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Nov 16, 2010 02:39 PM

Do I *need* a meat cleaver to remove the turkey breastbone?

I have my chef's knife, but no meat cleaver. Do I need one? (If I do, I'll have to borrow one, I guess.)


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  1. How are you cutting the turkey? Carving at the table or fabricating before or after cooking?

    5 Replies
    1. re: scubadoo97

      I am going to try Julia & Jacques deconstructed turkey. So, beforehand, and uncooked. I think my butcher can chop off the drumstick ends and the wingtips, but I'll need to do the rest. (If he can't...can my chef's knife handle that, too?)

      1. re: E_M

        I made this recipe last week as a test run before Thanksgiving. I did use a cleaver (although smaller than the one Jacques used) and it worked out well on a 10 lb turkey. I would try poultry shears or a decent pair of kitchen shears to remove the backbone. My last choice out of cleaver, shears or chef's knife would be a chef's knife. If your butcher won't do the drumstick ends I would just skip that step if all you have is a chef's knife. The chef's knife should be okay on the wingtips but there too it's no big deal if you were to skip that step.

        I only did the turkey, stuffing and gravy parts of the recipe but all turned out great. The four people that tried it gave it the go ahead for this year's Thanksgiving dinner.

        1. re: E_M

          Don't use your chef's knife to break turkey bones, at least not the big ones. I chipped a Chicago Cutlery 10" knife once in my attempt to chop a tukey leg bone (raw) just to make stock. I ended up getting it ground down and it's not an expensive knife, but I even had a heavy clever in the drawer and I didn't use it.

          1. re: E_M

            Since there is a joint between the wing tip removal of the wing tip should be easy with any sharp knife. In the recipe I just saw they mentioned removing the backbone. No mention of removal of the breast bone. Kitchen shears would work well to remove the backbone. No easy way to lop off the end of the drumstick as that's a pretty thick bone.

            A heavy cleaver used with a good whack would work or even a hacksaw to saw through the bone. If I were doing this recipe I would bone out the leg and thigh and then stuff them both.

            If you were to remove the breastbone, it would be easy by dissecting the breast meat away with a sharp knife.

            Have fun and enjoy

            1. re: scubadoo97

              Maybe they mean the backbone. You can tell how experienced I am at this.

              I will ask the butcher to remove the drumstick ends and maybe the wing nubbins. Hopefully, me and a pair of scissors + sharp knife can handle the rest.

              Thanks for everyone's help.

          1. You do not need to purchase or borrow a knife to remove the breast bone. If you remove the back, then when you turn the turkey over, breast sides down, use the back of your chef's knife to crack the top bones. If you don't want to use your knife for fear of ruining it, you can uses a mallet or hammer along with a chisel or screwdriver...or any other heavy implement. Score the breast down the sides of the breast bone and push both breasts down to expose the breast bone and pull it out. You can also pull out the broken sides of the wishbone at this time as well. When I roast the breasts on a rack with the back removed, I like to keep the rib cage attached to help keep the form of the bird, but you could easily remove them by sliding the knife between the breast meat and rib cage.

            I prefer to follow Jacques Pepin's method below when I stuff the turkey or chicken...


            1. A few points to mention after reading the responses so far:

              1) If your "butcher" will not remove the legs and wing tips, find another butcher (and this time an actual butcher and not some idiot who wears a white jacket while stocking meat at the market).

              2) You can easily remove the legs and wing tips w/o a cleaver. Anytime you have a joint you can simply slice right through the cartilage with most any knife.

              3) If you do need to cut a bone, most French-style chef's knives are actually designed for this work. The trick is to only use the rear 1/3 of the blade...the part closest to the handle. A chef's knife if thicker at the rear and is thinner toward the tip. The knife itself is designed with small bone chopping in mind...just be mindful of what part of the blade you are using.

              1. If you use thin, hard, brittle Japanese chefs knives, I wouldn't try it for fear of chips (repair-able but a PITA). The heel of a German style chefs knife should be up to the job, though if you keep it pretty sharp, it will be dulled by the job.

                There are many suggestions for alternative methods in this thread, and all of em look like they'll work. I'd probably go with scissors. A cleaver would be useful and worthwhile if you find yourself doing this kind of thing often, but not if you only do it ~once a year.