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How to Carve a Turkey

With these helpful tips and tricks, carving a turkey has never been so easy! This is the best way to carve a turkey for the holidays. 

Carved turkey on white plate.
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Best Way to Carve a Turkey

Roasted turkey is usually always on our Thanksgiving menu. If you’re on turkey duty this holiday season, there’s a few steps that are involved. You’ll first need to thaw the turkey, roast it in the oven (or make smoked turkey) and then carve into slices. It does require a bit of work, but it is oh so worth it!

Now that you’ve cooked your oven roasted turkey, it’s time to carve. Sometimes carving a turkey can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! It’s a lot easier than you may think and will look beautiful on a platter with fresh herbs.

Whether it’s the drumsticks, thighs, wings or breast, this step-by-step post will show you how to easily carve each part of your holiday turkey. All you need is a sharp knife. Serve the delicious sliced meat alongside your favorite side dishes and of course, pumpkin pie for the ultimate holiday dinner. Then save any meat to make some of your favorite leftover turkey recipes, especially this delicious leftover turkey soup!

How to carve a turkey chart.
Cutting turkey on cutting board.

Drumsticks and Thighs

These have darker meat and a little more flavor since they’re fattier than the breast. You’ll want to remove them first before anything else. Use your knife to slice through the skin that connects the leg to the breast until you hit the thigh bone.

Grab the leg and pull it back until the joint pops out. Then separate the drumstick from the thigh. I like to leave the drumstick on the bone with the skin and then cut the meat off of the thigh into small slices.

Carving the Breast

The turkey breast is the largest part of the turkey with the most white meat. The meat is more lean than the drumstick and thigh. After carving them first, then carve out the breast. Use your knife to make a slice along the breast bone, directly across the top of the turkey. Then make a slice down along the rib bone and remove the breast in one big piece.

Slice the breast meat at an angle against the grain. I like to make about 1/2 inch slices and leave the skin on for more flavor (you can remove it if you prefer). Then use a large spatula to lift the sliced breast in one piece onto the platter. It looks extra pretty this way!

Slicing turkey breast.

Helpful Tips

While you are carving the Thanksgiving turkey and slicing the meat carefully, slide the prepared meat and any other favorite sides (like scalloped potatoes ) into the oven to bake together. This will help with timing and save room in the oven.

  • A high quality knife makes all the difference when carving a turkey. I’d recommend an electric carving knife or a large chef’s knife.
  • Be careful not to break the wishbone when carving! Remove it carefully so that you can partake in the fun holiday tradition with your family.
  • If you aren’t serving the turkey right away, place it on a baking sheet in the oven at 125°F. The temperature is high enough to keep it warm, but low enough so that it won’t dry out.
  • Have fun with the presentation! I love to add mine to a big white serving platter decorated with garnishes, like fresh herbs, cranberries and lemons.
  • Use the leftover turkey carcass to make homemade turkey stock.
  • Use leftovers and drippings to make a homemade turkey gravy.
Sliced turkey on white plate.

Recipe FAQs

How long should a whole turkey rest before carving?

I like to take the turkey out of the oven when it reaches 160°F and the leave the pan and cover with foil. Then I let it rest 30 minutes, so it gives it time to reabsorb the juices. If you slice the turkey soon, not only will you burn your fingers but the juices will run out causing a dry turkey.

Should I carve the turkey hot or cold?

Great question! You can actually dry your turkey out if you carve too early. You’ll want to let it rest at least 30 minutes so you don’t lose all the wonderful juices. It will also be easier to cut the turkey when it isn’t quite so hot.

Favorite Dishes to Serve Alongside

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sliced turkey on white plate

How to Carve a Turkey

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Author: Jamielyn Nye
With these helpful tips and tricks, carving a turkey has never been so easy! This is the best way to carve a turkey for the holidays. 
Cook Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 25 mins
Servings: 16

Equipment

  • Sharp chef's knife, carving knife, or electric knife
  • Large cutting board (I prefer rimmed)

Ingredients 

  • 1 roasted turkey (rested 30-45 minutes)

Optional: Fresh herbs for platter such as rosemary, sage and parsley, cranberries and sliced lemons

    Instructions

    • After the turkey has rested 30 to 45 minutes, transfer the turkey onto a large cutting board (I prefer rimmed). Grab a sharp chef's or carving knife and keep paper towels or a towel on hand to help with any juice.

    Remove leg and thigh

    • Slice through the skin closest to the thigh to remove the leg from the body. Cut through the joint, angling the knife towards the bone. As soon as you hit bone, bend the thigh backwards until there’s a pop and you can see the joint. Slice through the joint to separate the leg and thigh from the backbone. Repeat with the second side.

    Remove wishbone

    • Cut the wishbone located between the neck and breast of the bird away from the body, being careful as it will break easy.

    Remove breast

    • Slice directly across the top of the bird along the breast bone. Slowly cut down along the rib bone and remove meat in one big piece. Repeat with other side.

    Remove wings

    • Pull the wing as far as you can back until you hear a pop. Slice at the joint. Remove wing from drumette.

    Slice the meat

    • Cut the thigh meat (darker meat) off the bone and into smaller slices. Slice the breast meat against the grain and at an angle into slices. You can leave the skin on, if desired. Use a spatula or tongs to lift the sliced meat onto a platter.
    • Arrange the meat and decorate with fresh herbs, cranberries, and lemons, if desired. Serve right away or cover with aluminum foil until ready to serve.

    Notes

    Note: If not serving right away, you can cover the turkey with foil and place in the oven at 125°F. However, I prefer to carve the turkey just before serving.
    Course: Main Dish
    Cuisine: American

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