How to carve a turkey for Thanksgiving

Carving a turkey on the dinner table
Carving a turkey on the dinner table (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Thanksgiving is upon us, and if you’re hosting any festive gatherings, you’ll need to know how to carve a turkey the right way. While cooking a delicious turkey may seem simple enough, especially with one of the  best turkey fryers, learning to carve it properly can be challenging. Plus, you want to present a masterpiece at the dinner table, and not a mess!

Luckily, there is a straightforward method for carving a turkey like a professional that should be stress-free. This will also ensure you get the most out of your tasty turkey, and have the right ratio to accommodate all of your guests. So if you want to be a host with the most, follow these easy steps on how to carve a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Before serving, always check that your turkey is well done with one of the best meat thermometers for best results.  And when cooking up a feast, just be sure not to make these turkey mistakes!

How to carve a turkey

What you'll need

Large-sized cutting board, preferably with ridges to catch the juices

Sharp chef's knife or slicing knife

Serving tongs or fork

Serving platter

Paper towels

1.  First thing’s first, leave the turkey to rest for about 30 minutes before placing the turkey on one of the best cutting boards. Resting will allow the juices to redistribute within the meat, making it a more delicious turkey, and keeping all those juices from spilling out. 

Once you’ve set up your carving area, remove the trussing string tying the legs together using the tip of your chef's knife.  A chef’s knife is ideal but a slicing knife will work just fine. If your blade is dull, you’ll need to know how to sharpen a knife to make the job easier. In addition, you can remove the wishbone if needed to make carving easier. 

Cooked turkey resting

Cooked turkey resting (Image credit: Shutterstock)

2. Next, remove the legs by cutting through the skin that connects the leg and breast, slicing down until you reach the joint. Bend the thigh outwards, then slice through the joint to remove the leg. (You should be able to clearly see where the leg connects to the body.) Do the same with the other leg. Then, place one leg skin-side up, before cutting through the knee joint. This will separate the thigh and drumstick. The thighs can either be served whole or carved, making it easier for portion sizes. Then you can cut through the shoulder joints to remove the wings.

3. Then, start carving turkey slices from the crown. There are two ways to carve the breast, so you can choose your preference. The classic way is to carve slices from the carcass. For this, you need to make a horizontal cut with your sharp knife below the breast towards the breastbone. Then slice vertical cuts down the breast, using a carving fork to grip the turkey. This will allow the slices to come off easily. You can slice to your preferred thickness from the breast top and down.

Carving turkey slices

Carving turkey slices (Image credit: Shutterstock)

4. The second method is to carve out the turkey breast first. Simply cut a horizontal line beneath the breast before making a long cut down the side of the breastbone. This will remove the whole breast, gently pulling it away as you cut. Once all cut, place skin-side up on a cutting board and make individual slices as needed. Repeat with the other breast.

Sliced turkey pieces

Sliced turkey pieces (Image credit: Shutterstock)

5. Finally, you can arrange turkey pieces onto a warm platter to serve. Use the tongs to transfer and position pieces neatly to a platter. You can garnish your plated turkey with fresh sage, roast potatoes or anything of your choice. Now, your turkey is ready to serve for your delicious feasts.

How do you keep a turkey moist after cooking?

Thanksgiving turkey

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

One method to prevent turkey from drying out is to cover it fully with aluminum foil, and place a kitchen towel over the foil. This will help to keep the meat warm and moist for the next serving.  


Before you start, you may want to know how to season a turkey to impress your guests, or even how to spatchcock a turkey for crisp results.  And if you are using a turkey fryer for the holidays, be sure you know how to use a turkey fryer safely. 

Also check out these 10 kitchen gadgets guaranteed to make your holidays less stressful and here's how to wrap a gift the right way this season. 

Cynthia Lawrence
Homes Writer

Cynthia Lawrence specialises in Homes ecommerce, covering all things homes and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 


Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.


With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!