How to Carve a Turkey

5 from 4 votes
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Learn how to carve a turkey with finesse. It’s simple to do! Once the bird has rested, use these tips to create a gorgeous presentation while making it easier to serve your hungry guests.

I have a delicious leftover turkey pot pie that will hit the spot if you find yourself with extra meat after dinner. Otherwise, turkey salad sandwiches are easy to make.

How to carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

Your stunning Thanksgiving roast turkey recipe is resting on the cutting board. Now there’s just one more task, carving! At this point, I always get butterflies because I want to slice the pieces just right. I like to cut the bird in the kitchen, so my guests are ready to dig in once the platter hits the table.

The task is simple, and I have a three-part strategy for where to start and end. This step-by-step guide on how to carve a whole turkey will help you successfully break your bird down into the proper portions. Grab a sharp carving knife, and let’s get started!

Rest the turkey

Cooked whole turkey resting on a wooden cutting board.

Allow the turkey to rest on the cutting board for about 30 minutes before carving. This resting period allows the juices to redistribute into the meat, keeping it super juice. Otherwise, that incredible flavor will be on the cutting board instead of on your plate. Do not cover the turkey with foil. It will make the skin less crispy.

Remove the legs and thighs

Person slicing the thigh meat off a turkey.

Cut off the twine or skin holding the legs together with a sharp knife. To separate the leg, hold it with one hand and slice through the skin where the breast and leg meet. The hip joint will be visible, then move the leg to the side, pushing it down away from the breast so that the joint pops through.

Use the knife to separate the thighs off the carcass by cutting through the joint but not the thigh bone. Use paper towels to soak up excess juice on the board and repeat with the other side.

Separate the drumsticks

Separating the thigh meat from the drumstick with a knife.

To separate the drumsticks from the thighs, identify the joint that connects them. Cut through the skin heading to the joint, making a shallow cut into the meat. You can rotate the joint to pop it out from the bone, then cut through the attached cartilage and skin.

The goal is not to slice through bone. Serve the drumsticks and thigh meat as is, or you can cut them off the bone into pieces making it easier to share the dark meat.

Remove the breast

Person carving a turkey by removing one of the breast sections.

Cut a slit down the middle of the breastbone to carve the turkey breasts. Continue to cut down one side until you hit the ribs. Gently pull the breast meat away from the carcass as you cut parallel to the ribs until detached.

Repeat with the other side. Slice the breast meat into thin slices, about ¼ to ½-inch thick. I like to fan the pieces on the serving platter.

Remove the wings

Cutting one of the wing pieces off of a turkey.

Pull the wing away from the carcass with your opposite hand. Then cut through the skin and meat where the joint is, between the wing and breast. Rotate the joint so it pops out, then cut through it.

If desired, you can separate the drumette from the wingtips. You can remove the wings now, or I like to take them off last because they give me little kickstands so that the breast doesn’t roll around when carving.

Remove the wishbone (Optional)

Slicing the wish bone off a turkey using a paring knife.

The large upside-down V-shaped bone is located at the inner neck cavity, connected to the breast’s thickest part. Use a paring knife to make small slices around the sides and top where the bones meet and connect to the cartilage on the plate bone. This cut will expose the bone, making it easier to release and pull out. Pull off the meat, wash, dry, and make a wish!

How to Carve a Turkey

After spending hours cooking your Thanksgiving Day meal, now it's time carve the turkey and create a beautiful presentation.
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Total Time15 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients  

  • 1 roasted turkey

Instructions 

  • Rest the Turkey – Rest the turkey on the cutting board for about 45 minutes before carving. Do not cover the turkey with foil. It will make the skin less crispy.
  • Remove the Legs and Thighs – Cut off the twine or skin holding the legs together. Hold the leg with one hand, partially cut through the skin where the breast and leg meet. Pull the leg to the side, pushing it down away from the breast so the joint pops through. Cut the thigh meat off the carcass, cutting through the joint but not the thigh bone. Repeat with the other side.
  • Separate the Drumsticks – Cut through the skin between the leg and thigh joint until you cut all the way through, avoiding the bone. You can also rotate the joint so it pops out from the bone, then cut through the attached cartilage and skin. Serve the drumsticks and thigh meat as is, or slice them off the bone into pieces. Repeat with the other side.
  • Remove the Wings – Pull the wing away from the carcass, then cut where the joint meets between the wing and breast. Rotate the joint, so it pops out, then cut through the joint. If desired, cut to separate the drumette from the wing tips. Repeat with the other side.
  • Carve the Breast – Cut a slit down the middle of the breastbone. Continue to cut down one side until you hit the ribs. Pull the breast meat away from the carcass, cutting parallel to the ribs until the breast is removed. Repeat with the other side. Slice the breast meat crosswise into thin slices, about ¼ to ½-inch thick.
  • Remove the wishbone (Optional) – Locate the V-shaped bone near the inner neck cavity, connected to the thickest part of the breast. Use a paring knife to make small slices around the sides and top where the bones meet and connect to the cartilage on the plate bone. Carefully pull the bone out, remove the meat, wash, and dry.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 12 servings
Calories 303kcal (15%)Protein 46g (92%)Fat 12g (18%)Saturated Fat 3g (15%)Polyunsaturated Fat 3gMonounsaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0.1gCholesterol 155mg (52%)Sodium 240mg (10%)Potassium 481mg (14%)Sugar 0.1gVitamin A 120IU (2%)Calcium 24mg (2%)Iron 2mg (11%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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