It’s after Thanksgiving, you’ve finally gotten rid of all the leftovers and it’s time to head off to the ol’ Grocery Store once again to fill your larder. You’re walking past the meat aisle and there it is, a whole pile of Turkeys ON SALE!! The question is, what would you do with the darn thing? I like to pick up the cheap birds and break them down, or bone them out. That way I have turkey in the freezer ready and waiting for just about anything I could think of, plus it takes up much less space. So, without further ado, let’s bone us a turkey!
Step One – The Turkey
This the easiest, but often the most time consuming step as most turkeys come frozen solid. The more thawed the turkey is, the greater your chance for success. While you’re waiting, make sure you have a large cutting board, and a really sharp knife. When the bird is thawed, pull out the giblets and the neck, if they’re shoved into the cavity, and get ready to butcher!
Step Two – Legs and Thighs
If you gently tug the drumstick away from the rest of the bird, you’ll see perfectly the line of separation between the leg and the thigh and the rest of the bird, follow that line with a nice, smooth cut through the skin.
Once the skin is cut you can see the line of thigh bone and where it connects to the rest of the carcass, this is where you’ll make your next cut.
What I’m doing here is using broad strokes to make sure the entire thigh is cut away from the rest of the bird. This will also expose where the thigh bone connects to the hip. As soon as you can, use the tip of your knife to carefully pop the hip bone out of socket.
Now it should be obvious where the dark meat of the thigh ends so you can finish slicing the leg/thigh combo off the bird.
If you bend the drumstick at the knee joint a couple of times, you should be able to discern exactly where the next joint we’ll be cutting is. There is also a nice line of fat between the leg and the thigh if you need some help locating the next cut. Follow the line of fat, and pop the joint.
Repeat with the other side and we’re done with the dark meat.
Step Three – The Breasts
It’s now time to remove the succulent breast of the bird. Some people like doing this step first, go for it. One thing you’ll learn about cooking is there’s about five thousand ways to do just about anything, the trick is to find the way that works for you and stick with it.
With this bird, I’ve added an extra step. We got a crazy idea for a dish that involves taking off the turkey skin in one big piece, so that’s what I did first. Start off with making a cut along the spine of the bird. Then take the tip of your knife and begin to gently slice the skin off the ribcage, peeling it back out of the way as you go.
Keep following the skin around the bird. There is a transparent membrane that attaches the skin to the bird, for the most part it will just pull off, but sometimes you need the knife to encourage it along. Once you get to the sternum, carefully cut the cartilage that separates the two boobs and continue on your merry way back to the spine.
Next thing I like to do is get those pesky wings out of the way. It’s a simple process, grab the wing, pull it taut and cut it off the bird.
By now you should have a pair of naked turkey breasts, we’re now in the home stretch. Take your knife and make a cut straight down the middle of the sternum to give you a nice starting point.
Pick a side to do first, using the edge of your knife, slice down against the sternum in long, broad strokes. Keep you knife against the sternum as you go, using it as a guide.
Here you can see where the wishbone meets the shoulder, at this point I like to fold the breast back up against the sternum and then make a long cut along the ribs at the bottom of the breast. This helps give you a nice clean edge.
Once again, you can do this step first if you prefer, it’s really up to you. Otherwise, keep following the ribcage using the bones as a guide for your blade until the meaty breast is removed.
Repeat with the other breast, and you’ve now successfully boned a turkey. Save all the bones and scraps for Stock, and freeze the rest. These techniques will get you through most birds, the only difference is size. So practice with the turkey, and you’re ready for anything that flies. Good Luck!