How to Carve a Turkey

5 from 3 votes

Learn how to carve a turkey perfectly so that nothing goes to waste. This easy step by step guide with photos is perfect for Thanksgiving!

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Follow these step-by-step directions and learn how to carve a turkey. This how-to covers taking the bird apart and then artfully slicing up the pieces -from wingtips to drumsticks – giving you a gorgeous Thanksgiving platter.

Carving turkey breast on cutting board with carving knife and meat fork

Tools for carving turkey

  • Carving Turkey Knife – This hollow edge carving knife has a longer and narrower blade than a chef’s knife which allows for the knife to cleanly cut through meats. The pointed tip is designed to help guide meat away from the bone. You can use a large or small chef’s knife though.
  • Carving Meat/Turkey Fork – This two pronged fork helps guide the carving knife away from your hands and efficiently slice large roasts; fork also holds meat in place. You can use a regular fork or large serving fork though.
Thanksgiving turkey on a large cutting board with carving tools

How to carve a turkey

  1. Place the turkey on a cutting board and turn the the bird so the neck opening is facing you. Make the first cut by running a sharp knife across the long middle section of the breasts, at the breast plate. Next, run the knife along the skin between the legs and the breast meat to separate.
  2. Remove the breasts by slicing the knife deeply down each one, following the wishbone and the breastplate to the drumstick. The breasts should fall off easily or pull off without much resistance.
  3. Legs come next. Start by pressing the turkey legs down to your cutting board. You might hear the joint pop.
  4. Use the tip of the carving knife to press through the socket and cutaway any skin. Now pull the legs off.
  5. Slicing right through the socket is the easiest cut. The legs should detach easily.
  6. Finally, the wings. Use the knife to slice any skin attaching the wings.
6 image collage to show the carving process

How to Cut the turkey parts

  1. Move the turkey carcass to the side (it makes great stock!) and lay out the breasts. Slice the breasts horizontally on the bias against the grain to a desired thickness.
  2. The legs take a few steps. Start by separating them at the joint. Place the leg skin side down and cut through the natural seam separating the joints. You will have an intact drumstick and the thigh piece.
  3. Now, work on the thighs. With the tip of the knife, cut away the meat alonside the thigh bone and remove the thigh bone, keeping the thing meat intact. Slice the thigh meat to desired thickness against the grain.
  4. Cut the wings along the natural seam that separates the wing tip and drummette. Then slice anymore meat off the main carcass. Does your bird have it’s Pope’s nose intact. It’s the fleshy part where the turkey’s tail feathers grow. Some consider it a delicacy!
4 image collage to show how to cut the individual pieces

Tips for carving turkey

  1. Sharpen your knife. (This could be tips 1-4!) A dull knife will make everything harder – the turkey skin will snag and you will find yourself having to saw through meat instead of neatly cutting.
  2. Stabilize your cutting board, if necessary. Place a dampened kitchen towel or slightly wet paper towels between the board and counter.
  3. Have a warmed platter ready to place your cut pieces on.
  4. Loosely tent the parts after carving. Once separated from the big bird they will start to cool more quickly.
  5. Get in there with your hands. This is a job that involves using your hands. Don’t be shy!
  6. Be like Julia. And don’t stress if you mess up a little. Julia Child famously said “never apologize” for kitchen missteps. Gravy and mashed potatoes cover everything.
Carved turkey on a white platter garnished with greens and lemon wedges

Frequently asked questions

What if I do not have a carving knife?

As stated above, use your chef’s knife (or the biggest knife you have) and the largest fork you have to steady the turkey. Make sure your knife is as sharp as possible.

Yikes! I am running late, do I really have to let the turkey rest before carving?

Please, do. Resting makes the turkey juicer. If you slice into the turkey immediately after roasting, the juices will all run out making the meat dry. Resting allows the juices to absorb into the meat.

What if I discover pink meat when I am cutting into my turkey?

As long as you have cooked your turkey to the correct temperature, do not worry. Some of the meat may still have a pink cast.

Thanksgiving dinner table with carved turkey, sides and dessert

A whole turkey can look intimidating, but carving it up piece by piece and then slicing its parts into serving sizes is a simple as (pumpkin) pie.

More KITCHEN TIPS:

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How to Carve a Turkey

Learn how to carve a turkey perfectly so that nothing goes to waste. This easy step by step guide with photos is perfect for Thanksgiving!
5 from 3 votes
Servings 12 servings
Course Main Course
Calories 303
Prep Time 10 mins
Total Time 10 mins

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Cooked Turkey

Instructions

  • With the neck of the turkey facing you, run a sharp knife across the middle of the breasts, at the breast plate. Then run the knife along the skin between the legs and the breast meat to separate.
  • Remove the breasts by slicing the knife down each one, following the wishbone and the breastplate, to the drumstick. The breasts should fall off or easily pull off from here.
  • Remove the legs by pressing them down to your cutting board and using the tip of your knife to press through the socket and then pull the legs off.
  • Use your knife to cut around any skin to remove the wings.
  • Slice the breasts on the cutting board to desired thickness against the grain and place on a platter.
  • Place the leg/thigh skin side down and cut along the natural seam that separates the joints. Use the tip of your knife to cut away the meat alongside the thigh bone and remove the thigh bone, keeping the thigh meat intact.
  • Slice the thigh meat on the cutting board to desired thickness against the grain and transfer to the platter. Transfer the drumstick to the serving platter.
  • Cut the wings along the natural seam that separates the wing tip and the drumette. Transfer to the platter.
  • Use your knife to cut any meat remaining on the turkey and add to the platter.

Notes

Storage: Leftover turkey meat can be kept for up to 4 days covered in the fridge. Remove the meat from the bones before storing.
 
Nutrition: Please note that the nutrition label provided is an estimate based on an online nutrition calculator. It will vary based on the specific ingredients you use. This information should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice. 

Nutrition

Calories: 303kcal, Protein: 46g, Fat: 12g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 4g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 155mg, Sodium: 240mg, Potassium: 481mg, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 120IU, Calcium: 24mg, Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate. It will vary based on cooking method and specific ingredients used.

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Carving turkey breast on cutting board with carving knife and meat fork

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