Cutting and Preserving Whole Turkey

Cutting and Preserving Whole Turkey
Cutting and Preserving
Whole Turkey
By Charlotte Brennand, Extension Food Science Specialist
March 1995
There are more uses for a turkey than roasting it whole for holiday occasions. The least
expensive way to have turkey pieces, especially if the turkey is purchased on sale, is to cut it
up yourself. The following is to serve as a butchering and processing guide.
Starting with a Frozen Turkey
Birds can be thawed, cut up, and refrozen if care is taken in the temperature of the thawing
process. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator until it is possible to move a leg. If the giblets and
neck stuffed into the cavity are still frozen solid, run tap water into the cavity until they can be
removed. DO NOT THAW THE TURKEY ON THE COUNTER TOP. It is possible that the
outside of the bird will get too warm and allow microbial growth. Microwave thawing is not
recommended when the bird will not be cooked immediately. Turkey that will be refrozen
should not reach a temperature above 40 F.
1. Lay turkey on its back on cutting board
with neck
cavity facing
away. Remove
giblets, neck,
clip, and tail.
2. Remove
metal clip by
pulling clip
away from
turkey legs, then lift legs from clip one at a
time. Squeeze clip to release hooks from
back bone and remove.
3. Pull tail out of body cavity and cut it off.
Cut off wings
4. Roll turkey on its
side, then forcefully
pull the wing away
from the body. Cut
into the hollow
between the breast
and wing.
5. Continue pulling the wing away from
the body. Cut around wing joint.
6. Bend wing back, exposing the joint. Cut
through. Repeat for other wing.
Cut wing into segments
7. Separate
wing into
three parts:
Slice skin
joint at the
small bony
end. Bend
joint and cut through.
8. Cut through skin and slice skin around
next joint.
Remove drumstick and thigh
9. Cut through
skin between the
breast and thigh.
10. Cut down to
the joint where
thigh connects to
11. Push on drumstick and thigh to open
joint at the back bone and cut through.
12. Repeat for other leg.
Cut drumstick
from thigh
13. Find the
natural fat line
between the
drumstick and
thigh then pull skin tightly over top of leg,
feeling for a small indentation to find the
14. Lay thigh skin side down and,
following above guides, cut through joint,
bending drumstick back gently while
Cut back from breast
15. Stand turkey up on neck joints and
locate cartilage line running down ribs.
16. Separate
back into two
parts by
counting two
ribs in from tail
and cutting
through the
natural joint.
17. Cut down ribcage to neck joints on both
sides, bending the two parts away from
each other to expose the joints.
18. Cut through shoulder joints on each
side and cut through skin, separating breast
and backbone.
Cutting Tips
Work on sanitized cutting surface
Be sure hands and knives are clean and
Use a sharp knife. Knife could be a
boning knife, short knife or medium
chef's knife.
Turkey should be very cold and slightly
stiff for easier cutting.
Cover and refrigerate parts as soon as
they have been cut.
Turkey breasts can be left whole to use for
roasting at a later time or cut in half with
bone still attached. Alternately, the breast
can be boned-out and cut up as shown in
the following diagrams.
Turkey legs may be left as the whole
drumstick-thigh for later roasting, cut into
drumstick and thigh portions. The thigh
can be boned-out as follows.
Skinning and boning the breast
Boning the thigh
1. Cut membrane between
skin and meat. Pull off
The turkey thigh is easy to debone. Turkey
thigh meat can be used in any recipe or
preparation calling for beef chuck or round,
or the bonded thigh may be used to create a
2. Start at neck cavity and
cut along top edge of
breast bone.
3. Cut along edge of
wishbone and keelbone,
peeling breast from bones,
leaving as little meat on
the bones as possible.
4. Remove half-breast and
repeat for other side.
Cutting steaks and slices/cutlets
from the breast
1. Cut steaks by
slicing half breast
across the grain
into ½ to 1 inch
thick steaks.
2. Cut slices or cutlets by slicing half breast
across the grain into 1/8 to 1/3 inch thick
1. Place the thigh skin-side down. Cut
down to the bone, then along the full length
of the bone.
2. To free the ends,
slip the knife under
the bone halfway
down its length.
3. Cut away from
hand, freeing one end
of the bone from the
4. Turn the thigh
around, lift the free end of the bone with
one hand, and cut the other end free.
5. Reserve the bone for stock.
Wrap turkey pieces tightly in freezer
wrapping paper or foil or use freezer-grade
plastic bags. Label and place in freezer
with space for air circulation between
packages during the freezing process.
Neck, giblets, wings and backs can be used
to make broth. This will also yield a fair
portion of cooked turkey meat. Boil turkey
pieces in enough water to cover for about 2
hours or until the meat is very easy to
separate from the bone. Take the pieces of
turkey from the broth and if desired
continue to boil the broth with the lid off to
concentrate the broth. Separate turkey
meat from skin and bones. Cooked turkey
meat can be put back in broth for use in
turkey soup, Brunswick stew, turkey and
noodles, etc. or used alone in dishes such as
turkey salad.
Broth can be stored for 2 or 3 days in the
refrigerator. To freeze the broth, pour into a
freezer carton or a glass canning jar,
preferably straight-sided. If a glass jar is
used, be sure to leave about ¾ inch space
between the top of the liquid and the
beginning of the curve on the jar to allow
for expansion. Cover tightly, label and
place in freezer.
To can the broth, put still hot broth in
canning jars, wipe lip of jar, and adjust lids.
To can pieces of turkey, fill canning jars
with raw or cooked turkey pieces, if cooked
add hot broth to cover. Leave 1¼ inch
headspace. Add 1 tsp. salt per quart if
desired. Process using the following times
and pressures:
Processing Times & Pressures at Various Altitudes
Broth: 20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts
Meat: 75 minutes for pints, 90 minutes for quarts
Dial-gauge pressure
Weighted-gauge pressure
0-2000 feet
12 lb.
2001-6000 feet 13 lb.
6001-8000 feet 14 lb.
0-1000 feet 10 lb.
above 1001 feet 15 lb.
Acknowledgment: Cutting diagrams supplied by the National Turkey Federation, 11319
Sunset Hills Road, Reston, Virginia.
Utah State University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Institution.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, Robert L. Gilliland, Vice President and Director, Cooperative Extension Service, Utah State
University, Logan, Utah. (EP/3-95/DF)
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