After roasting your turkey for hours and allowing it to rest, it’s now time for the final step: slicing the bird. Getting comfortable with a turkey’s size — and finding various parts, including the wishbone — may seem tricky. But it doesn’t have to be, if you follow some simple tips. Bonus: Doing this process in the kitchen rather than at the dinner table makes it easier to focus. To help you nail carving duty this Thanksgiving, we asked a professional butcher exactly how to carve a turkey. You'll be serving succulent pieces of white and dark meat to your guests with finesse.
How To Carve a Whole Turkey
Tony Sudak, professional chef and butcher for Walden Local Meat, shares his six-step process for carving a whole turkey with First for Women. So, be sure to sharpen your chef’s knife, take a deep breath, and keep these instructions handy on the big day.
1. Position the turkey.
Position the turkey so the drumsticks are facing your stomach and the meat is on a large enough cutting board with extra room to maneuver. I always start at the legs first with a sharp knife and gently cut along the skin where there's a gap between the breast and upper part of the thigh. Opening this area will cause some liquid to escape — but that’s okay. This will expose where the leg and thigh connect to the spine. Gently grab the leg and thigh, and pull down towards the board. You should hear a pop sound. That's the joint popping from the spine.
2. Remove the legs and thighs.
Exposing the joint will show you where to line your knife up and cut along in order to remove the leg and thigh. To split this into its separate pieces, gently probe the leg with your finger to find the joint that connects the leg and thigh together. Come down with your knife to split it. Lay those pieces on a serving platter and repeat with the other leg. You may have to rotate the bird facing you to get to the other side. (Note: You can slice the thigh meat into smaller pieces by cutting against the grain, which means perpendicular to the muscle fibers.)
3. Take out the wishbone.
Starting with the turkey breasts facing you, there should be a wishbone still in the bird. Take your finger, and right above where the base of the neck is, feel around for it. Once you have a good handle on the wishbone, gently take the tip of your knife and carve around it to remove it (and maybe break it with a loved one, for good luck!).
4. Separate the wings from the breast.
Now, put the turkey back into its original position and remove the wings from the breasts. There are three parts to the poultry wings: the wing tip, flats, and drums. The drums are what’s connected directly to the breast and that’s where your knife comes in. Right where they connect is another joint: take the tip of your knife and separate the wing from the breast. Break the wing into its three pieces at the joints and reserve the wing tip for turkey stock. Plate the flat and drum and repeat this step with the other side.
6. Slice the breast meat.
Place your finger right where you removed the wishbone and find the middle of the breast bone. It runs from the top of the breast to the legs. Starting on the left, place your knife slightly to the left of the breast bone: slice from the wishbone area until you reach the bottom of the breast. You should have a bit of an opening to work with now. Starting from the top again, gently put your knife where the slice starts and ride along the ribs, separating more of the meat from the carcass. The turkey's tenderloin is just below the breast, so utilize the tip of your knife for most of the breast removal process. Repeat this step until the entire breast is cleanly removed from the carcass. Thinly slice the breast meat against the grain and arrange it on the serving tray. Repeat with the other side and you’re done carving.
The Bottom Line
These tips from chef Sudak are sure to sharpen your turkey carving skills. If you'd prefer a visual tutorial for slicing and serving a roasted bird, check out the video from the Tasty Recipes YouTube channel below. To enjoy those leftover slices the next day, check out our story on how to reheat turkey so it's as tender as the moment you carved it.