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How to Carve a Roast Turkey

Whether you carve a turkey at the Thanksgiving table or in the kitchen before dinner, there's a right and wrong way to do it. In this video, you'll learn the right way and a quick shortcut if you're carving your turkey in the kitchen.

Length: 5:15
Produced By: Sarah Breckenridge

Whether you carve a turkey at the Thanksgiving table or in the kitchen before dinner, there's a right and wrong way to do it. You want to cut the meat across the grain for maximum tenderness, and follow the shape of the muscles so you don't waste any meat. In this video, you'll learn how to carve tableside, plus a quick shortcut if you're doing it in the kitchen.

For more Thanksgiving recipes, tips, and how-to videos, visit the  Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner. 

Before you start carving, make sure you have a sharp knife. The type of knife depends on your preference, but a long and thin blade will give you more dexterity than a thick chef's knife. Have a carving board set in a rimmed sheet pan, which will catch any juices that overrun the moat.

The first step in carving a turkey is to take the legs off. After cutting through the skin that holds it to the body, you pop the leg out away from the turkey, and then you want to feel inside with the knife tip for the leg joint—when you hit it, there won't be much resistance; it should be easy to cut through.  

When you carve the leg off, try to get the oyster, which is a little nub of meat right above the joint on the backside of the turkey. It's a nice tender piece of meat. Then just pull the leg away in one piece.

Next, separate the drumstick from the thigh. Set the leg skin-side down, which will help you to locate the joint between the drumstick and thigh. Probe around a bitfor the joint; when you pull away the drumstick, just like with the turkey leg, you shouldn't feel too much resistance when you cut through the joint.

To carve the thigh meat, cut parallel to the bone. Separate the skin at this point, because it gets in the way of slicing. It's easier to cut the skin into strips separately, and add it back to the meat once it's on the platter—lots of people love that crispy skin. 

Once you've taken care of one leg, go back and do the same thing on the other side.

Then, it's time to carve the breast, and there are two ways to do this. If you're carving tableside, it's nice to cut slices directly off the breast for everyone's plates.

First, cut down the center of the breast along the breastbone until you hit the rib cage, then turn your knife parallel to the table and cut slices back towards the breast bone. This gives you slices that are cut across the grain of the meat, which makes them more tender. Continue cutting this way until there's no meat left on the breast, then do the same thing on the other side.

If you're carving the turkey in the kitchen, it's much easier to just remove each breast half from the carcass, and then slice it up. To do that, you start with a similar cut: down along the breast bone, until you hit the rib cage. Once you hit the rib cage, turn the knife out and start cutting the meat away from the bone; it helps to pull it away as you cut, especially once you get to the wing area, so you can see where to cut. Then it's just a matter of slicing this breast half crosswise, for nice juicy slices of meat.

The last pieces to remove are the wings; use the same method you used to remove the legs—just find the joint and cut through it. Because there's a lot of connective tissue on the wings, it's not really worth trying to cut the meat away from the bone. Simply separate these two major wing joints, and put both pieces on your platter. 

Videography by Gary Junken and Michael Dobsevage; editing by Cari Delahanty

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