The first mistake you can make when carving a turkey is to attempt the whole ordeal table-side. Bad idea. “Most people don’t have a giant cutting board that they’re going to put on their table,” says Harry Rosenblum, co-founder of The Brooklyn Kitchen. “They have a platter, and that’s a horrible surface to cut on. The thing slides around. You don’t have control. Also, nobody wants to see you stick your hands on the turkey.”
Even in the comfort of the kitchen, however, carving a bird can induce varying levels of performance anxiety among turkey novices — especially if that’s where the crowd has gathered. Just remember now: you’re feeding friends and family, not competing on Chopped.
“Ultimately, as long as the turkey is cooked correctly, it’s not going to taste bad,” Rosenblum says. “There’s very little about carving turkey that could cause you to screw up Thanksgiving. If you got here, you’re basically all set.” So this year, get in the driver’s seat and carve that goddamn turkey. Just don’t do it at the table. Real Thanksgivings don’t need to look like Norman Rockwell paintings.
Like with steak or pork, let your roasted turkey rest at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before carving. Use that time to check your potatoes, make gravy, drink more wine — but most of all, to make sure your chef’s knife is sharp and honed. That’s crucial if you want skin on every piece, Rosenblum says.
2Remove legs and thighs.
“The end goal is to take everything off the carcass,” Rosenblum says. “I like to start with the leg and thigh, following the natural seams of the animal.” To completely sever the thigh from the breast, you’ll need to cut through a knuckle on either side.
3Sever the leg from the thigh.
Flip the leg and thigh skin-side-down so you can locate the knuckle. Cut straight through it with your knife. “If the bird is fully cooked, the joint will just pop out,” Rosenblum says.
4Debone the thigh.
Locate the thigh bone and use the tip of your knife to cut around it. “There will be a little bit of meat on the bone,” Rosenblum says. “Save them. They’re great for soup.”
5Slice the thigh into individual pieces.
Flip the boneless thigh back skin-side-up, and slice into individual half-inch pieces. “Always slice against the grain of the muscle,” Rosenblum says.
6Cut down the center of the breast.
“The body comes up into a point,” says Rosenblum. That’s the breastbone. “Once you cut down either side, you’ll see the meat will start to come away from the carcass.” Cut through the ball joint that connects the breast and wing to the carcass.
7Remove the wing.
Before you slice the breast meat, remove the wing by locating the connective ball joint and removing it from the breast. You want a boneless piece of breast meat.
8Slice the breast meat.
Follow the same rule of thumb applied to the thigh: with the skin-side-up, and going against the grain, slice the breast meat into half-inch pieces.
9Plate the turkey.
“You can go as rustic or refined as you want,” Rosenblum says. “I always try to put the turkey back together on the plate, just without the bones.” This makes it easy for people to identify and choose the kind of meat they want.
The Right Gear for the Perfect Turkey
Once you’ve passed your first Thanksgiving, you’ll know: Roasting a bird is the easiest part of dinner. Here’s the gear you’ll need to get the job done. Read the Story