Thanksgiving Turkey

For all the years I’ve spent Thanksgiving with my parent, my dad usually carves the turkey. He usually does it in the kitchen with a Buck knife and is very surgical in that he’ll get every scrap of meat off the bone. The platter isn’t really picturesque when he’s finished, but I give him credit for his ability to extract every ounce of meat off the turkey.

Back when I was directing a foodie TV show — and we were putting together our first episode that was Thanksgiving-themed — I was looking around for turkey carving tips. We never had the chance to put that into the show, but I found a couple of ways to carve the Thanksgiving turkey that seemed — on its face —  helpful. Well, since it’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. today, I was looking at The New York Times for food tips, and they had a good video on how to carve up a turkey that’s different from what my dad has done for, well, decades.

If you don’t want to watch the video below, I’ll give you the highlights:

  • First, let the turkey cool to the point where you can touch it without it burning your hand. This will keep the turkey as juicy as possible.  Carving it when it’s too hot will release the juices and you’ll have a dry turkey. No one wants a dry turkey.
  • Use two sharp knives. One should be a six-inch knife for scoring the meat and getting it off the bones. The second should be a 10-12 inch knife for slicing the meat into smaller portions.

What To Carve First

  • Start with the thigh and drumstick. Use the point of the knife to make small slices right through the skin to the joint in the bone.  This technique is called “scoring” — and it’s supposed to break down the membranes in the meat to allow you to get to the joint.
  • Once you’ve scored the meat to the bone, slice through and separate the drumstick from the thigh. Place the drumstick on the plate.
  • To remove the bone from the thigh, run the point of your knife along the bone and score the meat until the bone is almost free of the meat. Then grab the bone and twist it as you score the meat to completely free it from the bone. Then take your 10-12 inch knife and slice the meat into smaller slices.

The Turkey Breast

This is probably where most people are going to differ on how to carve the meat. The traditional way (that is when someone carves the turkey at the table and portions out the meat plate by plate) is certainly fine if that’s the way you do it.

However, there is another way…

(Photo by Harold M. Lambert/Lambert/Getty Images)
  • First, peel the skin off the breast. Why? Because the skin will actually dull your blade if you try to cut through. Using the six-inch blade, score the meat along the breastbone as you pull the breast meat away from the bone.  Small slices will do, and you’ll see that you’ll have a solid piece of breast meat at the end of the process. Set aside and repeat on the other side.
  • To slice the breast meat, cut along the grain of the meat in 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices.  Cutting it too thin will dry out the meat. And cutting with the grain will give you slivers of meat.

Now, carving a turkey this way won’t have that glow of someone carving at the table, but you can still create a good-looking platter for friends and family using the carving method outlined here and in the video.  Also, carving a turkey this way will allow you to serve the bird faster than if you had someone carving at the dinner table.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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