It’s really not as hard as you think.

By Corey Williams
Updated August 06, 2020
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Congratulations on your perfectly roasted turkey! It’s going to be delicious. But, even though you’ve got a gorgeous golden-brown bird on the table, you’re not in the end zone just yet. The last step of the turkey cooking process is perhaps the most stressful: carving.

It can be a messy and somewhat unpleasant-looking affair (no matter what wholesome Rockwellian holiday scenes will have you believe), but it’s really not that difficult. You’ve just got to know what you’re doing.

Supplies

Credit: Aleksandar Reba / EyeEm/Getty Images

Aleksandar Reba / EyeEm/Getty Images

  • Carving or Chef’s Knife: A carving knife is nice to have, but a regular ol’ chef’s knife will do the trick. If you don’t have a good chef’s knife in your arsenal, you need to remedy that ASAP—you can’t go wrong with this top-rated Victorinox option.
  • Boning Knife: Meant for removing bones, this type of knife has a sharp point with a narrow, flexible blade (this affordable one has great reviews on Amazon).
  • Carving Board: This is where most of the magic will happen. A bit larger than a standard cutting board, a carving board is built with a drain to catch extra juices.
  • Cutting Board: This is where you’ll cut the main pieces into servable pieces.
  • Paper Towels: You’ll need to firmly hold parts of the turkey to detach them cleanly from the body, and paper towel will help you keep your grip.

Make a Game Plan

Credit: FoxysGraphic/Getty Images

FoxysGraphic/Getty Images

It helps to know what the finished product is going to look like before you start carving. When your turkey is completely deconstructed, you’ll have eight main pieces:

  • Two drumsticks
  • Two thighs
  • Two breasts
  • Two wings

These eight pieces will be cut into smaller, servable pieces.

How to Carve a Turkey

Credit: Julie Toy/Getty Images

Julie Toy/Getty Images

Step 1: Rest

Yep, the very first step of this process is “do absolutely nothing.” It’s important to let the turkey rest for about 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven. This’ll allow the turkey to cool enough for safe handling and it’ll give the juices ample time to settle.

Step 2: Legs

Use your carving or chef’s knife to cut the string tying the legs together.

Slice through the area where the leg meets the body. It’ll be easy to cut through the skin, but you’ll reach the joint when you get a few inches deep. Use a paper towel to firmly grip the leg and pull it away from the body. When the joint detaches, you can easily finish removing the leg.

Repeat on the other side.

Step 3: Drumsticks and Thighs

Now that you’ve removed the legs, it’s time to separate the drumsticks from the thighs.

Place a leg on the cutting board and, with the skin-on side facing down, slice through the joint that connects the thigh and drumstick.

Remove the thigh bone with your boning knife.

Slice the thigh meat, against the grain, into ½-inch pieces.

Repeat with the other leg.

Tip: Don’t throw away the bones! Use them to make a turkey stock.

Step 4: Wishbone

Even if you’re not superstitious, removing the wishbone makes carving your Thanksgiving turkey much easier. Without it in the way, cutting the breast becomes a much simpler process. To remove the wishbone, simply lift the skin from the chest and cut into the meat. Poke around the area, searching for the V-shaped bone. Once you’ve found it, use the boning knife to carefully cut around the wishbone. Pull the bone from the bird, taking care not to damage the meat or the bone. Make a wish!

Step 5: Breasts and Wings

Find the breastbone, or “keel” (because it’s shaped like a boat’s keel), running down the middle of the body.

With your knife flat on the edge of the breast bone, slice downward. Try to get as close to the bone as possible.

With your other hand, pull the breast away from the carcass as you’re slicing. Keep cutting until the breast has been completely removed in one piece. Repeat with the other breast.

Then, slice through the joint that attaches the wing to the breast. Repeat with the other wing.

Transfer the breast to the cutting board and slice, against the grain, into ½- to 1-inch pieces.