How to Carve a Turkey for a Picture-Perfect Thanksgiving

For a Thanksgiving dinner that looks as good as it tastes, it's essential to know the best way to carve a turkey.

After all the effort that went into seasoning and cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, it can be stressful standing there, carving utensils in hand, not knowing how to start carving a turkey. Our step-by-step instructions will show you how to carve a turkey perfectly. We know it's tempting to just start cutting slices off the turkey breast for those big meaty turkey pieces like those you see in the movies and holiday commercials, but here's the first tip to carving a turkey: that's not where to start. We'll show you how to carve a turkey including helpful tips and easy-to-follow diagrams.

Illustration of how to carve a turkey
Illustration by Joe McKendry

How to Carve a Turkey: Step-by-Step

Carving a turkey is an important part of any holiday feast, but it can be a daunting task for first-timers and pro slicers alike. Luckily, we have step-by-step tips for carving a turkey. We'll walk you through the best way to carve a turkey so you'll be ready come Thanksgiving dinner.

The first step to carve a turkey is really not a step at all. Be patient: Let your cooked Thanksgiving turkey rest 15 to 20 minutes before carving. The temperature will rise another 5°F or 10°F and the meat will get firmer so it's easier to cut. This resting time also allows the juices to redistribute throughout the turkey.

If carving the turkey in the kitchen versus at the Thanksgiving table, start by placing your turkey on a large cutting board, preferably with a trough-like groove around the perimeter to catch the juices (which can be drizzled over the carved turkey on the serving platter).

  1. Pull the legs away from the body and cut the joints attaching the thighs.
  2. Cut the joints connecting the drumsticks and thighs.
  3. Slice the thigh meat
  4. Cut off the wings.
  5. Carve each entire breast half away from the breast bone and rib cage. Follow as close to the rib cage as possible. Place the whole breast halves on the cutting board.
  6. Now we'll walk through how to carve a turkey breast. Slice the breast halves crosswise (across the grain of the meat) into slices. If desired, cut wings off the turkey frame, cutting at the joints.

How to Carve a Turkey Breast: Kitchen vs. Dining Room

There's more than one way to slice a bird. One way is referred to as the kitchen way. The other is the "carving at the table" dining room show.

Kitchen-Style: Kitchen-style slices the breast off the bone whole, as you would for chicken. The breast is then cut into slices by cutting across the grain the width of the breast. The slices fit onto crowded plates more easily, and since the meat is cut against the grain, the pieces tend to hold together better. Theoretically, this results in more moist and tender meat.

Dining Room-Style: This method fits the classic concept of carving the roasted bird at the dining room table, and it requires less room to carve since the breast is left on the bone. To carve the breast meat, make a deep horizontal cut into the breast above each wing. This cut will be the endpoint of the breast meat slices. Then remove the wings by cutting through the joint where the wing bone and backbone meet. To continue carving the breast meat, beginning at the outer edge of one side of the breast, cut slices from the top of the breast down to the horizontal cut. Make the slices thin and even. Final smaller slices can follow the curve of the breastbone. Repeat on the other side of the breast.

No matter how you choose to cut the breast, follow these same steps for cutting the rest of the turkey:

Slice off the leg and thigh: Grasp the tip of one drumstick with your fingers and pull the leg away from the body. Cut through the skin and meat between the drumstick-thigh piece and body. This exposes the joint where the thighbone and backbone connect. With the tip of a chef's knife, disjoint the thighbone from the backbone by cutting through the joint. Repeat on the other side.

Separate the thigh and drumstick: Cut through the joint where the leg and thigh bones meet. Repeat on the other piece.

Cut the drumstick into slices: Hold the drumstick vertically by the tip with the large end down. Slice the meat parallel to the bone and under some tendons, turning the leg to get even slices.

Slice the thigh meat: Cut slices parallel to the thigh bone. Repeat with the remaining drumstick and thigh.

Now that you know how to carve a turkey for Thanksgiving, make sure you're making the most of all the meat. If you have leftovers, try one of these recipes for leftover turkey or use our handy guide to storing leftovers.

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