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Published November 19, 2012, 11:40 PM

How to impress your family by carving the Thanksgiving turkey

MOORHEAD – When Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians gathered for the first Thanksgiving back in 1621, it was a very different sort of meal. According to journal entries from the time, there was deer and venison, “fowl,” (though it’s not specified what kind of fowl), corn, squash and other crops, but apparently no turkey.

MOORHEAD – When Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians gathered for the first Thanksgiving back in 1621, it was a very different sort of meal.

According to journal entries from the time, there was deer and venison, “fowl,” (though it’s not specified what kind of fowl), corn, squash and other crops, but apparently no turkey.

While that’s obviously not the case today – close to 47 million turkeys are expected to be consumed on Thursday, according to the national nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education – the lack of turkey at the first Thanksgiving would have meant one less thing for organizers to worry about.

Indeed, it’s no secret that there’s a lot of pressure for those responsible for cutting up the bird and presenting it to the family.

Sure, it’s important that the turkey taste good, but how it’s presented on the plate – in perfectly shaped slices – matters just as much, some would say.

Being the person carving the bird, with the rest of the family watching your every move, can be enough heat to make you want to get out of the kitchen.

But according to Kim Brewster, a culinary arts instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, it doesn’t need to be that difficult. The turkey carving can be – and should be – relatively painless (for you, not for the turkey).

To get started, you’ll need a sharp knife (or, even better, an electric knife). First, grab the turkey’s leg and thigh portion and gently cut until getting to the ball and socket joint, says Brewster, who’s cooked and carved many a turkey in his 37 years of culinary teaching. Then, pull the leg and the thigh off both sides of the turkey.

Separating the leg from the thigh, slice both parts into pieces of dark meat.

That leaves the breast, with its delicious white meat, where there are two different methods for carving.

One option, Brewster says, it to cut parallel to the breastbone, carving off slices until getting all the way down to the bone.

“You should have all the meat off at that point,” he says.

The other way to do it is to just remove the whole breast from the bird, and cut it separately on a cutting board.

“It’s easily sliced that way, rather than taking it off the turkey,” Brewster says. “Then you have it separated on the platter – here’s the white meat, here’s the dark meat.”

And like that, just after a few minutes and a few carefully placed cuts, the bird is carved and ready to be gobbled up by your sure-to-be impressed family.

“It really isn’t that bad,” Brewster says of the carving. “All the meat is on the outside. Just follow the bone structure.”

After the carving is finished, Brewster estimates the meat makes up about half the weight of the turkey.

“If you get a 12-pound bird, you might only get six pounds of meat off of it, at the most,” he says.

While Brewster will be making and carving a Thanksgiving turkey like most everyone else this year, he says his personal favorite holiday meal was actually a turducken – a de-boned chicken inside of a de-boned duck inside of a de-boned turkey.

It’s no traditional dinner – and certainly not the first Thanksgiving meal enjoyed by the colonists and Native Americans – and it’s quite a bit more hands-on work than the carving of a single turkey.

But, Brewster says, it’s worth it.

“That’s the most interesting way I’ve done the turkey,” he says. “It’s great.”

Thanksgiving has sure come a long way since 1621.

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