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Please offer your best carving advice

The only part of Thanksgiving dinner I'm nervous about is carving the bird. I always end up sawing through bone. Do you have great tips? Where do I start first? What is the secret to succesful carving--or is it too complicated to break it down easily?

asked by Alejandrocooks about 5 years ago
5 answers 1128 views
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Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Creative Director of Food52

added about 5 years ago

Don't stress! You just have to dive in, and not be afraid to feel around for joints and bones and pull things apart to see better. Remember you can always carve alone in the kitchen and present the meat on a platter too. Did you see our answer to your carving question from a few days ago? It's a great video of Russ Parsons carving a turkey: http://www.food52.com/foodpickle...

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added about 5 years ago

Like many other things, it gets easier with practice. The Parsons video is useful for the basics.

A few other tips:

Definitely do it in the (relative) privacy of your kitchen if you're not comfortable with your skills.

The Big Idea is to separate the whole bird into manageable sections without hacking through bone. If your knife encounters solid bone in the process, stop and reposition the knife. Don't force it--it's dangerous. The bird is built to come apart at certain places. The carver's job is to help it along.

For breaking down the bird, a sharp, flexible boning knife or a 5" or 6" utility knife is better than the big honking slicers that come with "carving sets."

Make sure the bird is well rested before starting. At least 30 minutes.

Work from the outside in: get the leg-thighs and the wings off first. Pull the leg-thighs away from the bird. On a properly cooked bird, the ball joint holding the thigh to the body may come free without cutting. If it doesn't, you should be able to see it. Cut around the ball--not through the bone--continuing to pull outward with your free hand till the leg-thigh comes clear.

To separate the leg and thigh, put the leg-thigh on the board skin-side down.. You may see a line of fat that runs along the joint where the two parts meet.(it's very obvious before it's cooked, ) If you don't, wiggle the leg to get an idea where the joint is, then make a diagonal cut that bisects the angle where the leg and thigh meet and passes through the joint. If you hit bone, move the knife a little. It won't require much pressure at all to go through the joint if the knife is in the right place.

Cutting the wings off cleanly is a bit trickier--see the Parsons video.

Take each of the breast lobes off in one piece before slicing--much easier than slicing breast meat while it's attached to the carcass. Just follow the contour of the bone with your knife and pull the lobe gently away with your free hand, cutting the meat free of the bone as you go.

You can build skill and confidence for next Thanksgiving by carving roast chickens or breaking down whole chickens into parts. Anatomically, chickens and turkeys are put together pretty much the same..



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added about 5 years ago

I find that the traditional approach of super thin slices working from the outside of the breast in tend to allow the meat to dry out. I remove the whole breast intact then slice into half to three quarter inch slice across the breast. Basically working from the front of the breast to the back.

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pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

added about 5 years ago

I agree with all the advice on taking the entire breast halves off intact and then cutting across the grain. That way each slice has a bit of crispy skin. Of course there are some wienies who refuse to eat skin or dark meat, but at least if you use this method one person doesn't get all the skin.

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added about 5 years ago

One of the biggest mistakes per-carving is not letting the bird rest long enough. Let your turkey rest so that the proteins relax a bit and the juices hold inside the meat. Then you have a moister meal and less mess on the carving board.