Ok, so maybe there’s not really a “wrong” way, but at least I have your attention now. While this is no secret to professional chefs, most home cooks out there are used to carving a turkey the way you usually see on TV and in movies; the way you were likely shown growing up when your dad carved the Thanksgiving bird once a year. We’re used to the picture of the bird on the table, dad standing in front of it with a big knife, slicing off pieces of breast meat to be handed out.
Unfortunately, this approach takes up a lot of space on your table and gets messy. It also lends itself to tearing the meat if your knife isn’t quite right, leaves a lot of good meat on the bone, and dries out the meat. So, what to do?
To start, do yourself a favor and carve the bird before you bring it to the table. Lay the meat out on a platter and bring that to the table to be passed around to your guests. And now that we have that settled, here’s your guide to the perfect carve. If you'd rather watch then read, check out the videos at the end.
First, we want to get the thighs and drumsticks taken care of. Cut the loose skin between the breast and the leg and begin to pull the leg away from the body while running your knife between to cut away anything that’s grabbing. You should pull until you hear the joint “pop,” at which point you can finish separating the two by cutting through the joint.
Now that you have the entire leg in one piece, you want to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Cut vertically between the drumstick and the thigh, pulling them apart at the joint until you can get the knife all the way through it. Place the drumstick on the platter and then cut around the thigh bone to remove it completely from the meat. You can then slice this meat up or leave it whole and place it alongside the drumstick. Repeat for side two.
Next, it’s time for the wings. The easiest way to handle these is to start pulling them until you can see the stress points where it wants to pull away. Just run your knife along those points to separate the two while you continue to apply pressure to the wing away from the breast until you expose the joint. Cut through the joint to remove the entire wing. If you’ve ever made or eaten chicken wings, you’ll know that you now have the two different wing portions still attached to each other. There’s another joint between those than can be cut to separate the two. Place both on your platter.
All that should be left at this point are the two breasts. The key to doing this right is that you need to remove the breasts whole before you slice them. To do this, find the breastbone (the long one that separates the two from each other). Run your knife along the bone to begin separating the meat from the rib cage. Continue running the knife down using the bone as a guide while you slowly pull the breast away, cutting away any areas that are giving you problems separating the two. You may need to turn the bird around to get to both sides easily. The entire breast should come off whole without much effort.
From there, you want to slice the breast vertically (skin side up), against the grain to lock in the moisture and keep the meat from tearing. A good tip is to only cut as much as you think you might need. Leaving the breast intact will keep it warm and moist for seconds later or for leftovers the next day (or later that night if you’re one of those people)!
This is an alternative from Food Network's Alton Brown, but I'm not a huge fan of doing it in this order as it tends to leave a lot more breast meat on the carcass as you'll see if you compare the two videos:
If you want to practice, try it out on a chicken first!