Skip to main content

How To Breakdown A Turkey

Here are my steps for cleaning and breaking down a turkey. One major tip throughout the process is don't cut through bone until the very end when splitting the breasts. All the parts of the turkey are connected using a socket joint or tendon and that is what you want to find to make your job a lot easier (and to preserve as much meat and skin as possible). If you get stuck, it helps to move the wing and leg parts like a turkey would so you can better see where the joints connect.

  • Remove the packaging in the sink to let the fluids run out. Remove the neck and packet of innards. 
  • Wash the skin in the sink to remove any residue. Pat the skin dry with paper towels.
  • Place the turkey on a cutting board near the sink so you can clean up and throw parts in the sink or trash as needed.
  • With the breast side up, cut away the skin between the thigh and breast. Follow the thigh line and cut the skin closest to the thigh. Do not cut any meat part yet.
  • Grab the leg and thigh and pull it back towards the board until the hip joint pops out.
  • While holding the leg up and the rest of the bird dangling on the board, cut the meat from the top of the thigh, through that joint (between the bones), and down to the base.
  • To separate the leg from the thigh, flip it skin side down and look for the line of fat between the joint. This is an indication of where the joint is but it isn't exact. It is actually just to the leg side of that line. Cut there following the side of the line and hopefully you'll hit the joint. If not, place your knife tip in the joint area and make small cuts to see where you missed. Find it then cut all the way through.
  • For the wing, hold it up in the air and let the rest of the bird rest on the board. Start but cutting the skin between the wing and the breast closest to the breast to expose the meat.
  • Make small cuts in the meat where it connects to expose the joint. It's deeper into the breast than you'd think. Cust through the joint and then the connecting meat around it until the wing separates.
  • To separate the wings into the three parts, start by separating the upper wing from the mid wing. Cut the skin between the two parts to expose the meat and joint. With the skin side down, follow the upper wing bone line to where it meets the mid wing. Cut just to the side of it closest to the mid wing and hopefully you'll hit the joint. If not, make small cuts near the bone to figure out where you missed.
  • To separate the wing top from the mid section, follow the mid wing bone. Now this joint is at about a 45 degree angle but closest to the mid wing bone. Start but cutting the skin at that angle and that try that angle. If you hit bone, you should be able to bend the wing tip back to pop that joint and then make the cut.
  • Now remove the backbone from the breast by cutting through the ribs closest to the breast side. Go all the way down until you hit thicker bones. The bones don't move so it may be difficult to expose the joints. They are there if you keep trying, but this is also a part where you can whack your knife through bone to separate the backbone from the breast.
  • To split the breast, put it skin side down to expose the wishbone and breast plate. Cut through the wish bone which may require some whacking and knocking of the knife on the bone. Then score the breast plate down the middle. Finally, give your knife a whack on that midline a few times until the two halves separate. If the breastplate won't break in half, you can gently cut away half of the breast from the bone leaving the breast plate on the other half.
  • Now you should have all your pieces ready for my Epically Fast and Delicious Roasted Turkey.
  • One final step is to grab paper towels to pat dry all the turkey parts another time. Also, make sure your tray or roasting pan is dry. This helps for the seasoning and cooking process.