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How to Carve a Turkey

How to Carve a Turkey

Last updated on 11/15/2022

Carving a whole turkey seems like a messy task, but if you follow our simple steps it can be done quickly and neatly. It's a skill that comes in handy for any chef or foodservice professional, especially around the fall holiday season. Whether you're catering for a large group or prepping roasted turkey for menu items, follow our tutorial to learn the best way to carve a turkey.

Carving a Turkey Video

Check out our turkey carving video to learn how to cut up a whole turkey the easiest way:

What Knife to Use to Cut Turkey?

Do you actually need a carving knife to cut up a turkey? No, not necessarily. The best type of knife for cutting a turkey has a pointed, non-serrated blade. Avoid using a serrated blade when you're carving because the slices won't be clean. For a turkey that's 15 pounds or larger, choose a chef's knife that is 10" to 12" in length. Use an 8" chef's knife for a smaller turkey.

Does a Turkey Need to Rest Before Carving?

Yes, you should always rest a cooked turkey before you begin carving. Just like resting a steak, letting a roasted turkey sit for at least 20 to 30 minutes to reabsorb its juices is recommended. Cutting into the bird too soon can result in a dry turkey.

What Do I Need to Carve a Turkey?

Steps to Carve a Turkey

Follow these step-by-step instructions for cutting up a whole turkey:

  • stainless steel pot on turkey fryer with small flame outdoors1.

    Rest Turkey: Let the cooked turkey rest for about 30 minutes. Gather your tools and put on disposable gloves. Place the turkey on a large cutting board with the cavity facing towards you.

  • oil thermometer on inside of turkey pot2.

    Remove Drumstick and Thigh: Find the impression where the breast connects to the drumstick. Press a sharp knife down until you hit bone. Pull the drumstick back and down until the joint pops. Using the knife, press down on the joint bone to sever it. Then slice down to completely remove the leg and thigh. Set aside.

  • hands patting down turkey on cutting board to become dry before deep frying turkey3.

    Remove Breast: Make a long cut from the neck to the cavity, keeping the blade on the right side of the breast bone. Slice through the breast meat and gently pull it outward as the knife slides down. Set breast meat aside.

  • man cuts excess fat from turkey before deep frying4.

    Remove Wing: Pull the wing to the side until you hear the joint pop. Slice through the joint to remove the wing. Set wing aside.

  • sprinkling seasoning from container on turkey before deep frying5.

    Rotate Turkey: Turn the turkey around 180 degrees and repeat the previous steps to remove the drumstick, thigh, breast, and wing on the other side of the turkey.

  • man lifting turkey covered in seasoning6.

    Separate Thigh and Drumstick: Place the thigh and drumstick on the cutting board with the skin side down. Find the joint and slice through to separate the pieces. Repeat on second thigh and drumstick.

  • man wearing safety gloves and apron lowers turkey into turkey fryer using hook7.

    Slice Thigh Meat: Remove the bone and cut the thigh meat into even slices. Repeat on second thigh.

  • man submerges turkey into turkey fryer by holding hook attached to turkey8.

    Slice Breast Meat: Place the breast on the cutting board with the skin side up. Cut into even 1/4” slices. Add breast meat to the platter. Repeat on second breast.

  • man removes deep fried turkey from pot9.

    Arrange Platter: Add 2 drumsticks, 2 wings, sliced thigh meat, and sliced breast meat to a platter. Serve immediately.

What To Do With the Turkey Carcass?

After carving away the best parts of the turkey, you'll be left with the carcass. Don't throw it away! Even if the bones are picked clean, there are still bits of skin and fat that will make a delicious turkey broth or stock. Place the whole carcass in a stock pot and cover with water. Add your favorite aromatics and herbs. Simmer for about an hour then strain out the solids. You should be left with a rich turkey stock.

The method for cutting up a turkey can also be used on whole chickens, just use a smaller knife. Separating the wings and breasts (white meat) from the thighs and drumsticks (dark meat) is a traditional way to serve a whole cooked bird. Use the cooked meat for your recipes or arrange the meat on a serving platter for guests.

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