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How to carve a turkey (and other types of poultry & wildfowl)

Thanksgiving dinner

Once the turkey has been stuffed and roasted to perfection, there's only one last hurdle to clear before you and your family can dig in to that delicious bird...

How to carve it.

Relax. The hard part is over. As long as you have a steady workstation and a sharp knife, carving a turkey (or any other type of bird) is actually fairly simple.

All birds can be broken down in approximately the same way. The same method can be used on ducks, geese, hens, chickens; and just about any other type of poultry or wildfowl.

(Note: the term "poultry" refers to farm-raised birds, whereas "wildfowl" pertains to birds that were raised in the wild.)

Carving the turkey yourself saves money and help you to ensure the cuts turn out just the way you want them.

Wrap and freeze the back, neck, heart, and gizzard for later use. They make excellent additions to soups and stocks.

Make sure your turkey is fully-cooked and has had a chance to rest after coming out of the oven. It's also wise to use a cutting board that has a trench for collecting juices.

To carve a whole turkey:

  1. Start by gripping the turkey by one of its wings and lifting so that the turkey's weight pulls the wing away from the body. If needed, you can use a paper towel to improve your grip.

  2. Slice through the skin and flesh to find the joint. You may need to work your knife into the joint in order to separate it from the body. Use the same method to cut away the other wing; and then set the wings aside.

  3. To separate the legs (which are comprised of a drumstick and a thigh), start by pulling the leg away from the turkey to reveal the joint. Work your knife into that joint and cut through the ligaments to break it away from the body.

  4. Flex the leg and crack the ball joint in order to separate the drumstick from the thigh.

  5. Use the same method on the other leg and set them aside with the wings.

  6. The pieces you've set aside are considered 'dark meat.' It's more flavorful then the white breast meat, but also higher in fat. Some people prefer to use a small knife to shave the meat off of the bones so that the meat can be served in more manageable pieces. This is helpful when cooking a large bird for a crowd; but you can also serve the pieces intact for the sake of presentation. (Note: If you intend to shave all the meat off the bones prior to serving, it's a good idea to keep the dark meat separate from the white meat so that your guests can choose which type they would prefer.)

  7. To separate the breasts from the carcass, place your knife on either side of the spine and make long smooth cuts along the sides of the spine.

  8. Use the ribs as a guide and go deeper and deeper with each cut until the breast is separated from the body. Leave the breast in one large piece and repeat the same procedure on the opposite breast.

  9. Cut the breasts into slices with long, smooth strokes; and serve separately from the dark meat.

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