Amid an array of delectable side dishes and desserts, the turkey takes center stage on the Thanksgiving table. But even if you cook your bird to perfection, there’s one last challenge to tackle before your guests can enjoy it: how to carve a turkey. 

Carving a turkey may seem intimidating at first, but once you break it down into manageable steps, it’s actually quite easy. And by learning the proper technique for how to carve a turkey, you can get the most meat from your bird with the least amount of waste. 

To get ready for the big day, learn the steps to carve a turkey below. 

Source: unsplash
To enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey, you’ll first need to learn how to carve it. 

Supplies You’ll Need

Carving a turkey doesn’t require many supplies. Simply gather the following:

  • Large cutting board
  • Chef’s knife or carving knife 
  • Serving platter
  • Tongs (optional)
  • Paper towels (optional)

Pro tip: Try stabilizing your cutting board by placing a damp dishtowel underneath. Turkeys are notoriously unwieldy, so this will ensure your board (and the bird) doesn’t slide around while you’re carving. 

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How to Carve a Turkey 

Before you begin carving, make sure to let your cooked turkey rest for about 30 minutes. This helps more juice stay in the turkey—ensuring moist, flavorful meat—rather than spill out on your cutting board. In addition, if you used a string to tie the turkey’s legs together, make sure to remove it. Then, it’s time to carve!  

Step 1: Remove the Legs and Thighs

First, cut through the skin between the breast and the drumstick until your knife hits the bone. Then, use your hand to push the leg down toward the cutting board. (Paper towels can come in handy here to wipe your hands clean.) This should help separate the leg from the turkey. 

Then, use your knife to cut through the joint and remove the leg completely. Set it aside, and then repeat the process for the other leg. 

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The first step of carving a turkey is removing the legs and thighs. 

Step 2: Slice Off the Wings

Gently pull on the wings to separate them from the bird, and then use your knife to slice through the joints and remove them completely. You can then remove the wing tips, since they don’t contain any meat. (They can, however, be used for stock, so don’t throw them out!) Place the wings on your serving platter. 

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After removing the legs, slice off the wings. 

Step 3: Remove the Breasts

First, locate the breastbone, which runs vertically down the center of the bird. Place your knife on one side of it, and then slice down at a slight outward angle. As you cut, use your hand to pull the meat away from the bird until you remove the breast in one large piece. Set it aside, and then repeat on the other side.  

Step 4: Separate the Drumstick From the Thigh

Now that all the meat is removed from the bird, take the leg pieces that you set aside earlier, and use your knife to slice through the joint that connects the drumstick and the thigh. Place the drumsticks on your serving platter, and save the thighs to slice into smaller pieces later. 

cutting turkey leg
​​Source: unsplash
Separate the drumsticks from the thighs by slicing through the connecting joint.

Step 5: Slice Up the Meat

At this point, you’ll have several large pieces of meat, including the thighs and the breasts. The next step is to break them down into smaller, more manageable slices. 

First, take the thighs and use your knife to separate the meat from the bone. Slice it and place it on the serving platter. Then, slice the breast meat, cutting against the grain and being careful to keep the skin attached. Tongs can be helpful during this step to keep the meat in place while you slice with your knife—although your hands can also work in a pinch! 

cut up turkey
Source: unsplash
Slice the breast meat against the grain, being careful to keep the skin attached. 

Dig In! 

Your turkey will be an impressive centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table—but after the oohs and aahs have passed, you have to get down to business and carve it. Fortunately, carving a turkey isn’t difficult if you’re prepared. Now get slicing so you can dig in!  

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Written by:

Katie Wolf