A memorable Thanksgiving feast can take hours—sometimes days—to prepare. Don’t ruin it at the last minute by mutilating your perfectly roasted turkey. Here are some beginner’s tips for carving up the holiday’s main attraction like a pro.
START BEFORE THE TURKEY GOES IN THE OVEN.
One simple trick to help your carving experience run smoothly can be done while the turkey’s still raw. To find the wishbone, stretch back the skin around the turkey’s neck. Make incisions with a long knife along both sides of both of the bone’s branches, and then make a horizontal cut at the point where the two sides meet. The bone should be easy to pull out now, and because the turkey’s still cold you can wrangle it with your bare hands. When it comes time to carve the breast you won’t have to worry about the wishbone getting in your way—but if you still want to use it to make a wish without passing around raw poultry, just toss it in the pan with the rest of the bird.
ALLOW THE TURKEY TO REST.
Your turkey just spent all day roasting in the oven and it’s finally hit the point where the skin is golden brown and the meat inside is moist and tender. When you take it out, the worst mistake you can make is slicing into it right away and allowing all that lovely juice to spill out on the cutting board. Give those juices plenty of time to redistribute by letting the turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes—40 minutes for a larger bird. Tent it with tin foil so the meat is warm by the time it hits the plate.
HAVE THE RIGHT TOOLS.
Don’t make the error of diving into a whole turkey with any old kitchen knife. In order to slice through joints with ease, you’ll want to use a blade that’s super sharp. Something long and skinny like a boning knife is easier to maneuver around the curves of a turkey than a traditional chef’s knife. Once you have your knife picked out, set out a pair of scissors for snipping any trussing and a carving fork for transferring meat onto the dish.
USE A TOWEL.
A carving fork is a useful tool for handling sliced turkey, but it shouldn’t be used to steady the bird while you carve it. It adds unnecessary damage to the meat and doesn’t provide the same stability as your hand. To properly grip a turkey that’s fresh out of the oven, protect your bare hands with several paper towels, or two dry kitchen towels if you have some to spare.
START WITH THE DRUMSTICKS.
After giving dinner guests ample time to “ooh” and “ah” over the gorgeous turkey sitting on the kitchen counter, it’s time to break it down. Start by slicing the skin between the leg and the breast and pulling the drumstick away from the body until you see the exposed hip socket. To fully remove the leg from the bird, you must cut this joint with the end of your knife. Separate the drumstick from the thigh by feeling for the joint by hand and slicing it. Repeat these steps on the other side. When carving the wings, follow the same process of pulling the limbs and making your incisions at the joints.
MOVE ON TO THE WHITE MEAT.
Slicing the turkey provides a great opportunity to show off your knife skills. There are no awkward joints to worry about here: Just hold the bird steady, cut straight down into the breastbone, then slice the breast away from the ribcage one half at a time. Once you have the whole pieces of breast meat on the cutting board carve them against the grain into even slices, making sure each piece gets a crispy bit of skin.
DON’T FORGET THE OYSTER.
The best part of the turkey is a piece of meat that’s often overlooked. The oyster, a knob of succulent dark meat located on the bird’s backside above the thigh, is prized for its flavor and tenderness. In case it doesn’t come off with the rest of the thigh, use your knife to pry it away from the backbone. Once it’s free, pop it onto the serving plate—or right into your mouth. No harm, no fowl.