How To Carve a Turkey: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide

updated Nov 1, 2023
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How To Carve a Turkey
The simplest, easiest way to carve a turkey in four essential steps. You'll need a sharp knife and a steady workstation, but not much else.
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

So you’ve roasted a beautiful, golden-brown turkey. Congratulations! Now you need to carve it. Let us just say, forget what you’ve heard — learning how to carve a turkey (even as a beginner) isn’t too difficult, you’ll just need a sharp knife and a steady workstation.

Carving one side of the turkey at a time so that you aren’t constantly moving the bird around makes it a lot easier. There’s no flipping or turning it from side to side. Set the turkey on the cutting board with its cavity facing you and you should only need to turn the turkey once.

Credit: Photos: Joe Lingeman; Design: The Kitchn

What You’ll Need To Carve a Turkey

  • Sharp Chefs Knife: A chef’s knife works well for carving a turkey and slicing the individual cuts of turkey. If you haven’t sharpened your knife in a while, consider going to a cooking store and seeing if they offer services for sharpening knifes. A sharp knife will make carving a turkey mush easier and faster!
  • A Carving Knife: In addition to or instead of a chef’s knife, you can also use a carving knife to carve a turkey. There are manual carving knives available as well as electric carving knives that make the process even easier. Electric carving knives work by rapidly vibrating the blade back and forth to take a lot of the work out of sllicing.
  • Large Cutting Board: Use a thoroughly cleaned cutting board with grooves one the sides, that is large enough to hold the whole turkey and catch any accumulated juices. Stabilize the cutting board by placing a mildly damp towel beneath, so it doesn’t move around while you slice the turkey.
  • Serving Platter: Lastly, you’ll want to make sure you have a sturdy serving platter, preferably one that is heat or oven safe. An oven-safe serving platter not only provides a place to put the carved turkey, but it also can safely but put in the oven at a low temperature and kept warm. Additionally, tongs, and paper towels are helpful.

How To Carve a Turkey: A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Let the Turkey Rest

After you’ve taken the temperature of the turkey properly, let it rest for at least 30 minutes. Resting helps the meat reabsorb the juices. This will help prevent juices from the turkey spilling out onto the cutting board and countertop and is the best way to prevent the carved turkey from driving out.

Step 2: Set Up Your Carving Station 

After allowing the turkey to rest, set up your carving station. Make sure you have a cutting board large enough to hold the turkey, tongs, a carving knife, and chef’s knife close by. Just in case, though, also be sure to have paper towels to take care of small spills.

Step 3: Separate the Leg and Thigh

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Slice through the skin that connects the breast and the drumstick until you hit the bone. Pull the leg back and down until the joint pops out with your hands (and either paper towels or a clean kitchen towel).

Pull the leg back and down until the joint pops out. Press down firmly on the joint to completely sever it. Run the knife between the thigh and the back bone to cleanly remove the leg piece. Place on the serving platter.

Step 4 : Remove the Breast and Wing from the Same Side 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Staying on the same side of the turkey, slice through the skin on the top of the turkey along the breastbone from the neck joint and the wishbone first. Then slowly work the knife through the breast meat, along the rib bone, removing as much meat as possible. Place this breast on the platter. Pull the wing back, as you did the legs, and cut at the joint. Place on the platter.

Step 5: Repeat with the Other Side

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Turn the turkey and repeat steps 2 through 4 on the other side. Rotate the turkey 180 degrees and then repeat with removing the leg and thigh, breast, and wing on the other side. Slice up the breast and thigh pieces.

Step 6: Slice the Thighs and Breasts

Slice the thighs: Cut the thigh meat off the bone and into smaller pieces, if desired. Return to the platter. Slice the breasts: Place the breasts skin-side up on the cutting board. Cut crosswise at a slight angle into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Return to the platter.

Remember that carving is going to cool your turkey significantly, so you’ll want to serve it right away or cover it and stash in a warm oven until serving.

Turkey Recipes

How To Store Leftover Turkey

Once the meat is picked off the bones, package it up. If you want to set aside one pound of meat for soup, weigh it out, throw it into a container, and label it so no one accidentally turns it into a sandwich.

Package up white meat and dark meat separately so people can easily find what they want, and you can even pre-slice the turkey if the, ahem, lazier of the hungry guests will only eat it if it’s already cut up. Store in the fridge or freezer, but make sure it’s properly labeled first.

How To Carve a Turkey

The simplest, easiest way to carve a turkey in four essential steps. You'll need a sharp knife and a steady workstation, but not much else.

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 roasted

    and rested turkey ((get instructions here)

Equipment

  • Large cutting board, preferably with channels to catch the juices
  • Sharp chef's knife
  • Paper towels
  • Tongs
  • Serving platter

Instructions

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  1. Set up a carving station. Place the turkey on a large carving board. Make sure you have your serving platter, paper towels, a sharp chef's knife, and tongs at the ready. Remove the trussing string if needed using the tip of the knife and arrange the turkey so the legs are facing you.

  2. Remove the leg and thigh together. Slice through the skin that connects the breast and the drumstick until you hit bone. With your hands (and either paper towels or a clean kitchen towel), pull the leg back and down until the joint pops out. Press down firmly on the joint to completely sever it. Run the knife between the thigh and the back bone to cleanly remove the leg piece. Place on the serving platter.

  3. Remove the breast. Staying on the same side of the turkey, slice through the skin on the top of the turkey along the breastbone from the neck joint and the wishbone first. Then slowly work the knife through the breast meat, along the rib bone, removing as much meat as possible. Place this breast on the platter.

  4. Remove the wing. Pull the wing back, as you did the legs, and cut at the joint. Place on the platter.

  5. Turn the turkey and repeat steps 2 through 4 on the other side. Rotate the turkey 180 degrees and then repeat with removing the leg and thigh, breast, and wing on the other side.

  6. Set aside the turkey carcass and wipe down the cutting board. Remove the turkey carcass from your work area (you can set it back in the roasting pan or set it directly into a pot if you plan on making stock). Wipe down your cutting board if desired.

  7. Separate the thighs from the drumsticks. Place the leg pieces skin-side up on the cutting board. Cut right between the drumstick and thigh at the joint. Repeat with the other leg. Return the drumsticks to the platter.

  8. Slice the thighs. Cut the thigh meat off the bone and into smaller pieces, if desired. Return to the platter.

  9. Slice the breasts. Place the breasts skin-side up on the cutting board. Cut crosswise at a slight angle into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Return to the platter.