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Nov 16, 2009 11:11 AM

I need some tips about cutting up a raw turkey

We have a small family so I usually buy a very small turkey, or just bone-in turkey breast. I always grill/smoke my turkey. In the interest of saving money and stretching dollars this year, I bought a 20 pound turkey from Fresh and Easy with the plan of using only the breast(s) and using the rest of the bird to make stock. That turkey cost about 1/3 of the 12 pound turkey I usually buy - and probably 25% of the cost of just the turkey breast.

Now I'm beginning to panic because I have never worked with a 20 pound turkey - it is frozen solid and I believe it will take 3-5 days to thaw in the refrigerator. I have also never cut up a turkey before and really don't even cut up chicken very often. I do have poultry shears, a cleaver and good knives.

My thoughts are that I should move the turkey from the freezer to the fridge this coming Thursday so that it will be thawed by next Monday or Tuesday. I can hack the turkey on Tuesday and make the stock. Then brine the breasts on Wednesday.

Does anyone have any tips, suggestions or warnings about all of this???

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  1. Your thawing/brining timeline sounds good. 20 lbs. is a lot bigger than I usually get, too. Cutting up a turkey isn't very different from cutting up a chicken, except of course it's bigger, which makes it more unwieldy.

    FWIW, I often buy a fresh turkey right after Thanksgiving when they go on sale, cut it up like a chicken, and wrap and freeze the different parts separately. You can find lots of recipes for turkey wings, thighs, and legs. and breast of course, and the back and ribs can be used for stock.

    1. Your dethaw plan sounds perfect. While others will surely have better advice on cutting up the turkey (no good knives here :-( I'd cut the back out then go at the joints, putting all the extraneous parts in a roasting pan or into the crock pot. If roasting I'd roast with mirepoix for 40 min or so at 400 then add water cover and cook 1hr or until liquid is simmering, turn it down to 225 and cook 6 hrs to overnight. I would also smoke the leg/thigh because even though we don't care for the dark meat so much straight it makes a wonderful substitution for ham or sausage in jambalaya or beans or soups or with mole sauce for tacos etc.

      1. After the turkey is defrosted, remove the wings, legs and thighs at the joints. You can do this with a simple boning knife. The next step is to get a feel for the bird's breasts and where the meat basically ends on the ribcage and meets the back/neck portion. A safe guideline would be on both sides of the back/neck flaring out on an angle...thinner at top and widening out at the bottom. Thus with the bird's back facing you and standing on it's butt cavity with the neck up in the air. Using a cleaver, carefully score down the skin to give you a guideline.....and hack down. If you split and remove the breast bone (carefully, as it can be sharp after splitting) and rib cage bones, you can cook the breasts flat on a rack a little quicker than with the bones. If you are using a low heat method, I would suggest you remove the bones. If you intend to roast on a moderate to high temperature, I would suggest you leave the breast bone and rib cage bones attached to the meat.

        If you go to, you will certainly find a step by step video for instruction. Google the following:

        How to debone a turkey.

        3 Replies
        1. re: fourunder

          If you're butchering the turkey anyway, you might consider deboning the thighs (not difficult), using the bones for stock and saving the meat for later use. I like to form the thigh meat into a cylinder shape (sometimes with a little stuffing where the bone was, sometimes not), tying it with twine in 2 or 3 places, then roasting or griling it. There's a lot of thigh meat on a 20 lb bird and it seems a shame to relegate it to the stockpot. Smoking the drumsticks while you do the breast is a good idea. You could also braise them later (they take well to the flavorings you'd use for osso bucco or lamb shanks). Between the backbone, neck, wings, thigh bones and giblets/trimmings, you'll still have plenty of stock material.

          1. re: sfmiller


            Have you ever tried deboning an entire turkey and rolling it around stuffing?


            1. re: fourunder

              Nope, never tried to totally debone a bird that big. I can manage it with a chicken. The first time I tried was after watching a PBS show where Jacques Pepin and Martin Yan each knocked off the boning-out in about a minute. Took me about 20.

        2. Wow, thank you all! I have printed out your suggestions. I feel better about everything - though I don't think I'll do this next year! Really good suggestions about keeping and smoking the thighs. And I never thought of YouTube.