Turkey Carving 101

It's been roasting in the oven for hours. The pressure is on: It's time to carve that beautiful bird. See more Thanksgiving turkey pictures.
It's been roasting in the oven for hours. The pressure is on: It's time to carve that beautiful bird. See more Thanksgiving turkey pictures.
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After all the time you spend defrosting, trussing, roasting and basting, it would be a shame to hack into your beautiful Thanksgiving turkey. And yet, after you heft it onto your finest platter, garnish it with fresh herbs and proudly carry it to the table, you know that the final scene won't be pretty. What was a picture-perfect product of many hours' labor will be reduced to a jagged carcass in no time flat. But what if you could carve your turkey perfectly, like they do in movies and TV commercials? You can! And the first step is never, ever crossing the kitchen threshold with the bird in hand.

Carving a turkey can be messy work, and it's best done in the kitchen, where watchful eyes will be spared the carnage. For starters, when the turkey comes out of the oven, let it rest for 15 to 45 minutes. According to Whole Foods Market, this waiting period is imperative -- it lets the turkey's juices settle and evenly spread across the bird [source: Whole Foods Market].


When the waiting period is about up, ensure that you've got your carving tools assembled. You'll need:

  • an 8-inch carving fork
  • a sharp, smooth-edged knife
  • a sturdy cutting board
  • a table-worthy platter

Steady the bird on the cutting board, and insert the carving fork into the top of the breast to hold the turkey in place. Focusing on one side of the bird at a time, begin by severing the legs from the breast. To do this, identify the joint that connects the thigh to the breast, where you'll have some give with the knife. You'll know if you've got the joint pinpointed because otherwise the knife will meet bone, and you'll have a harder time cutting. If you prefer, you can use your hands for this part. Simply grasp the wing, and turn it counterclockwise from the breast until it pops off. Once you've removed the leg, you can separate the thigh and lower leg into smaller, more manageable drumsticks, or, you may wish to carve small medallions of dark meet off the leg.

Next, cut off the wing with a deep, horizontal incision. Retain the wing for the serving platter. Using the horizontal mark as a guide, begin cutting at the top of turkey's breast, using the breastbone as your starting point. From there, slice down with your knife along the grain of the meat to yield thin, even slices. Once you've carved away all the breast meat, rotate the turkey and begin the process on the other side.

It's best to carve the whole bird at once, even if you're feeding a smaller crowd. Once you've arranged the slices, drumsticks and wings on a platter, garnish with herbs and prepare to wow your crowd.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "Carve." Butterball.com. (Sept. 4, 2009). http://www.butterball.com/tips-how-tos/how-tos/carve
  • Denmead, Ken. "How to Carve Your Thanksgiving Turkey Like a Pro." GeekDad. Wired.com. Nov. 11, 2008. (Sept. 4, 2009). http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2008/11/how-to-carve-yo/
  • Dickerman, Sara. "The Cutting Edge: Which carving set is worthy of your turkey?" Slate Magazine. Nov. 16, 2005. (Sept. 4, 2009). http://www.slate.com/id/2130491/
  • "How to Carve a Turkey." BettyCrocker.com. (Sept. 4, 2009). http://www.bettycrocker.com/how-to/cooking-basics/meat-poultry-eggs/How-to-Carve-Turkey.htm?WT.mc_id=paid_search_200100_636117&WT.srch=1&esrc=11151
  • "How to Carve a Turkey." WholeFoodsMarket.com. 2008. (Sept. 4, 2009). http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/holidays/guides/carving.php
  • Morales, Tatiana. "Carving Turkey with Ease." Nov. 23, 2002. (Sept. 4, 2009).http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/11/22/earlyshow/saturday/main530567.shtml
  • "Trussing and Carving a Turkey." Reader's Digest.com. (Sept. 4, 2009). http://www.rd.com/advice-and-know-how/trussing-and-carving-a-turkey/article13899.html