Surgery for Amateurs:
Carving the Thanksgiving Turkey

My Black & Decker electric carving knife arrived from Amazon last night, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I used to think electric knives were a kitchen novelty from the 1970s that had gone out with the Presto Hotdogger. Not so. Their utility became clear a few years ago when I went to carve our Thanksgiving turkey. Mrs. Banks always makes it a point of pride to roast a bird far larger than what’s strictly required to feed the family at the holiday meal (“we can have tetrazzini all next week!”), and that year’s was a bruiser extraordinaire.  So when I went to carve the bird–in particular, when I went to separate its leg from its thigh using just a chef’s knife–the joint I encountered was so large and stubborn I immediately knew I was in for an extended round of  hand-to-drumstick combat. I finally was able to get the bird fully dismembered, but by the time I did I’d done so much hacking away at it I felt like I should’ve been standing in a guest bathroom at the Bates Motel.

Since then, I’ve learned from no less an authority than Alton Brown that the electric carving knife is a Gadget in Good Standing in 21st-century American kitchens, and just the thing for cutting up a turkey. Phew. For all the Norman Rockwell-esque glow that surrounds the act of carving the holiday bird, the actual job can be a physical and logistical nightmare. The typical Thanksgiving turkey is huge, for one thing, so just finding enough space to lay out all  the carved meat can be a challenge. Then, as noted, there are those cussed leg and thigh joints to undo. The breast is a mountain of white meat, usually a tad overcooked, that’s nearly impossible to carve up without shredding. Then, once the knife has been laid down at last,  the stuffing needs to be scooped. The whole process really can be a bit of a chore. Anyway, I’ve mangled more Thanksgiving turkeys than I care to remember, and have learned from cold experience that this procedure works best:

Carving Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Place a second carving board alongside the one the turkey is resting on. If you have a pair of disposable latex gloves handy, put them on. Plug in your electric carving knife (trust me!) and use it to separate the bird’s leg from its thigh, and place the leg on the spare carving board. Then, also with the electric knife, separate the thigh from the body of the bird, and put the thigh on the carving board, as well. Repeat until you run out of legs and thighs. Pull the meat off the drumsticks and place on a serving platter.  Take a chef’s knife and cut the thigh mean away from the bone and place it on the serving platter, too. Toss the thigh and leg bones into the pot of turkey stock simmering on the range. (Turkey legs are highly overrated as actual food.) Next, with a chef’s knife, cut away the entire breast from one side of the bird and place it on carving board, then cut away the breast from the other side. Cut the breast meat, across the meat’s grain, into half-inch or so slices, and transfer them to the serving platter. Do your best to keep skin attached. Take a moment to catch your breath, then pull out a serving bowl and large spoon and scoop out the damned stuffing. Have someone else carry the platter and bowl to the table, and take a short rest.

There. Thanksgiving dinner is officially on.

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