Knowing how to carve a turkey can give you a leg up on one of the biggest food holidays of the year. Some chefs start by detaching the wings, but we prefer to leave them on the bird for added stability while removing the leg quarters. We also avoid turning the turkey breast side down during carving so as not to mar its crisp skin. Make sure to rest the bird before carving so it is cool enough to handle and its juices have time to redistribute.

What You'll Learn

How to Carve a Turkey

Carving a turkey may happen only once or twice a year, but because the cut-up bird is usually on full display you want it to look good. Carving isn’t difficult, but there is a definite way to approach it that will yield nicely portioned slices.

1. Start with the Leg Quarters: Remove the kitchen twine used to hold the legs together. Start by slicing the turkey through the skin between the leg and the breast to expose the hip joint. WHY? Removing the leg quarters first makes carving the breast much easier since this gets them out of the way.

2. Remove the Leg Quarters: Pull the leg quarters away from the carcass. Separate the joint by gently pressing the leg out to the side and pushing up on the joint. Carefully cut through the joint. WHY? After the initial cut, you’ll run into bone. Rather than hacking through it, cut through the space created where you popped the joint out of the socket.

3. Separate the Drumsticks from the Thighs: Cut through the joint that connects the drumstick to the thigh. Repeat on the second side. Slice the meat off of the drumsticks and thighs, leaving a bit of skin attached to each slice.WHY? Leg quarters are rather large; smaller portions of dark meat (and white) mean everyone can enjoy some of each.

4. Remove the Wings: Pull the wings away from the carcass and carefully cut through the joint between the wing and the breast to remove the wings. Cut the wings in half for easier eating. WHY? Removing the wings provides better access to the whole half of the breast meat. The wings can be added to the serving platter.

5. Remove the Breast Meat: Cut down along 1 side following the curvature of the breastbone, pulling the breast meat away from the bone as you cut. Continue to cut and pry until the breast has been removed. WHY? Carving the breast into serving pieces right off the carcass leaves the last few pieces looking ragged. It’s tidier to carve the meat off in one piece first.

6. Slice the Breast Meat: Cut the breast meat crosswise into thin slices for serving. WHY? Slicing the breast meat crosswise into smaller slices makes for attractive portions.

Essential Carving Tools

While you might think a carving knife is the proper tool for this task given its name, a chef's knife is, in fact, the better choice because of the maneuvering carving requires—it’s something you just can’t do with the long blade of a carving knife. You don't need much equipment for carving a turkey, but it's worth investing in these 3 essentials.

Carving and Presentation Tips

Despite the cliché of the head of the household slicing at the table, carving is a messy job. Better to get down and dirty in the kitchen, where you can break down the turkey and carve neat, picture-perfect slices without anyone seeing. To serve the meat, transfer it to a pretty platter and bring to the table.

  • Be sure to let the roast turkey rest before carving it. The resting time not only allows the juices to redistribute, it also makes carving easier.
  • Use a platter large enough to hold all the meat, and warm the platter prior to carving.
  • If you like, you can line the platter with kale or another sturdy green for an attractive presentation.
  • It is easiest to transfer the turkey to the platter as you carve; use the flat side of the knife.
  • Keep the meat on the platter covered with foil as you work your way through the turkey.

How to Carve Any Bird

You can also use this technique for carving a whole roast chicken.

1. Let Bird Rest: Let the bird rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. This helps it retain its juices and stay moist. Don’t worry: The bird will still be warm.

2. Remove Leg Quarter: After the 20-minute rest, start carving by cutting into the bird where the leg meets the breast.

3. Separate Leg Joint: Pull the leg quarter away from the chicken to expose the joint. Push the knife down into and through the joint to separate the leg.

4. Divide Drumstick and Thigh: Cut through the joint that connects the drumstick to the thigh to separate them. Repeat steps 2 through 4 on the second leg.

5. Remove Breast: Cut down along the side of the breastbone, pulling the meat away as you cut. Repeat on the second side.

6. Slice Breast Meat: Remove the wing by cutting through the joint. Cut the breast crosswise into 1-inch slices. Repeat with the second breast.