How to Debone a Turkey Like a Pro

The Case for a Deboned Turkey

Raw turkey on a cutting board
Glow Cuisine / Getty Images

Fresh turkeys star at Thanksgiving, but you can purchase them frozen for year-round dining. Removing the backbone and breastbone from a whole turkey makes it cook faster, which means less time in the oven for it to dry out. It also makes carving a cinch.

Your butcher might be willing to debone the turkey for you, though usually at a higher price, you can accomplish the surprisingly easy process at home in about 15 minutes, with no tools needed other than a sharp knife and a large cutting board.

Once you know how to debone the bird, you gain access to tons of new recipes for stuffed and rolled roasted turkey, a stunning presentation that allows you to serve white and dark meat in one slice.

Prep the Turkey

The Spruce / Peggy Trowbridge
  1. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey, reserving them for soup or stock.
  2. Clip the tail.
  3. Position the turkey on the cutting board breast side down with the legs pointing toward you.

Remove the Backbone

Cutting the backbone from turkey
The Spruce / Peggy Trowbridge
  1. With kitchen shears, cut along either side of the backbone until you can remove it in one piece. Alternatively, with a sharp boning knife, slice the turkey from neck to tail down the center of the backbone about a half-inch deep, cutting through the skin and just into the meat.
  2. Slice the meat from either side of the backbone, working in shortcuts using just the tip of the knife while keeping it positioned against the bone. Take care to leave the skin intact. Snap the backbone out with your hands.

Separate the Rib Cage

Cut along the backbone of the turkey
The Spruce / Peggy Trowbridge

Using the tip of the boning knife, slice down the right side of the turkey rib cage, separating meat from the bone. Be careful not to cut through the backside breast skin.

Position the Wing

Snap and cut wing joint
The Spruce / Peggy Trowbridge

Snap the wing joint from the turkey breastbone and cut through the cartilage. Leave the wing bones intact for presentation.

Continue to the Thigh Joint

Carve around turkey ribcage.
The Spruce / Peggy Trowbridge

Continue along the rib cage with the tip of your boning knife, moving around the wishbone, to separate the turkey meat from the ribs down to the thigh joint. Be careful not to cut through or pierce the skin connecting the two breast halves.

Separate the Leg

Snap the turkey thigh joint
The Spruce / Peggy Trowbridge
  1. Grasp the leg with one hand.
  2. Find the upper thigh joint where it connects to the turkey breast with the other hand and press forward with your thumb on the joint while pulling toward you with the bottom of the leg. The joint should break.
  3. Cut through any connecting cartilage, again taking care not to pierce the skin.

Remove the Thigh Bone

Carve around turkey thigh bone
The Spruce / Peggy Trowbridge
  1. Insert your knife horizontally along the top side of the thigh flat bone. With a slow sawing motion, separate the meat from the bone.
  2. Remove the bone.

Repeat on the Other Side

Deboned turkey ready for stuffing
The Spruce / Peggy Trowbridge
  1. Repeat process on the other side of the turkey, taking care around the breastbone to leave the skin intact and attached. You now have a deboned turkey ready for stuffing.
  2. Pile on the stuffing, bring both sides of the turkey back together​ and sew it shut with cotton cooking string or use a metal skewer to seal it. Flip the turkey to roast it seam side down, breast side up.