The Best Way 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 sister 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 but an electric knife makes it quicker and easier.

 

 

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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The Best Way to Carve a Turkey Like a Pro

87 Comments

  1. Linda says:

    I watched this video the day before Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving I helped in a church that was delivering and serving take-out dinners–150 of them. I wanted to try out my new skills I had learned so I volunteered to carve one of the 7 turkeys. After I finished, I was chosen to carve all of them, because mine looked so good and it went so fast! I am now the unofficial “turkey carving queen of Coffeyville, Kansas!” Thanks for the video. PS–I am 70 years old and I have never seen a turkey carved like you did it!

    • Karen says:

      Good for you! I’m thrilled you’re now the Queen of the Coffeyville, Kansas church! :) ~ karen!

      • Laurie L says:

        I can’t find the video for how to carve the turkey. Your instructions are great, but I’d love to see it. Could you please provide the link. And I love your sassy log.

      • Karen says:

        Hi Laurie! There actually is no video. :) I think the previous commenter just used the wrong word. ~ karen!

  2. Jane says:

    I have a question about the stuffing, i.e., I’ve been searching for a particular recipe for years without any luck.

    We got married a week before Christmas in his hometown. We were invited to dinner by the parents of one of his high school buddies. She was German but moved to UK after the war and married a Brit. The dinner was roasted chicken. There was this plate of sliced grayish pieces and when I asked, she said it was stuffing, in a tone that said, “Don’t you know?” It looked ghastly but tasted wonderful with a smooth texture. I never met her alive again (went to her funeral decades later). Over the years, people I’ve talked to at best would say that they remember hearing about similar stuffing, but no one seems to know. And searching on the Net produces no result either.

    Is there anyone out there that can help, please?

    • Nancy says:

      East German and West German food can be very different, I wonder what part this lady was from. I found this recipe. If you put enough oysters and mushrooms, it could look pretty gray. Reminds me of gumbo, looks ick but tastes divine. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/margies-german-meat-dressing-recipe-2102915.amp

      • Jane says:

        Thanks, Nancy! This sounds promising, though I don’t think hers had any meat in it. I also don’t think her stuffing is straightly German either. My editor who taught English in Germany for a few years, her husband (East German before the fall of the Wall), and their German friends have no idea. Maybe I’ll take this recipe and tinker with it, see what I’ll come up with.

    • Karen says:

      Hi jane! It sounds to me like the stuffing was probably just a regular stuffing recipe, but packed tightly into the cavity and quite wet. She also probably used fresh bread which turns to mush more easily than dried cubes of bread. ~ karen!

  3. This is going to come in handy for the British Christmas dinner too! I have never carved a turkey, but this year might be my first, thank you!

  4. 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.

  5. Kay Bonikowsky says:

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Sabina says:

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

  12. 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!!

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

    • Patrick says:

      Stuffing the bird immediately prior to putting in the oven and allowing at least an extra 1/2 hour cooking in addition to the 20min per pound of turkey ought remove any danger of food borne illness. Also critical to Sanitize any and all surfaces toughed by raw turkey or any meat for that matter. I have cooked stuffed turkeys for 40+ years and have not had an issue due to following these critical food safety techniques.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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!

  19. Jen says:

    Onion Goggles – you never cease to amaze me

  20. 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

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