How to Carve a Turkey Like a Pro

With our guidance, neatly carving a turkey is easy.

Published Nov. 17, 2022.

Your turkey is out of the oven, the sides are on the table, and you finally feel ready to relax. Except, someone still has to carve that bird!

But have no fear. In the wise words of Ellie Logan, a butcher at Walden Local Meat, “Don’t be intimidated by the size! It’s just a big chicken.” 

With a little know-how, you can carve that big bird like a pro.

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Let the Turkey Rest Before Carving

Here at the test kitchen, we've always advocated for letting the turkey rest so that you don't lose the flavorful juices. Logan confirmed, “Let it rest for at least 30 minutes (an hour for a bigger bird) or else all those delicious juices come right out. Make sure to build that into your ‘cook time’ when planning for the day.” Plus, this allows the surface of the bird to cool off enough so that you can handle it without burning your hands (don’t fear, the meat inside will still be plenty hot). For other helpful tips on cooking a turkey, check out this article

1. Cut the twine. 

Some recipes call for tying the turkey legs together for more even cooking. If you have any twine on your bird, start by cutting that off using kitchen shears.

2. Remove the legs.

Keeping the turkey breast side up, use a chef’s knife to remove the leg and thigh of the turkey. Slice through the skin between the leg and the breast to expose the hip joint. Pull the leg quarters away from the breast. Then carefully cut through the now-exposed joint. Turn the bird slightly to get off the oyster (a little lump of dark meat on the back of the bird above the thighs). But don’t fully flip the bird over; you don’t want to sog out the skin by having it sit against a cutting board steaming.

A little butcher wisdom from Logan: “Save that oyster for yourself. That’s the chef's treat; it’s fatty and crispy.” 

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3. Cut off the wings.

Working on one side at a time, pull the wing away from the rest of the carcass and cut through the joint between the wing and breast bone. 

4. Remove the breast meat.

Carve each split breast off in one piece by running your knife along the curvature of the breastbone. Follow your knife along the breast plate, and continue cutting using long motions (not sawing motions) until each breast is off. Logan noted, “For me, this is way easier than carving slices directly from the bird.” 

5. Separate the drumsticks from the thighs.

There’s a joint that runs between the drumstick and thigh. Cut through that joint on each leg quarter. Then, if desired, slice the meat off the drumsticks and thighs, leaving some skin on each piece, or serve them whole for the dark meat lovers of your crew.

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6. Split the wings.

Similar to the leg quarters, find the joint that connects the drumette and the flat and cut through that joint. These wing pieces can be plattered and served (or snacked on as a chef's treat).

7. Slice the breast meat.

Use a sharp chef’s knife to thinly slice the breast meat crosswise, holding the skin in place so that each piece gets a little bit of skin on it.

8. Platter and serve.

If you want to step it up a notch, warm up the platter in a low 200-degree oven before serving to make sure the turkey stays nice and warm on the table. Use a knife or bench scraper to move those breast slices to the platter and shingle them. Arrange the thighs, drumsticks, and wings in a symmetrical pattern on the other side of the platter so people can easily go in for light or dark meat.  

Now it’s time to pour yourself a glass of wine and snack on the turkey oyster; you’ve earned it.

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