Turkey Basics 101: How to Cut Up the Bird for Roasting and Smoking

All of us have bought whole chickens at the market and have, without thinking twice, cut them up for a variety of uses in our meal preparations.  The pieces can be dredged in seasoned flour and fried to golden perfection.  The parts can be browned and then incorporated as the primary ingredient into many flavorful sautes.  Chicken legs, thighs, wings and breasts are no stranger to the backyard barbecue pit and grill.  There are literally thousands of recipes available for rich tangy sauces to enhance the smokey flavor imparted by grilling.  Chicken wing recipes alone abound and a varied assortment of buffalo wings seems to always make a grand appearance on platters for nibbling during those  hours in front of the television during Super Bowl Sunday!  For some reason, however, the thought of cutting up a turkey in the same way seems unimaginable…  perhaps even sacriligious!

I see two reasons for this.  First of all, a turkey is big compared to a chicken!  It’s much easier to deal with a 3 1/2 –  4 pound chicken on the cutting board than it is a turkey weighing in at 18 to 20 pounds…  or more.  Secondly, when we think Thanksgiving we automatically visualize the whole bird on a platter.  In our kitchen we genuinely appreciate the fact that a cut up turkey roasts or smokes so much faster than does a whole bird…  this opens up oven time which can be so essential to a big holiday meal or event having turkey on the menu.

First of all, place the bird in the sink when it is taken out of refrigeration:

Remove the hardware holding the legs together as well as the neck and the packet containing the liver, heart and gizzard.  Rinse the bird thoroughly, inside and out, with cool water.  Pat dry with paper towels:

Transfer the turkey to a cutting board or butcher block:

Trim off the excess neck skin, reserving it.  Remove the wing tips using a sharp knife.  Reserve:

Next, remove both wings by cutting through the flesh at the joint, exposing the encapsulation of the ball and socket:

Cut through the fibrous connective tissue to reveal the ball.  Cut through the flesh to separate the wings.  Reserve:

Begin separating the thighs from the breast by first cutting the skin and working the knife through the flesh along the rib cage:

Cut through the ribs on both sides to the prongs of the wishbone:

Pull the breast forward, revealing the backbone:

Using a cleaver sever the backbone from the breast:

Once the breast has been separated remove the wishbone.  This facilitates the easy removal of each whole lobe from the bone following cooking, allowing even and precise slicing for service. Pull the skin back from the front side of the breast, revealing the wishbone close to the surface:

With the tip of a sharp knife gently cut along both sides of the two prongs of the wishbone:

Work the knife around, under and along the length of the bone:

Separate the remaining three points of attachment and lift the wishbone out:

Pull the skin back down:

The breast is ready to go…!

Remove the thighs by first, once again, exposing the ball joint with precise cuts through the flesh as close to the backbone as possible:

Sever the thighs from both sides:

Separate the legs from the thighs by cutting through the skin, flesh and connective tissues:

The reserved skin, wings and backbone are then, in our kitchen, roasted till golden brown in a hot oven and added to the stock pot.  Your bird is now ready to be marinated, then roasted or smoked for delicious dining pleasure… Bon Appetit!

Copyright 2009 Via Aurea Designs, Inc., All Rights Reserved


Categories: Turkey

Author:Steve Meyer & Dayton Azevedo

Food and fine cooking have been our passion for many years, fueled by the year-around abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats, as well as aromatic spices and herbs readily available to us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, making adventuresome, creative and delicious 5-star cooking a reality in our kitchen. Our aim is to make it yours as well by utilizing our step by step instructions and serial photographs. Bon Appetit from our kitchen to yours...!


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