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How to carve a turkey

Carving a turkey involves cutting a cooked turkey into smaller pieces and slices. If you carve your turkey correctly, it can make for a beautiful presentation at the dinner table. It also makes your turkey easier to serve.

Have you been avoiding turkey carving because you don’t know how to do it? That ends today because you are about to learn how to carve a turkey into neat and easy-to-serve pieces.

Preparations for Carving a Turkey

During turkey carving, you will separate the white meat from the dark meat. The thighs and drumsticks of the bird contain the dark meat, while the breasts contain most of the white meat. 

To separate these portions of your turkey with ease, you need a clean and spacious carving station. Here are other things you should know before starting your turkey carving:

Rest Your Turkey

If you want your turkey to stay moist after carving, it is essential that you let the meat rest before cutting. Slicing into a turkey immediately after cooking will cause its flavorful juices to leak out, leading to a dry and less tasty meal. Avoid this by resting your turkey under aluminum foil for at least 20 minutes after cooking. 

What You Will Need to Carve a Turkey

You will need the following materials to carve a turkey:

  • Carving Board: A carving board will provide a stable and clean surface to carve your turkey. Unlike a regular cutting board, a good carving board will have drains for the turkey juices that escape while carving your bird. 
  • Carving Knife: Unlike regular knives, carving knives have a long, narrow blade with a sharp point. The knife’s design facilitates cutting into every corner of a turkey to get all the meat off the bone. 
  • Chef’s Knife: If you don’t have a carving knife, you can make do with a sharp chef’s knife. 
  • Paper Towels: You will need paper towels for keeping your hands and carving station clean.
  • Carving Fork: Carving forks have long tines that can penetrate deep into your turkey and hold the bird in place while you carve. The length of the fork also helps ensure that your hands are far from the sharp knife cutting the meat.
  • Serving Platter: After carving your turkey, you can move the carved meat to your serving platter. The platter should be big enough to carry the whole bird to the dinner table.


Steps to Carving a Turkey

Follow these turkey carving steps to carve your bird:

  1. Prepare Your Carving Station: Put your carving board on an even surface with sufficient elbow room. Place your turkey on the carving board with the breast facing upwards and cut or remove the string holding the legs together. 
  2. Remove the Legs and Thighs: Use a sharp knife to slice into the fold between the thigh and the body. Keep slicing downwards until you reach the thigh joint. Hold the turkey leg with one hand and push downward to expose the thigh joint. Cut through it until you separate the thigh from the body. Do the same with the other leg and thigh and place the pieces to the side.
  3. Remove the Wings: After removing the dark meat (legs and thighs), the white meat is next (the breast and wings). Use your sharp knife to slice between the wing and the breast. Keep cutting until you reach the joint. Bend the wing back to expose the joint and slice through it and the remaining meat. Use the same process to remove the other wing.
  4. Remove Turkey Breasts: Locate the breastbone at the center of the turkey chest and use your carving knife to make a deep cut along one side of the breastbone. Follow the curve of the bone and keep cutting as close to the breastbone as possible. While cutting, use one hand to pull the breast gently until it comes off. Repeat the process with the other breast.
  5. Slice the White Meat: Your turkey breasts should be skin-side up on the carving board. Depending on your preferred serving portions, you can cut the breasts into half or quarter-inch thick slices. If the slice is under a quarter-inch, the meat may not retain heat and moisture. Keep your slices neat and the breast skin intact by slicing against the grain with long, deliberate strokes. After slicing, transfer the white meat to your serving platter.
  6. Slice the Dark Meat: Use your paper towels to clean the turkey juices from your carving board and hands. Bring the thighs back to the carving board and use your knife to cut the joint connecting the drumsticks and thighs. After separating the thighs from the drumsticks, slice the meat off the thighs with your knife. Transfer the whole drumsticks and sliced thighs to your serving platter. You should also cut the wings in half and place them on the platter.

Arrange your carved turkey neatly on the serving platter and serve your guests. What about the turkey carcass? You can save it to make turkey broth or delicious gravy.

Explore Our Whole Turkey Recipes

Lemon, Garlic, and Herb Butter Rubbed Smoked Turkey

You need only ten minutes to prep this delicious smoked turkey feast. The recipe is straightforward and delivers enough juicy turkey for up to 12 servings.

Traditional Whole Turkey

There’s no point reinventing the wheel. Prepare your whole turkey the traditional way and get moist oven-baked meat filled with flavor.

Herb Roast Whole Turkey

Try this simple recipe if you want a uniquely flavored turkey. The seasoning consists of oregano, orange zest, lime zest, chipotle peppers, and more, and the prep time is just 15 minutes.

Do you want the best quality turkey for bringing these recipes to life? Shop here.

Turkey Carving FAQs

If your carved turkey gets cold before your guests arrive, you have to reheat it before serving. Reheating turkey with the wrong method can ruin all your hard work by drying out the meat. For example, reheating turkey with a microwave may be convenient and fast, but it will remove most of the meat’s moisture.

The best way to reheat your carved turkey is low and slow in an oven. Do this by placing your carved turkey in a baking dish and pouring your leftover turkey stock on the meat. If you don’t have any stock, you can use chicken broth. Adding stock or broth will add flavor and moisture to the meat as it reheats. 

Cover the baking pan with foil to stop the moisture from escaping, then reheat in a 300°F oven for 20 to 30 minutes.

The best knife for carving a turkey is a carving knife. Its long blade allows you to reach every corner of the turkey and peel the meat from the bone. If you don’t have a carving knife, you can use a chef’s knife with a sharp blade.

Are you unsure about using a straight-edge vs. serrated blade? A sharp straight-edge blade can handle every aspect of the carving process. However, using a serrated blade to slice turkey breasts can simplify the process, giving you neat cuts of meat and skin.

The correct way to slice turkey meat is against the grain. Diagonal slices against the grain keep the meat tender and help you avoid serving meat with stringy and difficult to chew muscle fiber

The wishbone is between the neck and breast of a turkey. After cooking, you can pull the wishbone out from the front end of the breast with your fingers. Removing the wishbone can make it easier to carve the breast meat.

The appropriate rest time for a whole cooked turkey will depend on the bird’s size. A small to medium-sized turkey should rest for at least 20 minutes before carving, while a large bird may need up to 40 minutes. The turkey should rest covered in an open space at room temperature.

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