How to Carve a Turkey

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Wondering how to carve a turkey? With this easy method, anyone can learn!

When friends and family are gathered around the Thanksgiving table gazing at a perfectly roasted turkey, you might wonder how to slice up perfect portions.

This guide shows you how to confidently carve your bird in just a few steps!

Spatchcock turkey cut into pieces on a platter

Here’s Your Go-To Guide for Carving Turkey!

  • Any size! Use this guide to carve a cooked roast turkey or a spatchcocked turkey.
  • Consider carving the turkey in the kitchen instead of at the table. This means fewer eyes and less stress on you (whew!). NOTE: There’s still time for a photo op (see below)!

Before preparing any food, always know your mise en place (French for being organized)! This is especially true during the holidays when entertaining can be stressful.

  • Knife: I love my electric knife but a good carving knife works just as well. You’ll also want a carving fork. Optional: kitchen shears.
  • Cutting board: A large cutting board with grooved edges to catch juices. TIP: A bath towel folded in half will keep the cutting board steady and also soak up any spills. I also keep an extra, smaller cutting board (with a kitchen towel underneath) for slicing the pieces once they’re removed from the carcass.
  • A serving platter for the sliced turkey with some trimmings and garnishes.
cooked turkey with carving tools

How to Carve a Turkey

It doesn’t take long to get a perfectly carved turkey on the table with these step-by-step directions!

  1. Remove the Legs: Cut the skin between the leg and the breast and pull the leg down until you hear the joint pop (this shouldn’t require intense effort). Use a boning knife to cut the leg away from the joint. Repeat on the other side.
cooked turkey with knife removing the leg
cooked turkey with one leg removed
turkey carcass with legs removed
  1. Remove the Breast: Make a cut all the way to the bottom on one side of the breast bone. Follow the contour of the bone while angling the knife outwards, separating the meat from the bone. Lift the turkey breast away from the bone with your fingers and place it on the second cutting board. Repeat on the other side.
knife slicing away turkey breast and turkey thighs
removing a turkey breast from carcass
turkey wings and legs

Remove Wings: Cut through the joint where the wings meet the backbone. Kitchen shears are perfect for this step!

Carving the Meat

  1. Separate the thighs from the drumsticks at the joints.
  2. Hold the drumsticks vertically and slice parallel to the bone, rotating the drumstick until the meat has been removed. NOTE: Check with guests to see if anyone wants the entire drumstick, it’s pretty traditional!
  3. Cut thighs similar to the drumsticks, feeling for the bone and making even slices.
  4. Leaving the skin on, cut the turkey breasts against the grain in even slices (photo below).
  5. Arrange the turkey platter with fanned-out slices of turkey breast around the outside edge and the dark meat piled in the center.
  6. Drizzle with any juices from the cutting boards and garnish with some Fall roasted vegetables garnished with colorful cranberries and pecans. Tuck a few fresh sprigs of sage and rosemary around the turkey and serve!
knife slicing a turkey breast
Slice into ½-inch slices.

BONUS VIDEO: Learn how to spatchcock a turkey with this step-by-step video!

Turkey Tips & Tricks

  • Let the turkey rest a good 20-30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to recirculate back into the meat keeping it moist and juicy.
  • Knives should be clean and freshly sharpened. If using a cordless electric knife, charge it the night before so it’s ready.
  • Don’t forget to save the juices for gravy!
  • New to carving? Practice on a smaller bird before the big day!

Leftover Turkey?

Proper handling and storage of leftover turkey ensures the safe enjoyment of leftovers! Always remove the meat from the carcass before refrigerating to prevent food contamination. The carcass can immediately be used to make turkey stock along with the leftover fresh herbs for turkey soup.

Leftover turkey can be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and made into delicious game day sandwiches, or a hearty white turkey chili. Or you can organize freezer bags by white or dark meat and freeze for up to 6 months.

Did you try this step-by-step guide? Be sure to leave a rating and a comment below!

cooked turkey with carving tools

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How to Carve a Turkey

Here’s a simple turkey carving guide to help you confidently serve up a beautiful holiday meal.

Prep Time 20 minutes

Total Time 20 minutes

Author Holly Nilsson

  • 1 roast turkey cooked and rested
  • Remove the Drumsticks/Thighs: Hold the drumstick(s) away from the breast and slip the knife between the breast and the leg (photo above) to remove the thigh and drumstick. Separate the drumstick and thigh at the joint and set aside.

  • Remove the Breasts: Make a cut along the center of the breast bone. Cut downwards along the bone to remove the breast(s) from the carcass. Place the breasts on a cutting board and slice across the grain (photo above).

  • Remove Wings: Cut through the joint where the wings meet the backbone.

  • To Carve the Thighs: Cut the thighs by running a knife along the meat next to the bone. Feel around with your fingers to get rid of any cartilage. Repeat the process on the other side.

  • To Carve the Drumsticks: Hold drumsticks vertically and slice parallel to the bone, turning the drumstick to get even cuts.

  • To Carve the Breasts: Leave the skin on and slice the breasts every half inch, cutting against the grain.

Store leftover turkey in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Freeze for up to 2-4 months in an airtight container or in zippered bags. 

Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.

Course Main Course

Cuisine American

© Content and photographs are copyright protected. Sharing of this recipe is both encouraged and appreciated. Copying and/or pasting full recipes to any social media is strictly prohibited. Please view my photo use policy here.

turkey wings and legs with writing
knife cutting turkey with writing
cutting into turkey breast with writing
turkey wings, legs and breast with writing

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About the author

Holly is a wine and cheese lover, recipe creator, shopping enthusiast and self appointed foodie. Her greatest passion is creating in the kitchen and making deliciously comforting recipes for the everyday home cook!

See more posts by Holly

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