shaped pieces of white meat. Set them aside for now.
Back to the dark meat: Cut between the joints to separate the thighs from the drumsticks. Keep the drumsticks whole; they're such iconic, recognizable cuts; plus, they have lots of pin bones that make them difficult to carve neatly. Place each thigh skin-side down and run your knife along the bone, cutting away the meat on both sides of it.
Finally, slice the breasts. Start at each torpedo's wider end and make the slices rather thick, going crosswise (cutting against the grain gives you more tender meat), about a half- to three-quarters of an inch thick. Arrange them on a platter with the dark meat, and ta-da: a gorgeous (and delicious!) turkey is served.
(There will still be some meat attached to the carcass—don't worry about it for now. Later, you can pull those scraps off and incorporate them into soup or any other leftovers, such as this curried stew.)