The Tao of Thanksgiving: Carving the bird

November 11, 2014

Whatever your Thanksgiving traditions, the ritual of carving the turkey is the zenith of the holiday meal. For those of us without a degree in bird science, here is everything you need to make yourself the master of carving ceremonies.

•A non-serrated slicing knife approximately 10 inches long. A serrated knife will shred the meat. Consider using an electric slicer instead. They are serrated, but the motor action will make a smoother cut.
•Kitchen scissors (optional)
•Cutting board
•Serving platter
•Stuffing bowl
•Carving fork (optional)
•Long-handled spoon
•Thick paper towels

Allow the turkey to cool on the cutting board for 15 to 30 minutes at room temperature, with a folded paper towel beneath, as the juices saturate the meat.

When you cannot wait any longer, use kitchen scissors (or your carving knife) to cut the string, or “truss,” holding the legs together. Remove any skewers—for example, a meat temperature gauge—before cutting.

The simplest carving method is to start your cut by slicing down into the meat between the leg and side of the turkey, separating the thighbone from the main body, though not severing the limb entirely.

To carve the breast, make a horizontal incision just above the wing and leg and then halfway up the breast. Cut down to make even slices. When you reach the bottom, the slices should fall away at the original cut.

The drawback to this method is that it’s wasteful, leaving a good portion of the lower part of the turkey uncut. You will still have to use the following, more difficult method if you want the drumsticks, thighs, and wings.

However, you would extract the stuffing from the cavity between the legs and set it aside. You can either stuff something else in for showmanship or flavoring, but your bird is basically cooked.

For the more difficult, artistic method of carving, grip the turkey by hand with a folded paper towel rather than a carving fork. This will rip the meat less.

Sever the drumsticks first at the second leg joint, using the knife to cut through the sinew. Set them on the platter and move on to the top of the bird.

Make an oval incision at the neck so you can remove the stuffing without damaging the skin. After scooping out the contents of the turkey and transferring it to a serving bowl, cut off the remaining dark meat from the thighbones, which should be tender.

With all these parts in the center of the serving platter, slice each breast from the bottom curve towards the rib cage, creating medallions of breast meat. Use your own judgment as to how thick you need to make each slice.

The carving fork is there to spear the pieces you cut and assemble them like tipped-over dominoes around the pile of parts on the tray. Try to get all the way around so you form a poultry wreath. Once this is finished on both sides, use the knife point to cut off the wings. These can sit folded on top of the entire presentation.

The most difficult method will provide a lot of meat, but requires the most stalwart of turkey connoisseurs.

After the turkey has rested, the truss is cut and skewers removed, pull one leg apart and cut down with your slicing knife until you see the ball joint pop out of the hip. Cut around this until the leg is completely removed.

Separate the thigh from the drumstick by feeling inside for the leg joint and cutting it. Then remove the bone from the thigh by opening the meat, pulling on the bone and cutting carefully around it. This meat can be sliced and set aside. Do the same with the other leg.

The traditional method of carving would be to cut down parallel to the breastplate in about half-inch slices until the majority of the meat is removed.

Another way is to cut a long, thin slice near the sternum, next to the rib cage, and down all the way until the entire breast is removed. Then pull the breast away and slice it separately for more control of the size and thickness of your pieces.

To remove the wings, feel for the bone and follow to where it connects with the bird. You will probably have to scoop in with the tip of your knife until it is ready to come off. Once complete, you can arrange the pieces however you like.

Your family and friends will think you have been doing this for years!

The Tao of Do-It-Yourself is intended to de-mystify simple home and auto maintenance projects. It is not a substitute for professional repair services. If you cannot identify the problem you are trying to fix, refer to the proper specialist right away.

A.T. Miller is an electrician’s apprentice who builds and wires control panels for power systems. He is also a cartoonist, writer, and web/graphic designer. At home, he is an amateur repairman, plumber, electrician, carpenter, and auto mechanic. His most important job is that of husband and father.

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