6 Expert Tips for Carving a Turkey Like a Pro

Carving up a Thanksgiving turkey doesn't have to be a chore.
Carving up a Thanksgiving turkey doesn't have to be a chore. / Claudio Schwarz, Unsplash

Thanksgiving is a holiday full of rituals, and slicing up a freshly-cooked and well-seasoned turkey ranks high up there as one of the most important ones. Done properly, it’s a bit of edible performance art, with the host using their culinary skills to divvy up a delicious bird for guests. Done poorly, and you’ll wind up with a turkey that looks like it was portioned with a chainsaw. Check out some tips on carving a bird with real finesse.

1. Make some preliminary strikes on your turkey.

The secret to an impressive slicing and dicing actually begins long before the fully-cooked turkey hits the dinner table. Before putting the turkey in the oven, make sure to find the wishbone by pulling away the skin on the turkey’s neck and making two incisions parallel to the bone and one across. Then remove it. That will keep it out of the way of your trimming later. After cooking, be sure to let the turkey rest for 20 to 40 minutes to let the juices distribute themselves. Otherwise, you run the risk of the meat being dry.

2. Make sure your knife is suitable for turkey duty.

As impressive as they may be, chef’s knives aren’t necessarily the best tool for the turkey carving job. Some people prefer a carving knife or a boning knife to maneuver around a turkey’s many corners. You can also find poultry knives that are thicker near the handle and slimmer up top to accommodate different slicing needs. Whichever one you use, make sure it’s nice and sharp to make a clean cut through the skin.

3. Brace your turkey for action.

You need to keep your bird in place while cutting, and a fork isn’t necessarily the best way to do that. Instead, try to brace the turkey with your hand. If you don’t want to get messy, you can place a paper or hand towel over it. If the turkey is too hot to touch, you haven’t given it enough time to rest and cool.

4. Attack the legs of your turkey properly.

To lop off your bird’s legs, pull each one away from the turkey's body and slice through them using the seam between the two as a guide to avoid the thigh bone. Set them aside on a platter separate from the breast meat, as you don’t want them in the way. To separate the drumstick from the thighs, place them skin side down and move the knife along the seam separating the two joints. Cut the meat running along the thigh bone.

5. Keep the breasts on your turkey whole.

Some hosts try to slice individual portions from the whole bird, but it’s better to cut the entire breast on each side of the ribcage first and then cut those into smaller slices on a cutting board. Make sure the skin is facing up and that you’re cutting against the meat grain.

6. Save the turkey wings for last.

The wings should be the last item on your turkey agenda, as they serve as braces to keep the turkey in place while carving. Use a knife to cut them rather than pulling.

That's it—you’re done. Now the only thing left is to enjoy the holiday.