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How To Carve a Roasted Turkey

  1. After removing the bird from the oven, always allow it to rest, loosely covered with aluminum foil, for 20 minutes minimum for a small bird, up to 50 minutes for a very large bird, so the juices are reabsorbed into the breast meat. Remove any strings and skewers AFTER the bird has rested.
  2. Exception: If you've stuffed your turkey, spoon the stuffing out to a serving bowl and cover loosely with aluminum foil as soon as the bird comes out of the oven. Return stuffing to the oven at 175- or a covered crockpot on high- to keep safe and warm.
  3. Sharpen the knife! Use a carving fork to hold the bird in place as you carve.
  4. Remove the drumsticks first: Use a napkin to grasp the end of the drumstick or place the carving fork into the meaty part of each drumstick to hold it firmly. Place the knife between the drumstick and the thigh and cut through the skin to the joint, then through the joint. Unless they are so big they need a little trimming, leave the drumsticks whole; kids of all ages like them that way.
  5. Separate each thigh from the body by pressing it outward with the knife while holding the turkey in place with the fork. If the joint doesn't disengage easily, cut through it after locating it with the tip of that sharp knife. Slice the thighs.
  6. Disjoint and separate the wing tips and second joints of the wing in the same fashion. Leave the first joint of the wing in place for the moment.
  7. Next, carve the breast. Very low down on the turkey, at the level of the wing joint, make a deep horizontal cut across the bottom of one side of the breast with the carving knife. This cut is parallel to the backbone. Cut all the way to the rib cage, this can be an inch deep on a really big bird.
    • Traditional slices
      Now, slice the breast meat downward with straight, even strokes, beginning at the outside edge near where the leg was attached. When the knife reaches the incision above the wing bone, the slices will fall free. Continue slicing, working in toward the breastbone, until the breastbone is reached. Once the first cut is made, the angle at which the knife is held remains the same. Use long, sweeping strokes for smooth slices; sawing shreds the meat, especially on a large or overcooked bird. If this is not enough white meat for the first round, repeat the process on the other side.
    • Cutlet slices- this method gives more meat per side
      You are going to remove the whole breast and tenderloin from the carcass before slicing. Using the tip of the knife, open the skin at the top of the breast bone, cutting from wishbone to vent. Now, supporting the breast with the fork, slice all the way down to the bone. Keeping the side of the knife against the bone, slice all the way to the bottom cut. The whole breast will fall away from the carcass. Slice across the grain (cutlet style) for the tenderest pieces of most uniform size. Or slice the long way for the more traditional looking slices.
  8. Now with the breast off, it is easy to see the joint on the wing and cut it loose, and you can also cut the wishbone loose.
  9. To take the wisbone off without breaking it, place the tip of the knife between the wishbone and the breast bone and cut down on either side to cut the ends loose. Then take hold fo the loose ends with that napkin yiou used on the drumstick, pull/ lift slightly away from the breast bone and cut up to cut the top loose.

Slicing Cooked Whole Turkeys and Pieces

  • Allow turkey products to stand at room temperature briefly after cooking and before slicing. The juices will distribute evenly throughout the turkey. Netting and cooking bags are also easier to remove after at least 10 minutes standing time. The standing time counts as part of the "2 hours from oven to refrigerator" time. DO NOT leave your turkey in the oven with the oven off, it will stay too hot and the breast meat will be dry.
  • Slice or carve on a sanitized cutting surface. Knives, pans and covers should be sanitized too. Re-sanitize board and knives (wash, disinfect and rinse)every 30 minutes.
  • Wear disposable food-handling gloves while carving and change between turkeys or thoroughly wash your hands frequently.
  • Immediately after the 10-to 20-minute holding time, carve turkey from its carcass into major sections (i.e., breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings). Drumsticks and disjointed wings may be left whole. Thighs and breasts will be sliced.
  • If serving immediately/ hot, place the sections in pans. Cover with film to retain heat and moisture and to minimize the possibility of contamination. Hold at 140 degrees F. or higher in a hot holding device such as a high crockpot, chafing dish, electric frypan or griddle, steam cabinet, steam table, bain marie). Turkey must be at least 140 degrees F. (too hot to handle with bare hands) when placed in the holding pans. The heating device will only maintain temperature, it will not warm it up. A maximum holding time until serving of 20 to 30 minutes is recommended.
  • To serve, slice the sections into serving pieces, plate and garnish.
  • Transfer turkey carcasses, skin and trimmings into the stock pot immediately, or quickly break down, bag and place into the freezer for future stock making.
  • If turkey is not to be served immediately, it must be rapidly chilled. Spread out whole legs or wings in a single layer. Slice and shingle breasts and thighs into 3/8 inch thick slices no more than 1-inch deep in shallow steam table pans. Cover with film, place in a second pan of ice to chill immediately and refrigerate at 35 degrees to 40 degrees F. Cooked, sliced turkey that is stored must reach 40 degrees F in 2 hours or less. Once chilled, it may be held up to 72 hours, or frozen for later use.

Slicing Cooked Turkey Products

The carving and slicing techniques above also apply to turkey products. In addition:
  • Let netted pieces stand 10 minutes after cooking for easy removal of netting.
  • Slice fully cooked turkey rolls, slabs, ovals and other shapes crosswise to desired thickness. Slice at a slight angle to achieve a more oval-shaped piece of meat for better plate presentation or for oval-shaped sandwich bread.
  • For a traditional look, carve the fully cooked breast or half-breast roast lengthwise with the muscle. For more uniform, tender slices, slice cross-wise in a cutlet style.
  • For ease of machine slicing, chill cooked turkey first.
  • Because salt performs a binding function, "no-salt" or "low-salt" products do not slice as easily as salted ones, especially roasts made from more than one muscle such as the mixed white and dark meat roasts.