Turkey Carving 101: How To Serve The Perfect Bird

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Heide Lang, owner of the Fig Cooking School, has some tips on how to carve the perfect turkey.

Here are some tips from Lang:

Be equipped and be organized:

Take some stress off yourself and carve the turkey in the kitchen as opposed to tableside. Carve the turkey once it is ready even if all the trimmings aren’t quite prepared to be served. The turkey always cools off anyway, so be sure the platter you are using can be placed in the oven. Warm the turkey for 10 to 15 minutes while everything else goes into the dining room. It’s a great idea to have an assistant so you can get the turkey to the table faster (and hotter). Ask your helper to slice the meat as you carve so the process is complete in half the time.

Tools of the trade

You will need the following:

  1. A sharp knife. Many professional cooks and amateurs have their own preference, but the key is that your knife is sharp, has a thin blade, and ranges between 8 and 10 inches long. You can use a traditional carving knife, for example, or even a boning knife.
  2. Paper towels or a clean towel to hold the turkey in place. You don’t actually need a carving fork. Your free hand will do a much better job keeping the turkey steady.
  3. A large cutting board with a deep well around the perimeter to catch all the flavorful juices.

Ready… set… carve!

  1. After all the stuffing has been taken out of the cavity, remove the wishbone to make cutting the breast meat easier.
  2. The legs: Remove the legs first by using your knife to slice between the leg and the body of the turkey. Pull the leg away from the bird until the ball joint that connects it to the carcass pops out of the socket. Once you’ve located the joint, it will cut through easily but if not, check to make sure you are not trying to cut through the bone. Now, separate the thigh from the drumstick by once again cutting through the joint. Once the thigh is separated, slice the meat parallel to the bone. Many people just leave the drumsticks intact, but if you want to carve them, hold the drumstick vertically by the end of the bone, and rest the larger end (the ankle) on the cutting board. Slice straight down as close to the bone as possible
  3. The wings: Remove the wings essentially the same way you cut the legs. Grab the wing and pull it away so you can see where it is attached. Put the tip of the knife between the ball joint of the wing and the socket and cut through the joint.
  4. The breast:  There are two methods to cut the breast. If you choose to cut the turkey tableside, the breast is cut one slice at a time away from the bird, but the breast tends to be dry and the carver is under enormous pressure to create perfect slices. We prefer the kitchen method because it is usually done out of view of the guests, and it is much easier to master. It involves cutting the entire breast away from the bird before slicing it into pieces.  Start with making a long, thin cut along the breastbone. Using the tip of the knife, cut down along rib cage, and use your other hand to pull the breast gently away from the ribs. Let the blade continue down the rib cage straight to the socket where the wing was attached. Cut along the bottom of the breast to remove completely. Place the breast on the cutting board, skin side up, and slice the meat against the grain (crosswise) in one inch slices. (Slicing across the grain makes for a much more tender and juicy turkey.)
  5. And last but certainly not least, remove any other meat from the turkey while it is still warm. The meat comes off the carcass much more easily now, and it will also be much easier to store the leftovers for the next day.

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