How to Carve a Turkey Like a Pro.

Hi there! Does your turkey look perfect when you take it out of the oven and then like it was attacked by Wolverines by the time it makes it onto the serving platter?  Here’s how to carve a turkey with minimal effort and maximum visual impact.

 

On television, families are always shown serving their entire, whole turkey on the Thanksgiving table.  The cardigan clad father stands over it, 2 tined prong in one hand and a carving knife in the other.  Ready to pierce through the crisp skin of the turkey into the succulent meat beneath as the whole family looks on.  Waiting.  And starving.

Whenever I celebrate Thanksgiving, the turkey is kindda throw on the table in a lump, it’s occasionally dry as opposed to moist and someone inevitably ends up with mashed potatoes in their hair.  And sometimes one of the fathers at the table is drunk.  But we don’t have to wait for anyone to carve.  As soon as the food hits the table, it’s ready to eat.  But … it’s not pretty.

So several years ago I started copying how my one sisters carves her turkey at Christmas.  Oddly it’s the sister who doesn’t really like cooking.  Holiday meals always seem to go smoothly at her house (except for the time her fingernails caught on fire, her son threw up from overeating and someone ended up wearing underpants on their head).  I can only assume her dinners go so smoothly  because of the way she carves her turkey.

Carving your turkey this particular way allows you to present what appears to be a whole turkey on the table, when in fact it’s a completely carved, ready to go turkey.  Cuts down on the risk of having a drunk carver with a sharp knife in their hand.

How to Carve a Turkey

 

Get your good lookin’ cooked turkey onto a cutting board.  I use an electric knife for carving.  You can do this with a regular carving knife.

 

 

Turkey Tip #1 – Line your turkey with cheesecloth so when it comes time to remove the stuffing you can just pull the bag out!

 

  1. Cut off your drumsticks by following around the joint with your knife. Once you’re through all the meat, pull downward on the drumstick to pop the joint out.

 

2. Now you’re left with the thigh meat on the turkey. Remove that using the same method.  Cut around the meat, then pop the joint.

 

3. Remove the whole wing.

At this point your turkey should look like this …

Turkey 7

 

4. Now slice down the breastbone, keeping close to the bone, to remove the entire breast.

Turkey Tip #2 – Stuff both ends of the turkey.  The butt and the neck.  More stuffing equals more happiness.

You now have all the parts off the bird.  (do both sides, you weirdo … I just showed you the one side for demonstration purposes)

Take your breast and admire it for a while.

Then put your turkey breast on the cutting board and slice it like so …

Do the same with the meat from the thigh.

Now’s the fun part.  Start piling it on the platter.

You need something for all the parts to rest on so first fill your platter with stuffing.  Then you can lay down all the bits of thigh you cut and any remaining meat you can get off the carcass.

You’re creating a mound which you’ll rest the larger turkey parts on.

Then, picking them up with a long spatula, carefully lay your breast slices on either side of the stuffing.

Next place the wings and add the drumsticks on the end.  I’ve also included the neck/breast portion of the bird which when you cut it off is a sheet of skin, filled with stuffing.

 

 

 

 

I didn’t spend a ton of time making this platter of turkey look perfect because I didn’t want to show you something you wouldn’t be able to recreate.

You could spend a lot more time assembling it so it looks spectacular.  But … it’s Thanksgiving.  The cranberry sauce is on the stove, the potatoes aren’t mashed yet, you have to make the gravy and Uncle Jack is getting drunk again. Not to mention the fact that your own wine glass seems to be empty.   So … you might have other pressing matters to attend to.

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71 Comments

  1. karenagain says:

    Wow that is beautiful. My Mom told me to cook the turkey uncovered at 500 for 45 minutes until browned and then covered at 350 for a couple or three hours until cooked through. Brown first and then cook for juicy turkey. Last weekend I did this with a little chicken. It was awesome. Do not brown at the end of cooking. Brown first, cook second. All the juices will be sealed in. It works perfecly.

    • Karen says:

      Karen – I’ve used that method before. It *is* good. For this turkey though, I just cooked at a constant 325. Worked out perfectly. As you can see! 🙂 ~ karen

    • Alena says:

      Do you brown the chicken at 500, too? And for how long?
      I actually hardly ever roast a chicken (seems to much work for 1 person and I usually buy a rotisserie chicken at Zehrs [the Portuguese version is really good] but I would be happy to test it.
      Thanks

    • Carol says:

      I used this method today for my turkey and it turned out great. It makes a lot of sense to start the turkey with a high temp anyway. Putting a cold turkey in typically a 325 degree oven means it takes forever to even warm the bird up. By starting at the higher heat to get it brown, means the whole bird cooks quicker. Anyway, I will use this method in the future.

  2. Marti says:

    You had me at “stuffing inside the bird.” Ahhhh! So tired of prissy bloggers who repeat that USDA rant about “don’t cook stuffing inside the bird.” Why? So it won’t taste good? So it will be inedible, boring and tasteless bread blobs that will grow old (and lonely) in my fridge before being tossed down the disposal?

    And heck yeah, I stuff the neck, too. That piece of stretched tight, crisp neck skin is my favorite piece of the holiday.

    HURRAY KAREN!

    Btw, is it weird that I cook mine in a paper bag, stapled shut and placed on a large roasting pan? Oh well.

    • Karen says:

      “Btw, is it weird that I cook mine in a paper bag, stapled shut and placed on a large roasting pan? Oh well.” Mmm, no. Not if it works. There is no way in hell I’m cooking my stuffing outside of the turkey. Although I must admit I always make extra and cook it in tin foil so I can mix it in together with the “turkey butt” stuffing. If you stuff your bird just before you cook it and fully cook your turkey there’s no problem with cooking it in there. (in my opinion) Stuffing outside of the bird. Pfttt. What next? Not boiling the organs for gravy? ~ karen

      • Deb J. says:

        I’m not 100% sure but I think the ‘don’t cook the stuffing inside the bird’ bit comes from church suppers and the like where bits of stuffing might get stuck in (or at least not really carefully pulled out of) birds that maybe didn’t get cooked all the way resulting in people getting sick. My mother said the solution was to put the stuffing in a nylon stocking (I assume new but ….) so that you can be sure it all comes out. Looks like Karen does something like that. Whatever, the baggy thing keeps things tidy.

      • Carol says:

        When I have extra dressing after stuffing the turkey, I’ve found that cooking it in an oven roasting bag works pretty well. You can move it around in the bag so that all of it stays moist instead of getting crunchy around the outsides. Unless you like crunchy dressing, of course. I’ve always made stock out of the neck and giblets (with celery, onion and bay leaf), and have often bought extra necks and giblets for extra stock and extra meat for the dressing. Think I’m going to try browning the turkey at the beginning this year. Yummm!

    • Meg says:

      So I was just pondering how the paper bag must look, post-cooking, and was wondering if it’s goopy, or crispy, and what happens to the staples. Do they ever escape into the drippings?

      Then the staples reminded me of other little metal bits one could affix to a bird destined for eating. We didn’t have twine once, for a chicken, so my roomate and I figured safety pins in those little skin flaps would do. I think it frightened my third roommate when I said I just had to make sure all the safety pins were out of the chicken. But it was delicious, and “Safety pin chicken” was born. And it is delicious, if you want the recipe.

      • Marti says:

        Meg,

        The paper bag absorbs a fair bit of grease around the bottom where the juices would normally pile up. But it looks like any other paper bag. I use a heftier weight of paper bag, like a larger grocery sack.

        As for the staples, when the cooking is over, I sometimes cut the stapled end off (but I have been known to just tear into it) and toss out that strip. But it only takes 2-3 staples and those are always easily accounted for. They never come anywhere close to the bird… they’re in the paper bag, with a fold or two keeping them away from the bird. Never happens.

        The safety pins in the actual bird… now there’s a mental picture!

        • Ecoteri says:

          My mom used to cook the turkey in a paper bag, now that you mention it. she also put strips of bacon on top. I recall coming into the kitchen when the bird first came out of the oven, she would be standing over it with greasy fingers smacking her lips – eating all that bacon. I don’t eat bacon, but I do eat turkey bacon (as in – bacon cooked on a turkey!!). I use the 425 until browned then lower temp approach – have for decades. Joy of cooking theory. works really well! used to cook 4 turkeys a week, at one point in my varied career. they always turned out great. I stuffed them with a hot rice stuffing. Now, why haven’t I done THAT in the last 3 decades?

  3. karenagain says:

    Yeah, it’s really awesomely looking. 325 is low. Do you keep no lid on it? You only showed how to carve. How do you bake it and brown it so perfectly?

    • Karen says:

      Just stick it in the oven at 325, no lid. Paprika sprinkled on top before cooking and sometimes a slathering of butter under the skin. Not this time though) (see herefor cooking times/temps) Baste with chicken stock. I cook my turkey in a raised roasting pan. (so the turkey isn’t sitting in its own juices) Let the turkey splatter and the juices bake onto the bottom of the roasting pan. Before it starts to burn add more chicken stock. Allowing the pan to dry out and the juices to brown and harden on the bottom of the roasting pan is what makes a goooood gravy. Just keep letting it dry out and adding chicken stock for the first half or so of cooking. Then I also simmer the organs (minus the kidneys) for several hours and use that water to make the gravy. But I don’t tell anyone I do that because they’d never eat it if I did. ~ karen

      • Nicole says:

        I don’t have a raised roasting pan, so I often just pile a bunch of veggies underneath (onion, carrot, celery, leek, whatever). They make the drippings (and therefore the gravy) extra flavourful and also provide you with more veggies (albeit kind of mushy and brown by the time it’s all said and done) for the table. Or you can toss them in the freezer, blend them up later and call it soup.

        I’ve bookmarked this article so I remember it next Thanksgiving.

      • Sandra D says:

        I always cooked the organs in water (and used the water in the gravy). When we had a cat, she got the organs, but when we didn’t have a cat, I cut them up and added them into the stuffing – the liver, too – hah!

      • Sandra D says:

        If there’s giblets in the turkey, I always simmer them and use the water in the gravy. When we had a cat, she got the organs to eat, but when we didn’t, I cut them up and put them in the dressing – all of them; nobody noticed.

  4. Marti says:

    Wait. Which ones are the “kidneys.” Is that the gizzard things?

  5. Susan says:

    If you have some bits of stuffing and turkey leftover those renegade chickens of yours would love a treat! … Just don’t tell them where it came from! Extra protein at this time of year is extremely appreciated!
    BTW That turkey looks almost as good as mine … The one that has been hacked at mercifully by the well meaning son in law with the semi sharp knife that swears he knows how to carve a turkey and it’s his turn this year! We end up with turkey bits and whole drumsticks. The grandsons always look like Fred Flintstone chewing on one of those! Yum!

  6. If I close my eyes when I’m reading your blog I see you as Sue Sylvester on Glee….not that your mean and devious like she is….but then I don’t know you that well. But you’re snarky and full of spit and funny as all get out. I like that….chip off the old block. Do you get Glee in Canada? Well I don’t know… not that I watch that 20 something songfest….ok….maybe a couple of times. When the kids come for the holidays, I have to compromise….but I draw the line at singing.

  7. Jenny says:

    Your turkey looks awesome!! I can almost smell it from here 🙂 One question, how long do you let your turkey sit before carving? Mine always looks like a jumbled,yet tasty mess.Do you warm it back up?

  8. Your dedication astounds me, Karen, a whole turkey for a demo? Like you say, at least you won’t be cooking again for a while! Thanks for the tip.

  9. Catherine says:

    Good tips.

    And you are right about the carving of Tom Turkey on tv.

    Also when tv people are shown bringing in their groceries, it is always a large brown paper bag…no logo, never ever plastic.

  10. Christina says:

    This is great! Thanks for the tip. I also got a laugh out of Avon vs. Arbonne. To me that’s like McDonalds’ vs. Burger King. Both have awful stuff filled with low quality ingredients and nasty preservatives. IMO.

  11. Langela says:

    “Take your breast and admire it for awhile.”
    “Then take you turkey breast…” HA! My husband will be all over helping me with the first part of that.

  12. Christi says:

    This will be my first year to carve a turkey at home. Thank you for the beautiful illustration~

  13. BGrigg says:

    That, without the stuffing in the cavity, is how I’ve been carving for years. You have a smart sister! Though, by the time I’m finished there isn’t nearly as much skin left. Carver’s right! 😉

    I stopped putting stuffing in my birds about a decade ago, when I tried making some “extra” in a casserole dish. The difference between the stuffings was amazing, one was toasty and the other sodden, and I believe that the whole turkey cooks more evenly when the cavity isn’t stuffed. YMMV, but Alton Brown agrees with me.

  14. That looks absolutely wonderful – luckily we are sharing Thanksgiving with a friend whose chef husband is working, so she is bringing one of his turkeys, whoop-de-do!

    My biggest beef here in the USofA is that (I’m going to sound ungrateful here), the food is so often COLD. Don’t seem to have the concept of warmed plates and prompt serving! I blame caterers and their inadequate little chafing dishes.

  15. I’m definitely going to try that this year.I’m the ‘carver’ in my family so I’m always looking for new techniques.

    We also stuff the bird – but this year I had so much extra stuffing that I was forced to cook some in a casserole dish. I put a ton of chicken stock in it and it came out pretty decent compared to usual (dry, disgusting mess that only serves to ruin the ‘butt stuffing’ if you mix them together).

    • Sandra D says:

      One of my daughters is vegetarian, so I have to put some of the stuffing in a separate baking dish. I put lots of vegetarian “chicken” broth in it, too. It does work!

  16. Lori says:

    You did such a great job! In My house the turkey gets cut and put on a plater but nothing like yours!! The dressing/stuffing gets put in a bowl. Never thought to put it on the same plater as the turkey. Lol I shall try it this year. Oh, why do you heat your cranberry sauce??? Thought it was servered cold!
    Learned something new. Thanks

  17. Gayla T says:

    Well, you have taught this old bird a new trick! That looks so much better than what I do. I guess I’ll have to roast ole’ Tom right side up though. I started going for taste over looks a few years ago and have been putting the breast down and the turkey is so so much jucier. I do mine in a antique dark blue roaster and I swear by it. It cooks much faster, too. I also cook my dressing in and around the bird. I check the obits every year and I have never yet read that dear departed Aunt Gertrude died from stuffing poisoning. However, one of my DILs brings some made in a baking dish that she and her children eat. I’ll let you know on Friday how it goes with a right side up bird carved so beautifully. Thanks

  18. Susan says:

    I’ve been eating turkeys that were cooked with stuffing in them for a lifetime, and I haven’t died yet. I do something slightly different than you. I cook the neck in water, which makes a very rich stock. The organs are chopped into smaller bits, sauteed in butter with onion and celery, and become part of the stuffing. I also usually baste the bird a few times with the chicken stock and drippings from the pan. Both ends are stuffed. I’ve never had a dry turkey in forty-five years of roasting them. The neck meat, the stock and drippings from the roasting pan, are used in the gravy, along with potato water and neck stock, if needed to make a larger quantity of gravy or if I’ve managed to thicken it a little too much. It tastes exactly like the turkeys my mother made during my childhood, no surprise since it’s my mother’s recipe, which is exactly what I want for my family. I will be adding your (sister’s) carving method this year, because it looks wonderful! Thank you for sharing it.

  19. Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing! Happy Thanksgiving!

  20. Renee says:

    This lady reminds me of you in a way, and she knows the secret to cooking a great turkey 🙂
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foA0MGUbYH0

  21. Jenni says:

    Dear Karen,
    First of all, I’m scared of certain death so, I’ve never ever cooked the stuffing inside the bird. Since your still blogging and clearly alive and well, I did it. It was the best stuffing ever.
    Secondly, I do not own an electric knife so I used a granton edge slicing knife, followed your instructions and finally this was my best presentation ever.
    You rock!!!
    Thank you,
    Jen

    • Karen says:

      Jen – I’m sorry to have to reply for Karen. She died a horrific death from eating undercooked stuffing last night. From a turkey. ~ the fella

  22. Jen says:

    Onion Goggles – you never cease to amaze me

  23. Tracy says:

    Love this method! Thanks for sharing it. It looks beautiful and makes so much sense. (am I 2 yrs too late to comments? I noticed everyone’s comments are from 2011….maybe I time-traveled?) LOL!

    • Karen says:

      LOL. Maybe you DID time travel. In which case you should be celebrating with more than turkey! I reposted this today for everyone who hadn’t seen it before. So technically you aren’t late. 🙂 ~ karen!

  24. Stephanie Hobson says:

    I’m time traveling too… can’t imagine how I managed to miss this post! Am sending this link to my son, who is in charge of cooking and carving (up-to-now butchering) our family turkey. And he has a really sharp knife! lol

  25. mia says:

    I also put stuffing in my turkey,never has anyone become ill. The only reason that it would be suggested to not stuff a turkey,is for those that think stuffing a raw bird and then letting it sit in their fridge for a day or two before cooking is ok. If anyone thinks this is how you stuff a bird,then perhaps you should not ever be allowed to cook. Stuff bird right before cooking and you will never have a problem. Stuff raw bird and let it sit in fridge for a day = bacteria overload.
    I too cook extra stuffing(my family is a bunch of stuffaholics)i cook it in the microwave,turns out yummy then add it to stuffing from turkey. I also rub cooking oil over my bird,then season
    with salt,pepper and poultry seasoning.

    • Sandra D says:

      My grandmother stuffed the turkey and let it sit on the counter for awhile (definitely not the first time) and my dad said she shouldn’t do that (he’d probably just read it somewhere). She gave him “the look” and said nobody had ever died from her turkey. This might have been in the ’70’s.

      Nobody died that time, either.

  26. Kim says:

    Your most excellent explanation of how to carve a turkey wowed more than a few men yesterday!! Thank you for making life a little easier and a prettier way to serve turkey.

  27. Kenani Ya'aqob Gertner says:

    I object to stuffing in respect to dressing, stuffing cooked in the meat and dressing outside on the stove or in the oven, I have had a number of bad health problems, one thing that was told me was it’s a lot healthier to eat dressing, because of bacteria and blood which soaks into stuffing making it risky for consumption due to the he fact you are not always able to cook the stuffing enough to rid it of harmful bacteria and such, but if it’s moisture you’re after there are wonderful recipes for tasty moist stuffing on a lot of recipe websites.

  28. Carrie says:

    Thanks for the tips Karen!
    I feel like a “dying breed” 😊 when it comes to stuffing my bird. A lot of people bake it in a dish (I do but with the extra and I’ve never have a problem cooking it all the way!)
    To me its not Thanksgiving if it isn’t stuffed. Of course the neck too!
    My stuffing recipe is handed down and I have to bring my dads old grinder out for it and pray it doesn’t let loose of the table when I’m using it. A lot of work but NOTHING makes me feel like that little girl adoringly watching her father learn how to put on a great meal.
    So glad I did because now I can keep passing it down!

    I’m interested in the cheesecloth method. Just wondering about taste? Any difference?
    Also my pumpkins just finally turned orange (long story😜) so I’ll be using them for pie. Wondering if I could freeze the extra pulp?

    My only semi annoyance is that I do all that work and I have a picky husband who’s not a fan of giblets, which are used in my stuffing.
    (I find it strange when we were dating and my dad was putting on the meal, he ate it then! Maybe he was trying to get on his good side. My dad was a big guy!)
    So, I have to make him a dish of……stove top! Blah!
    My mother in law reminds me of this every year to be sure. Even though we’ve been together 29 years! Lol
    This year, I’tm preparing bird at home,traveling with it to my in laws,
    (My mother in law isn’t well) getting it in their oven by 6:30 a.m.,back home to finish other things. Then back to their house.

    So, there’s my bit of Thanksgiving craziness! But what’s a holiday without CRAZY?????

    However you prepare your meal, Happy Thanksgiving to all!!🍴🍗

    • Karen says:

      Hi Carrie. a) Just don’t tell your husband the giblets are in the stuffing. 🙂 b) I simmer the giblets on the stove to use for making the gravy c) The cheese cloth is great. The flavour of the stuffing is exactly the same but you can just pull the whole lot out at once and it’s perfectly clean (no accidental bits of bone, liver, or whatever else might be hiding in the carcass, lol. Good luck with your thanksgiving! ~ karen!

  29. Meg says:

    hahah omg I just read a few comments, oh there’s someone named meg, continue reading the comment, cause wait….. safety pin… who else put safety pins in a …… oh that’s me! lol, I was hoping to find a friend who has also pinned some poultry apparently.

    Hahah I’ve still never done this carving technique, but it *is* still beautiful!!

  30. Sabina says:

    Drunk Uncle Rocky, that was my brother this year! Thank goodness he was the last in and the first out!

  31. carol says:

    I love the way you re-assembed, Karen. Almost like the turkey is restored to life! A Franken-turkey!
    I have 2 (sort of) tips:
    – the carving goes way easier after the bird has rested for at least 30 minutes. I rested mine an hour with foil and towels. It stayed hot, at a safe temp. Restaurants do this.
    – Anthony Bourdain’s brilliant routine included making the sauce/gravy the day before by roasting extra wings, bones, necks etc plus veg for an hour, and then make as you would gravy… As well, he advised to bake lots of stuffing the day before, but don’t brown it, and then reheat and brown at 400 with lots of turkey drippings on it while the turkey rests. It’s fabulous. And very stressless.

  32. Mary W says:

    I LOVE YOU! and your beautiful pile of meat. Who wouldn’t love to sit down to this easy to help yourself to dinner.

  33. lisaMC says:

    A CIA friend of mine (Culinary Institute–not a spy as far as he tells anyone) does it the same way with one difference–after removing the legs, wings and thighs, he runs his hands along the breast between the meat and skin and removes the skin in a whole piece. He then slices the breast same as you did but replaces the whole piece of skin on top–it keeps everything very moist!
    As to the great stuffing debate….I default to the easiest method. Stuffing is in a separate casserole and the bird is loosely stuffed with prunes, onions, apple etc. My dad came from a small island off the coast of Denmark and would hear of it no other way. (You know those weird island Danes….) And yes, we do eat that stuffing as well. No one has ever died–from that at least–and it makes the gravy delicious.

    • Karen says:

      That’s brilliant! I’m going to try that with my tiny turkey this week. 🙂 And by tiny turkey I mean chicken. And UCH, those island Danes. I’m a Horsens Dane so clearly … have every right to be a bit uppity about those islanders. ~ karen!

  34. Jan in Waterdown says:

    After the innards are boiled for the gravy stock, have you ever eaten the heart? With salt and pepper, it’s quite tasty. My mum did that when I was a kid and now I do too. It’s amazing how we start to channel our mothers at some point! However, I draw the line at the pope’s nose…. ewww.

  35. Hannah says:

    Am I the only one who learned how to debone a turkey for precisely this reason? I leave the wings and drums in so it still looks like a turkey, but otherwise I just carve straight across the thing like a total heathen.

    Cooks WAY faster, easier to brine, and you get like, 3x as much stuffing in it that way, too.

  36. Kay Bonikowsky says:

    I appreciate you did this post in time for US Thanksgiving. I love you more for it.

  37. Rina says:

    Hi Karen The cheese cloth stuffing “bag” is awesome you don’t loose any of the stuffing left in the cavity. Thank you for the tip.

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