Here's Why You Break The Turkey's Wishbone — And How To Win

close up of unrecognizable people pulling wishbone on thanksgiving dinner
Here's Why People Break The Turkey's Wishboneskynesher - Getty Images


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Breaking a turkey's wishbone at dinner may seem strange, but it's a tradition that has evolved over thousands of years. On Thanksgiving, many Americans remove the wishbone from the turkey, and two people pull at each end while making a wish. When it breaks, the person whose part has the centerpiece will have their wish come true.

Before we get into the specifics and tips on how to win the game, check out our tasty Thanksgiving cocktails, side dishes, and desserts.

What Is A Wishbone?

The anatomical name for the wishbone is the furcula, and it's the fusion of two clavicles. This forked bone is located between a bird's neck and breastbone, and it helps them fly.

How The Wishbone Tradition Started

The ancient Etruscan civilization in Italy believed chickens were soothsayers and would stroke the furcula to make wishes, according to the book Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. As for two people breaking the wishbone in half, there were too few chickens and too many people wanting to make wishes. At least that's what Charles Panati wrote, based on Roman writings. So they'd break it in order to see whose wish would be granted. The Romans brought this tradition to England, and then the Pilgrims brought it to America, where it was also used for turkeys.

How To Remove The Wishbone

Removing the wishbone prior to cooking makes carving a turkey easier, according to Alton Brown. He shows you how to remove it in this video.

How To Break The Wishbone

A dry wishbone is better for breaking, and this video has tips on how to dry it. You can wash it and let it dry for two or three days, or you can put it in the dishwasher so it's dry in an hour.

Two biomedical engineers at the University of Michigan, Rachael Schmedlen and Barry Belmont, researched the wishbone tradition and have three tips for winning the game.

  1. Try to claim the side of the wishbone that's thicker.

  2. During the competition, keep your side as stationary as possible. The more pulling you do, the more likely you are to break your side of the bone.

  3. Choke up on your side of the bone.

Best of luck, happy breaking!

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