How to Carve a Turkey

How to Carve a Turkey

Publish Date September 15, 2023

There it sits, in all its golden glory. You’ve cooked this turkey to perfection, but now comes the real challenge: slicing it cleanly and evenly, and collecting as much of the meat as possible. Ready to get started? This handy guide will teach you how to carve a turkey like a pro.


Sharpen your turkey carving knife or chef’s knife a few days in advance. Carving knives typically have long, narrow blades, but any slicing blade will do the trick. If you have an electric knife, make sure it’s in working order before the big day arrives.

You may also want to have a carving fork (or other large fork) to stabilize the turkey as you cut, as well as a boning knife to help you easily separate the joints. Lastly, make sure you have a cutting board large enough for the turkey, and preferably one with a “gutter” to collect the juices.

Getting Ready

When carving a turkey, make sure the cooked bird gets plenty of resting time before serving. Once it comes out of the oven, let it sit, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Cutting a turkey will take an additional 30 minutes or so. This means, if you’re serving dinner at 5 p.m., you’ll want to plan to take the turkey out of the oven around 3:45 p.m. – so be sure to factor that into your Thanksgiving schedule!

Ideally, you want your workstation to be in a low-traffic area with plenty of space. Place trivets where you’ll put the hot roasting pan, and set up a few hand towels, both damp and dry, to easily wipe grease off your hands as you work. If you have a dog who’s prone to counter surfing, check on its whereabouts often or enlist a guest to take your four-legged companion for a temptation-free walk around the block while the turkey rests.

To begin the carving process, go ahead and cut out the wishbone. If this is your first time and you’re wondering where the wishbone is on a turkey – don’t worry, it’s easy to find! Simply place the turkey on the counter with the drumsticks facing toward you. Then, lift the skin from the chest and use your hands to feel for the Y-shaped bone between the neck cavity and the breast. Make a small cut behind the bone, then use your fingers to loosen and remove it. Set it aside to dry for after-dinner wishing.

Carving the Turkey in 4 Steps

Learning how to carve a turkey breast or whole turkey is simple. Let’s start with how to cut a turkey the proper way. To get clean slices, always use long strokes, rather than a “sawing” motion, and cut against the grain.

The quickest way to carve a whole turkey is by breaking it down one side at a time.

  1. First, cut through the skin that connects the breast and the drumstick, slicing down until you reach the joint. Using a paper towel, grab the leg and push down, separating the leg and thigh from the bird. Use your chef's knife to slice through the joint. Lay the leg/thigh section flat on your cutting board and cut the drumstick joint away from the thigh bone.
  2. Still working on the same side, use the carving knife to slice through the skin on the top of the turkey along the breastbone. Lay the breast flat on the cutting board. Use the boning knife to slice through the joint to remove the wing; transfer it to the platter. You’re halfway there! Now it’s time to turn the turkey around and repeat those steps on the other side.
  3. On your cutting board, arrange both breasts, skin-side up. Cut them at a slight angle, into ¼”-thick slices. These thin, even slices of meat make your carving job look professional. If your cutting board is wobbly, put a damp towel underneath to stabilize it.
  4. Using a smaller knife or your fingers, remove the thigh meat from the bone and place it on the platter. Add the drumsticks and wings, then, if you’d like, surround the finished dish with garnishes such as freshly cut herbs or sturdy dark greens. If you aren’t eating right away, you can cover the platter with foil and keep it warm in an oven turned to “low.”

Finally, take a moment to put the carcass in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s turkey soup.

Congratulations! You’re now an experienced turkey carver. Gobble up more turkey tips, menu inspiration, equipment, décor and more at our Thanksgiving Shop.

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