Nov 21

How to: Carve a Turkey


How to: Carve a Turkey | #Thanksgiving

In my family, carving turkey is inexplicably linked to the host’s manhood. I don’t know how it started, but it was a topic of conversation at every holiday meal. It was determined by my paternal grandfather, and maybe even his father before him, that the proper way to carve a turkey was at the holiday table, in front of all the guests…in the seated position. I distinctly remember the time that my father dared to stand up while carving. Oh, did he receive an earful from my grandfather and I’m certain he was told he was not fit to carry on the family name if he continued in that manner. He promptly sat down to complete his holiday duty.

The funny thing was that my grandfather was a jokester, the one that always told me to look at some nonexistent point of interest in the other direction while he snuck a forkful of my dessert, his eyes sparkling with laughter when I realized I’d been duped. Turkey carving, however, was not a joking matter.

My husband was released from this family “tradition” when I decided that it was a heck of a lot less messy to carve the turkey in the kitchen and lay the carved meat on a platter to be presented at the table. While I’m sure he would have passed the carving test with flying colors, after some pre-feast coaching, he has managed to keep his manhood intact without being subjected to this strange family test.

Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter & Roasted Shallots Recipe
Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter & Roasted Shallots

Over the years of hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house, I have hacked my way through a number of turkeys, carving so that the bird looks like it has been through a massacre. Of course, I knew there was an easier way and finally figured out how to cleanly remove the legs from the body, and cut the breasts into attractive slices, each with a bit of golden brown skin attached. Of course, you might have a method that works for you, but I have found this to be the easiest method.

If you are still looking for ideas for your Thanksgiving feast, be sure to check out Thanksgiving Recipes: Entrees, Side Dishes, Sauces & Desserts.

How to do it:
To remove the leg from the turkey, hold the drumstick and gently pull it away from the body. Insert your knife between the leg and body of the turkey. Cut through the joint and skin that connects the leg to the body and remove the leg. Repeat with other leg.


Separate the drumstick from the thigh by cutting through the joint and skin.

How to Carve Turkey Collage 1

Turn the thigh so it is lying on the cutting board skin-side down. Using your fingers, located the bone. Use the tip of your knife the cut around the bone and remove it with your fingers.

Cut the thigh crosswise into about 1/2 to 3/4-inch pieces. Place the drumsticks and sliced thigh pieces on the serving platter.

With your hands, pull the wings away from the turkey until they separate from the body. Place on platter.

How to Carve Turkey Collage 2

There are two schools of thought for slicing the breast. Both make lovely presentations and both result in tender, satisfying slices of turkey. The first method, which is not shown here, involves slicing the breast meat with the breast still on the turkey. Start at the part of the breast that is furthest from the backbone and cut thin slices, moving towards the breastbone with each slice.

The second method, shown here, involves removing the breasts entirely from the bird, then slicing.

Using your fingers, locate the breastbone of the turkey. Insert your knife on one side of the bone, between the bone and breast. Cut down until the knife hits the bone.

Next, angle the blade of the knife away from the breastbone and slice underneath the breast, alongside the rib cage until the breast meat separates from the turkey.

How to Carve Turkey Collage 3

Place the breast meat on the cutting board and cut into 1/2 to 3/4-inch slices, across the grain.


Arrange the breast meat on the platter. Serve with gravy (see How to Make Turkey Gravy: Recipe & Troubleshooting).


Happy Holidays to all!

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) November 21, 2011 at 5:49 am

Great step-by-step photos. In our house, there’s no one person who carves every year. We take turns, so we all get our fair share of ridicule when it doesn’t look perfect (which, by the way, never stops anyone from eating it).


2 Curt November 21, 2011 at 6:18 am

I think carving has always been a man thing. Weird though, because the old traditional view of the man hunts and brings home the food, and the woman prepares it. You would think carving is part of the preparation, but it’s not.

Maybe it’s the knife thing!

We do ours in the kitchen too. And I (the MAN), always do the carving! :)


3 Curt November 21, 2011 at 6:19 am

Oh, I forgot to mention. You’re photos are always so beautiful. I had to pin this one!


4 bellini November 21, 2011 at 6:31 am

It has been years since I ooked a turley in my own kitchen so years since I have done the deed, but it is certainly good to know how.


5 Amanda November 21, 2011 at 7:46 am

Thanks so much for this step by step tutorial… if I follow this I cant go wrong! (I just hope my turkey looks as beautiful as yours!)


6 Bev Weidner November 21, 2011 at 8:16 am

That is one spankin’ gorgeous turkey, Dara.


7 Belinda @zomppa November 21, 2011 at 8:50 am

A great primer! I always seem to mess it up somehow.


8 Feast on the Cheap November 21, 2011 at 9:34 am

What fabulous tips! And that turkey looks mouth-watering….


9 Maria November 21, 2011 at 9:46 am

I will have Josh read this post:)


10 LunaCafe November 21, 2011 at 9:53 am

Beautifully done, bravo! …Susan


11 Delishhh November 21, 2011 at 11:10 am

Awesome – i love your how to posts!!!!


12 Carolyn November 21, 2011 at 11:21 am

I actually really needed a tutorial like this, Dara. So helpful…I’m the one making a total hash of it every year. And yes, how did it ever become this manly ritual thing to do in front of all the guests? It was that way in my family too. Men!


13 Barbara | Creative Culinary November 21, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Great tutorial Dara. I long ago quit providing that beauty shot of the whole prepared bird on the table. One thing I also do since that’s not happening? I take the bird out when the breast meat registers the correct internal temp and cut them out of the bird and then return the rest to the oven to finish. No dry white meat here!


14 Jessica @ How Sweet November 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Excellent tutorial! I am so scared to carve a turkey.


15 CouponClippingCook November 21, 2011 at 12:31 pm

What a great idea for a post. I’m going to bookmark this for sure. I definitely need help in this area!


16 carolinaheartstrings November 21, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Great post. Thanks for sharing that! Come visit us. We have pumpkin macaroni and cheese on the menu.

Happy Thanksgiving!


17 Regina November 21, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Hi Dara, This is about the way we carve our turkey. Except the breast part. I cut a little from the side for presentation and some how the rest gets pulled off. No patience in this family.
Thanks Regina
P.S. Great pics.


18 Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. November 21, 2011 at 1:08 pm

awesome tutorial


19 Cassie November 21, 2011 at 2:09 pm

This is beautiful, Dara! I never carve the turkey but I love knowing that now I know how!


20 Lana @ Never Enough Thyme November 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Really great tutorial, Dara! I always carve the turkey in the kitchen, but it invariably turns into a mangled mess. Hoping your excellent explanation will help me present a beautiful bird this year.


21 Liz November 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Such a useful, informative post!!! Perfect for all your US fans :)


22 Zesty Cook November 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Perfect timing for the US Thanksgiving….I wish I had this around for our Canadian Thanksgiving!


23 Jeanette November 21, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Now wouldn’t I love our turkey to be carved so perfectly. Maybe I can convince my hubby to carve rather than butcher the turkey this year 😉


24 kelley November 21, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Ha ha ha! A test that I’m afraid to report leaves my family looking like a bunch of sissies. As much as I love my husband, father, and brothers respectively, none of them can carve a turkey. Yet every year one of them does it. And we gladly eat turkey that’s been literally yanked from the bird! Beautiful photo’s, BTW……


25 Magic of Spice November 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Gorgeous looking turkey and fantastic tutorial Dara!
Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving :)


26 Kim November 21, 2011 at 5:35 pm

This is a really good tutorial on carving a bird however you left out one really important point. While it may go without saying in a well equipped kitchen but you cannot successfully carve a Turkey without a really sharp knife. A dull knife will just pull the meat to pieces.


27 Baking Serendipity November 21, 2011 at 8:30 pm

What a funny family tradition! The men always carve the turkey in our house too, but it seems like the hover in the corner for it, while the last minute preparations happen…maybe just in case there’s a mess up? :) This tutorial is fantastic!


28 Diane {Created by Diane} November 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm

wonderful post! I’m the carver in my family, learned from my dad. I really like when he does it, then I get to nibble on everything. I think I eat more turkey when it’s being carved then I do at the table. We all laugh about that every year! I have no self control :)


29 Lori @ RecipeGirl November 22, 2011 at 7:48 am

Great post! I’m so lame when it comes to turkeys. I need to pay more attention to these tutorials!!


30 Lauren at Keep It Sweet November 22, 2011 at 10:14 am

Your turkey really does look gorgeous! My husband does the carving and it definitely is a “man” thing in my family. I don’t really care, though, I’m more focused on all the other dishes:-)


31 Sippitysup November 22, 2011 at 10:57 am

Of course you could always just tie my hands behind my back and set me loose on it face first. GREG


32 Baker Street November 22, 2011 at 11:23 am

Excellent step by step pictures Dara! Thanks for sharing! :)


33 Jennifer @ Loving Bytes November 22, 2011 at 11:38 am

This is very helpful. I always let others carve, but maybe this year I will give it a shot! Thanks!


34 Chris @ TheKeenanCookBook November 22, 2011 at 11:56 am

Oh I would panic if I had to carve in front of everyone at the table. Most times I am so busy getting everything else out on the table/server I solicit my Dad or Father in Law to do the carving. I usually carve the second bird (we have a big family) which takes the stress off the nice presentation. Great step by step guide. I’m going to reread this on Thursday before company arrives.


35 Donna November 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Your turkey looks beautiful both before AND after. Must have my hubby read this post.

I am very grateful to have discovered you and your blog – especially this time of year, when we make an effort to put our very best food on the table. I will be visiting your blog often during the holidays.

Have a most wonderful holiday!


36 Reese@SeasonwithSpice November 22, 2011 at 6:27 pm

What a great family story on carving turkey. I’ve enjoyed this. Great post Dara!


37 Lora @cakeduchess November 22, 2011 at 8:54 pm

I just pinned this (I’m a newbie on Pinterest;)LOVE this tutorial. I have never had to carve and they probably won’t ever let me.:)HAPPY THANKSGIVING to you and your beautiful family, Dara. xo


38 Kathy - Panini Happy November 23, 2011 at 10:18 am

My husband won’t even think about carving! This is pretty much my domain. :-) Actually, it’s usually my father-in-law’s job when we go to their house (he has the cool electric knife) but when we’re at home it’s all me. Happy Thanksgiving, Dara – this is a great tutorial!


39 Anne-Marie @ This Mama Cooks! November 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm

An electric knife is a MUST for Thanksgiving turkey. My MIL gave me one several years ago and it makes cutting up the turkey so easy. My husband handles the carving duty as I’m usually too busy doing other things.


40 Joe Smith December 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I don’t know, I still prefer the feeling of a trusty, non-electric, carving knife in my hand.


41 Kim Beaulieu November 26, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Now that my dad is gone it falls to me to carve. I love this tutorial, it’s a great resource for people learning the ropes. The photos are stellar.


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