Whether you're doing the Thanksgiving party planning for the first time or you've been crafting the Thanksgiving menu for years, there's often one part of the event that tends to make every host anxious: carving the roast turkey.
It's the moment when you're most on display: Standing at the head of the table, with everyone gathered around, plates at the ready, watching. The last thing you want to do is to hack it into a mess. But not to worry! Here, we show you the tools and tricks that will have you carving off picture-perfect slices like a seasoned pro at a Vegas buffet.
Three Steps to Carving a Turkey
To carve a turkey properly, we recommend you:
Sharpen Your Knives. Even the most skilled chef can't carve a turkey with a dull knife. If you have time, we recommend hiring a pro. If you don't have the time, an at-home sharpener is the next best thing.
Set Up a Carving Station. This may seem obvious, but you don't want to try carving a turkey that's slipping all over a wet platter, or while leaning over the table decorations. Make sure there's an easy to reach space at the front of the table, and all the tools you need are at hand — we'll talk more about that, below.
Relax. Doing anything in front of a crowd can be nerve-wracking, even if you're not wielding a sharp instrument. So keep things in perspective: As long as the turkey is cooked through everyone will enjoy the meal, no matter what the food on their plates looks like.
Tools Needed to Carve a Turkey
You don’t need anything fancy to carve a turkey. Here is a quick list of the equipment you’ll need:
Large cutting board
Moistened towel to keep cutting board from slipping
Rimmed baking sheet to catch juices
Sharp chef's knife
Prepare Your Carving Station
Just before your turkey comes out of the oven, get your carving station ready. To keep your carving board from slipping, place a cloth towel or a few lightly moistened paper towels on the table or counter where you're carving. Then place the board on top, and test it to make sure it's not slipping.
If you have a carving board, use it. It will have grooves around the edge to hold any excess juices. If you're using a cutting board without the moat around the outer edges, no problem. Simply set it in a large rimmed baking sheet. so you don't spill juice everywhere. The baking sheet will help corral the juices. Transfer the bird to the carving board and let it rest, lightly tented with aluminum foil, 20 to 30 minutes for a 20-pound bird.
Tip: While the turkey rests, you can make gravy with the pan drippings.
Next, remove the string that holds the legs together. Grab the leg with tongs and pull it down toward the cutting board, until you can see where the leg is connected to the bird. Slice down, between the breast and drumstick, with a chef’s knife, aiming right for where the joint is. Cut through the joint.
Separate the drumstick and thigh by cutting through the joint that connects them (there's a white line of fat that can act as a guide). Repeat on the other side.
Note: Separating the drumstick and thigh can be a little tricky so don’t sweat it if you don't get it exactly right the first time. It helps to wiggle the two pieces to get a sense of where the joint is. You can also hold the drumstick in one hand and the thigh in the other and simply muscle the two pieces apart. Not elegant, but effective.
Getting Ready to Slice
Remove the breast meat from either side of the breastbone. Starting at the base of one of the breasts, make a long horizontal cut from the top of the wing back to where the leg used to be. Next, make a vertical cut along the top of the corresponding breastbone, from the neck to the back. Continue cutting down along the breast, angling the knife out slightly, until you reach your horizontal cut; remove the breast. Repeat with the other breast. Once removed you can thinly slice the meat, or cut it into thick pieces.
Remove the Wings
Lastly, you’ll need to remove the wings. Pull the wing away from the turkey and slice through the joint. Remove the tip if desired.
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