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How to Carve the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Carving the turkey is just as important as the recipe you choose. These chef tips and techniques will turn your bird into a Rockwellian centerpiece.

By Rachel Robey
Nov 22, 2023
A roasted chicken garnished with rosemary sprigs is presented on a white plate, with sunlight casting shadows across the scene, accompanied by a carving knife and wooden board to the side.
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Once you’ve cooked the perfect turkey, the next step is carving it. The right tools and a little technique will make the job both easier and less intimidating—not only will your turkey look better, it’ll taste better, too.

Get Culinary Creative Director of the Made In Studio Rhoda Boone’s method for carving a Thanksgiving turkey below, plus a few essential carving tips from Evan LeRoy of Austin’s LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue.

How to Carve a Turkey

Person in an apron carving a roasted chicken on a wooden cutting board in a kitchen.

Rhoda shares her fool-proof method for carving Thanksgiving turkeys like a professional, so you can plate up golden, juicy slices that look like they belong in a Norman Rockwell painting. To follow her method you’ll need a Carving Knife, a clean kitchen towel, a cutting board, and (optional) both chef and paring knives.

Step #1: The Wishbone

turkey carving

The first step begins while the turkey is still raw. After thawing and patting your bird dry—but before seasoning or dry brining—you’ll need to remove the wishbone from the raw turkey. This will make it much easier to remove the breasts and carve the turkey once it’s ready for the table.

  • Begin by orienting the turkey with its legs pointed away from you, and pull the excess neck skin back towards the legs to expose the breast meat.
  • Running across both breasts is the wishbone, a ‘Y’ shaped bone that, if left in place, makes carving a pain. Remove it by cutting along the top of one branch with a Paring Knife, and then repeating directly below the bone.
  • Do the same on the other side, and then make a horizontal incision along the top of the bone where the two branches meet in the center.
  • Using your fingers, remove the wishbone. It should come out easily; if not, use a Paring Knife.
  • If you don't want to miss the opportunity to make a wish with the wishbone, clean the flesh off as much as you can and roast it alongside the turkey for 20–30 minutes.

Step #2: The Post-Roast Rest

A roasted turkey in a roasting pan on a table with autumnal decor, including squashes and garlic, suggesting a festive or holiday meal setting.

After roasting your bird, let it rest for 30-40 minutes to let the juices reabsorb. Failure to do so will  result in a dry and bland turkey.

Step #3: Remove the Legs

turkey carving
  • Using your Carving Knife, cut through the skin between the leg and the breast.
  • Gently pull the leg away from the breast, using a clean towel in your other hand to maintain a firm grip on the turkey, until you can see the joint connecting the two. Cut through the joint and release the leg. Repeat on the other side.
  • Each leg will have another joint connecting the drumstick to the thigh. Use your fingers to feel around for the joint, and then slice through it. Repeat with the other leg.
turkey carving leg
  • Flip one thigh skin side down and remove the thigh bone by cutting incisions on either side of it to release the meat. Do the same with the other leg, saving the bones for stock.
  • Slice the thigh into even portions, about ½-inch thick.

Step #4: Remove the Wings

  • Gently extend the wing to expose the joint connecting it to the body.
  • Cut through this to release the full wing and repeat on the other side.
  • Then break down the wings into drumettes and flats. If the wing tips are overcooked, remove them and reserve for stock.

Step #5: Remove the Breast

turkey breast
  • To remove the breasts, begin by slicing into the breast on one side of the breast bone, moving slowly and carefully to follow the curvature of the bones with the tip of the knife. This will ensure you get as much meat as possible from the turkey.
  • As you cut downwards, the meat will begin to release itself from the bone. Help it do so with your knife, and when it’s nearly released, cut firmly through the bottom to release it completely.
  • Repeat on the other side, and slice both into even ½-inch thick portions at an angle, so each piece is served with a small amount of golden, crispy skin.
slicing turkey

Step #6: Plate and Serve

A traditional Thanksgiving meal with various dishes displayed on a table and a person reaching out to the roasted turkey centerpiece.

The traditional way to plate up carved turkey is on a Serving Platter with dark thigh meat arranged in the center, flanked by white breast meat fanned around the perimeter.

Drumsticks, drumettes, and flats can then be arranged on top. Remind guests that dark meat comes from thighs and drumsticks, while wings and breast are all white meat.

Step #7: Save the Carcass

Drama and showmanship aside, the best part of serving an entire roast bird is the ability to turn the carcass into a rich, flavorful broth or stock. Throw in a little carrot, celery, onion, wild rice or pearl barley, and shredded turkey meat and you’ve got a cozy (and delicious) way of using up your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Turkey Carving Tips

Here, Chef LeRoy shares his time-tested tips for carving the perfect turkey this Thanksgiving.

Chef Tip #1: Use the Right Knife

sliced turkey

Cutting meat with a wrong or a dull knife will result in uneven, jagged strips. For larger proteins like whole turkey, a heavy, elongated blade slices gently in a few quick strokes—Chef LeRoy prefers a sharp non-serrated knife.

“For something like carving turkey, the Carving Knife is perfect for the job,” says Chef LeRoy.

Chef Tip #2: Wear Disposable Gloves

“I don’t think you can really carve a bird without using your hands to manipulate the pieces,” says Chef LeRoy. “It allows you to just get in there a little bit, and move things around a little bit more.”

While you could do this barehanded, you’ll likely find it a messy, slightly slippery experience. And importantly, gloves will protect your hands if the bird is hot to the touch.

Chef Tip #3: Rest the Turkey (for a Long Time)

However, the bird shouldn’t be too hot. According to Chef LeRoy, “If it’s too hot to hold in your gloved hand, then it’s too hot to cut.” Resting your turkey—30-40 minutes is ideal—is essential to getting clean slices that are juicy and tender instead of dry and tasteless.

“If you cut it when it's still hot, then steam is going to escape from the slices and you’ll end up with a drier bird," says Chef LeRoy.

Chef Tip #4: Remove the Entire Breast

Some people slice the breast directly from the bird, but to get those artfully arranged magazine-style slices, Chef LeRoy recommends removing the entire breast before slicing. “If you don't, you're going to leave a good amount of meat on the carcass,” says Chef LeRoy. “This way, you’re not going to leave anything on the bone.”

Ready to Carve?

Roasted turkey garnished with herbs presented on a platter on a wooden table accompanied by side dishes and a pie, creating a festive meal setting.

Most turkey is mediocre, leading many of us to believe it’s not worth the effort of multi day defrosting and hours-long roasting. Chef Grant Achatz disagrees, and recommends slathering your bird with herbed compound butter both on top of your bird and under the skin so it self-bastes while it cooks. TL;DR: This is not your grandmother’s turkey.