The Serious Eats Guide to Carving Turkey

Knife Skills

Videos and step-by-step guides, each highlighting an essential knife technique.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-20.jpg

We've got step-by-step photographs and videos on how to carve a roasted turkey, whether it's a traditional, fully intact bird or spatchcocked. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt. Videos: Serious Eats Video]

So you've followed one of our turkey recipes and have the golden beast in front of you. Now what? For many folks, the hardest part of cooking a turkey is carving and serving it. Depending on how you roasted the bird, the carving instructions will be a little different.

Here's how to carve a traditional bird.

And here are instructions on how to carve a spatchcocked turkey.

How to Carve a Traditional Roast Turkey

To carve a turkey, you'll need to start with a turkey. There's one step that takes place before you roast it, so start with it raw.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-22.jpg

Pull back the skin flap around the neck, and you'll locate the wishbone—the small, Y-shaped bone that runs along the top of both breast halves.

20121103-how-to-carve-a-turkey-25.jpg

Make the first incision along the outside edge of one branch of the Y.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-1.jpg

Then repeat that cut on the other side of the same branch, and repeat those two cuts on the other side. Finally, make a small horizontal incision at the very top of the bone, where the two branches meet.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-2.jpg

Grab the top of the bone with your finger, and pry it forward. It should come away with little effort. If it's stuck, use the tip of a sharp boning knife to cut through stubborn spots.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-3.jpg

With the wishbone removed, it's going to be a lot easier to carve your turkey later. Now your turkey is ready to roast. Check out the turkey recipes and techniques page in our Thanksgiving guide for all the recipes you need.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-4.jpg

Roasted and ready? All right, Señor Gobbles. Time for your surgery.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-5.jpg

Start by cutting the skin between the leg and the breast with a sharp chef's knife or boning knife, using a clean kitchen towel to hold the turkey in place with your free hand.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-6.jpg

Once the skin is cut, pull the entire leg away from the body. It should separate quite easily, displaying the socket joint where the thigh meets the hip. Cut through this joint with the tip of your knife, and the leg should be completely free. Just slice through the skin to release it.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-7.jpg

Isn't it frightening how easy it is to remove a limb? You now have a whole leg in front of you, alongside a disabled turkey.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-8.jpg

Locate the joint between the drumstick and the thigh by moving them back and forth and feeling with your fingertip. Slice through this joint.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-9.jpg

Repeat with the other leg.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-10.jpg

Flip one thigh over, and cut along one side of the thigh bone to release a large chunk of meat.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-11.jpg

Repeat with the other side of the thigh bone.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-12.jpg

Slice the thigh meat into half-inch pieces, and transfer to a warm platter. Repeat with the other thigh. Add the drumsticks to the platter.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-13.jpg

Locate the wing joint by articulating it, then slice through with a sharp chef's knife. Repeat with the other wing, then separate the drumettes from the flats, and transfer all four wing pieces to the platter.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-14.jpg

Slice into the breast on one side of the breastbone with a sharp boning knife.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-15.jpg

Continue slicing, following the contour of the breastbone with the tip of the knife to remove as much meat as possible.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-16.jpg

As you continue to work, the breast meat should begin to pull away from the bone. Help it along with the side of your knife until it's completely separated.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-17.jpg

Once the breast falls away from the bone, cut through the bottom edge to completely separate it.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-18.jpg

Repeat with the other side. You should now have all of the meat removed. Save the carcass for soup, if desired.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-19.jpg

Slice the breast meat with a sharp knife at a bias. Transfer to the warm platter.

20121103-how-to-carve-turkey-kenji-20.jpg

And here's your turkey, ready to present to the table.

How to Carve a Spatchcocked Turkey

The process for carving a spatchcocked turkey is remarkably similar, with a few small tweaks to accommodate its butterflied profile. Here's a video to break it all down.