What's a Wishbone, and Why Do We Crack It?

What's a Wishbone, and Why Do We Crack It?

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Christine Gallary
Nov 20, 2014
(Image credit: fotofactory/Shutterstock)

Whenever we dealt with whole chickens in culinary school in Paris, the chefs would always admonish us to make sure we took out "le wishbone" when prepping the birds, and I always inwardly giggled at the adopted phrase. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, do you even know what a wishbone is and where it comes from?

What Is a Wishbone?

The wishbone is an oddly-shaped forked bone that's the fusion of two clavicles called the furcula. It's located right between the neck and breast of a bird.

Even if we were cooking a chicken whole in culinary school, the chefs had us carefully cut around and remove the wishbone first. Removing it meant that carving the meat later would be a lot easier since there wasn't an awkwardly-shaped bone at the top of the breast to work around. (So if you want to impress everyone at the Thanksgiving table with your turkey-carving skills, you should remove the wishbone before roasting the turkey to make it easier to carve.)

How Breaking a Wishbone Became Tradition

Ancient Romans were the first to see the wishbone as a symbol of luck, which eventually turned into the tradition of actually breaking it apart. A chicken wishbone would be snapped apart by two people while they were each making a wish. The person holding the longer piece was said to have good fortune or a wish granted. If the bone cracked evenly in half, both people would have their wishes come true.

As the Romans traveled through Europe, they brought this tradition with them, and the English eventually adopted this practice too. The tradition of breaking a turkey wishbone started with the Pilgrims, and the actually term of a wishbone was created in United States in the mid 1800s.

A Wishbone Must Be Dried First

If you try to crack apart a wishbone that's just been taken off a raw or cooked bird, it won't crack properly. The bone must be completely dry and brittle before it will snap, which can take up to a few days. Keep this little fact in mind and know that while you can't actually crack the wishbone at the Thanksgiving table, you can set it aside to dry and try your luck a few days later!

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