It’s the moment of truth at any Thanksgiving. Whether in the privacy of your kitchen or under dining room scrutiny, carving up a Thanksgiving turkey is a major holiday moment with a lot riding on it. Yet while tips and instructions for the shaky-handed abound, the best trick for perfect carving is a classic that contemporary cooks seem to have forgotten.
What makes carving difficult is the wishbone, and not just because everyone fights to pull it apart at the dinner table. It’s an engineering problem. The y-shaped bone, which runs along the top of a turkey’s chest, actually gets in the way of a clean cut anytime you try to slice breast meat from a bird. The result: ragged strips and crumbs, instead of steaming slices.
The key, as chef J. Kenji López-Alt explains in his new cookbook The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, is removing the wishbone, and doing it before you roast. Bones are just easier, and less messy, to remove when cold. “If you try to do it when it’s hot,” López-Alt told Quartz, “you’ll have to wear heat proof gloves or something.”
Cooking greats like Julia Child and the authors of The Joy of Cooking concur, even if modern day cooking and carving instructions tend to forget this essential tip. Once the wishbone is gone, promises López-Alt, your freshly roasted turkey meat “almost comes out like you’re scooping ice cream.”
First, find the wishbone.
Next, make your first incision.
Then, repeat on all sides.
Finally, pry that sucker out.
If you want to play the wishbone game, feel free to throw it back in the turkey pan with the rest of the bird. Or, if you don’t believe in wishes and/or fun, use the bone and any meat or connective tissue that comes out with it to make a stock for your gravy. And, if you forget to take it out from the get-go, López-Alt says it’s not the end of the world. “You’ll just have to do more fiddly knife work to cut around the breast.”
Check out the rest of López-Alt’s carving instructions here.
All images courtesy of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt. Copyright © 2015, all rights reserved.