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Turkey tips to the rescue

Try these hints to help you carve like a pro and fix those ‘Turkey Day’ fowl ups so your guests will never know.
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Are you hosting the Thanksgiving festivities this year? Or are you simply in charge of the cooking the turkey? Either way, before you have a “Turkey Day” fowl up, Chef David Burke of New York’s Park Avenue café has some advice for carving and serving a beautiful Thanksgiving bird. He shares his tips below.


Sharp knives:

First, you need to wait at least 15-20 minutes after you take the turkey out to let it rest before you start to carve.

A good sharp knife is the best tool for successful turkey carving. A long, thin serrated knife as well as a boning/steak knife, work well. The key is for the knife to be sharp. The knives are the carver’s best and most necessary tool. You will also need a carving fork or spatula.

A lot of people use electric knifes which David says is OK too, but not necessary.

Drumsticks and wings:

David recommends removing the drumsticks and wings first so it’s easier to carve the rest of the turkey. Using the large slicing knife cut off the drumsticks at the joint and then pull off the wings at the joint. You will need to go back and forth with the knife a few times and then twist the leg off. Then do the other drumstick and wing.

Filet of breast cut:

Next you’ll want to cut off the filet section of the breast meat. This makes cutting the rest of the breast more manageable and keeps the meat warmer because the bird stays intact longer.

Using the large knife, make a horizontal cut about 1/2 of the way down the breast. Then from the top of the breast make a vertical cut until you reach the other cut and the turkey wedge falls free. (If you think of the turkey as an apple you would make a horizontal cut through the middle of the apple about 1/2 of the way and then do a vertical cut 1/2 of the way to get the wedge).

Put the filet on the cutting board and peel off the skin. Take some kitchen scissors or clean shears and cut the skin into squares. (If the skin isn’t crispy you can broil it until crisp or microwave for about a minute.) You want to slice the filet on a slight diagonal against the grain in slices about 1/4-inch wide and then arrange them on a platter with the crispy skin.

Thigh cut:

Next using the boning knife, cut the thigh at the joint and pull it off. Then cut the meat into sections or cubes and put on the platter.

Turkey sirloin cut:

Now back to the breast meat, using the slicing knife, cut a 1-1/2-inch horizontal cut all the way to the bone and loosen it. This looks like a turkey sirloin steak. Put this on the platter and save for dad.

Turkey chop:

Next is the “King Piece” or the turkey chop part of the breast because it’s the moistest, most flavorful since it’s near the bone and also has the most skin. This is the breast meat attached to the wing bone. Run the boning knife right by the joint and make a vertical cut and pull the meat from the turkey and put this on the platter. This piece is for mom or the chef.


The drumsticks can be served whole or cut away into sections. This is a harder piece to carve, but if you want to try, just stand the piece up with the ankle side up and slice the meat downwards in wedges with the boning knife.

TURKEY MISHAPS Unthawed Turkey:

Most people procrastinate or they don’t know that a turkey takes 24 hours per five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator, which is about three days.

Here’s what you can do in a hurry:

1. Slowly submerge the turkey in warm water or broth and simmer with vegetables for 2 1/2 hours for an average 12-15 pound bird. Then roast for half the time it would have take to roast a thawed turkey. Save stock, reduce and use for soup, stew or sauce.

2. Place in warm salted water and keep adding warm water every half hour for a several hours.

Overcooked Turkey:

If it is overcooked, slice it ahead of time and pour chicken broth over the slices. Or you can finish the gravy with an extra stick of butter for richness and added moisture.

You can also tell your guests you are making a spicy Thai turkey and add spices such as chili, cayenne or black pepper to it, or serve it with firecracker apple sauce (add jalapeno’s to regular applesauce).

Get creative and serve your turkey with mini pancakes, cranberry relish, scallions and skin similar to Peking Duck.

Burned turkey:

First put out the fire. Next rub some Cajun spice on it (call it blackened).

Or you can remove the skin and baste with butter and herbs such as chopped chives, parsley and tarragon and then slice and present on a platter.

Remove skin and baste with BBQ sauce and butter.


Remove legs and broil meat-side up. Gently microwave the breast meat in one minute intervals checking for color.

Ambitious cooks can also remove the legs a day or two before roasting, boil them to make a broth that can be used for a soup course or a gravy that doesn’t have to be made with pan drippings. Then when roasting the bird, put the boiled legs in the roasting pan under the breast, since they are pre-cooked, they will roast evenly with the breast.

Giblets left in the turkey:

Just tell everyone this is foie gras stuffing. The real problem here is only embarrassment, and the smell of the overcooked liver will be in your turkey and/or make your stuffing smell of liver if it was in the turkey. Just remove and discard it.

Turkey Sticking to the Pan:

This is usually caused by the fat of the turkey skin and natural gelatin from the meat and bones sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can add water or broth to loosen the turkey.

Scrape it up with a fork or spatula. Do not pull by the legs or they might come off.

In the future, roast on a rack or make a nest with aluminum foil. Or you can place the turkey on a bed of chopped vegetables — onion, garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes.

Late Guests:

If guests call to say they’re running late, keep the turkey warm without overcooking it by turning off the oven. The turkey will continue cooking, just much slower.

David Burke is executive chef and co-owner of the Park Avenue Cafés in New York City and Chicago, which are known for their cutting edge American cuisine. He is also the corporate chef for Smith and Wollensky’s 15 restaurants in the U.S.