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How To Carve A Turkey

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The first rule of thumb when it comes to carving is to be sure to give your turkey time to rest, says chef Dwayne LiPuma of The Culinary Institute of America. He suggests waiting at least 20 minutes before cutting into the bird, otherwise the juices will run out, taking all of that hard-won flavor and moisture with them.

How to Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey

When you're ready to carve, take a sharp slicing knife and use a carving fork to stabilize the turkey. Slice off the thigh, removing the drumstick at the joint. Then, working from the outer edge of the breast, slowly carve off thin slices, transferring them to a platter as sliced. To make removal easier, you can make a horizontal cut under the breast so that the meat will fall away as you carve.

Another technique is to remove the breast from the carcass before slicing. To do this, run your knife along the breastbone, then lift off the breast. You can then work with the breast on a cutting board, which is easier for some.

Video Transcript

I'm Chef Dwayne LiPuma, from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to carve a turkey.

You've worked so hard basting, roasting, loving, and doing everything with this turkey. You want to make sure you present, and have everybody eat, they best bird possible.

The first rule of thumb is to wait about twenty minutes to half an hour before carving, and then when you slice this bird you'll see that it will not be sitting in a pool of juice. When I see that pool of juice, all I think of is the pool of flavor; everything I worked for is now on the cutting board, and not on my platter for Thanksgiving.

Now I'll begin slicing this turkey. I want to use what's called a slicing knife. The first thing we want to do is just remove the string. You can see that the string, even though it was in the oven for three or four hours, is still intact. We have no problem with that. The second thing we want to do is open up the bird so we can actually get to the breast and slice it paper-thin. The first cut we're going to make will be right down the thigh. We take our knife and we go right down the thigh itself. As you're cutting away the thigh, you just pull, pull, pull; sometimes you'll get lucky and the leg itself will separate right from the thigh. As it separates, you'll see there is a natural joint here, and you're just going to cut right through it. You see, the leg comes off very easily. Place it ever so nicely onto your plate. Now we're going to go right inside here and just get to that thigh, once again. As we cut through, we just push right across with our fork and that thigh will come right out. We do a little cut to sever it, once again, roll it over, pick it up, and place it ever so nice, just like this - it's that easy.

Now the next thing you have to do - this is where the knife has to be really sharp - is make nice, thin slices of the breast meat. You just start real slow. You're going to push forward and then pull back, and push forward and pull back. Then the meat will just fall right off, nice and easy. Just like that, it's that simple. Another trick that you can do is just make an incision right along here, just like this - horizontally across where you want your slices to end - and then what happens is that as I go down, and I'm making that vertical cut, it'll fall right off because that incision is right there and releases it, ready to go. Once again: start all the way back, go forward, come back, go forward, come back, and it falls right off. You just keep on going all the way through.

Another way of slicing a turkey is just a tad more complicated, but I find a lot easier for me to do, as I control the slices better. I'm going to remove this wing, just cut that wing - which once again comes right off and can be moved to our platter; everybody loves the wing. I'm going to take off the other leg - I'm not going to bother presenting it right now, maybe I'll just separate the drum, to move a little faster, and we'll put that over here on the platter. Now I'm going to run my knife right along the breastbone and take the whole breast right off. That's one slice, instead of all those slices; I've got this whole breast ready to go. That stops you from doing all those other slices directly from the bird; I do one nice slice, move the bird to the side, and now I can just do nice strokes like this, cutting directly across the breast. We'll make a little more room on our board, move it over - and after slicing I put it on my plate, and I have a nice breast all ready to go. You can see we've still got the thigh on this side of the bird, which I'll remove and plate, and the wing which I'll remove and plate - and you can see there's some white meat that was left behind.

Then you say to yourself, 'What am I going to do with this beautiful carcass?' What I like to do, because there's so much flavor, is to make soup. You put this bone in a pot with some water, enough to cover it up by three inches, you throw a lot of vegetables in it, bring it up to a boil and simmer it for two to three hours. Remove the carcass and you've got this beautiful flavored soup. You add a little pasta to it and - boom! you're all set, you've got a nice little turkey soup for the following day.

So that's how you carve a turkey.