How to Carve a TurkeyLast 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?
- Cooked turkey
- Sharp knife (non-serrated)
- Large cutting board
- Large serving platter
- Disposable gloves
- Kitchen towel for cleanup
Steps to Carve a Turkey
Follow these step-by-step instructions for cutting up a whole turkey:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Slice Thigh Meat: Remove the bone and cut the thigh meat into even slices. Repeat on second thigh.
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.
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.