Step-by-Step: How to Debone a Turkey

Raw turkey
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  • 01 of 11

    The Case for a Deboned Turkey

    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. But 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...MORE 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.

    Continue to 2 of 11 below.
  • 02 of 11

    Prep the Turkey

    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.
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  • 03 of 11

    Remove the Backbone

    Cutting backbone from turkey.
    Cut backbone from turkey. Peggy Trowbridge
    1. With kitchen shears, cut along either side of the backbone until you can remove it in one piece.
    2. 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.
    3. Slice the meat from either side of the backbone, working in short cuts 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.
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  • 04 of 11

    Separate the Rib Cage

    Cut along the backbone of the turkey.
    Cut along the backbone of the turkey. Peggy Trowbridge

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

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  • 05 of 11

    Position the Wing

    Snap and cut wing joint.
    Snap and cut wing joint. Peggy Trowbridge

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

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  • 06 of 11

    Continue to the Thigh Joint

    Carve around turkey ribcage.
    Carve around turkey ribcage. 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.

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  • 07 of 11

    Separate the Leg

    Snap the turkey thigh joint.
    Snap the turkey thigh joint. 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.
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  • 08 of 11

    Remove the Thigh Bone

    Carve around turkey thigh bone.
    Carve around turkey thigh bone. 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.
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  • 09 of 11

    Position the Leg

    Remove turkey upper thigh bone.
    Remove turkey upper thigh bone. Peggy Trowbridge
    1. Scrape the meat from turkey upper thigh bone, leaving the skin intact.
    2. Pop the joint, cut through the cartilage, and remove the upper thigh bone.
    3. Leave the lower leg bone intact for presentation.
    Continue to 10 of 11 below.
  • 10 of 11

    Repeat on the Other Side

    Deboned turkey ready for stuffing.
    Deboned turkey ready for stuffing. Peggy Trowbridge

    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.

    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.

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  • 11 of 11

    The Results

    Stuffed deboned turkey
    Stuffed deboned turkey. Peggy Trowbridge

    And there you have it: a deboned turkey filled with stuffing and ready for the oven. Your guests won't know it's boneless until you carve the first slice.

    Remember to reserve all the bones and giblets to make soup or stock. If you can't get to it right away, simply pop them into a freezer-grade zip-top bag, squeeze out the air, seal it, and toss it in the freezer.