How to Debone a Turkey

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Every year I try something new in an attempt to make my Thanksgiving bird taste the best it can. I’ve brined. I’ve smoked. I’ve deep-fried. I’ve cooked hot and fast and I’ve cooked cool and slow. Stuffed or un-stuffed it made no difference, I always felt as if my turkey could be better.

Ultimately the biggest problem with a turkey is its size and thus its heavy bone structure and large, difficult to cook breast. Food scientist Harold McGee even recommends icing the breast for an hour in an attempt to have the animal cook more evenly. I figured there must be a better way than that.

This year I’m throwing all my previous attempts out the window. I’ve decided to completely remove most of the bones to help ensure even cooking. Removing the main rib cage and heavy thigh bones can speed up and even out the cooking process by cooking only the part you’re going to eat. The added bonus is easy and beautiful carving that yields lovely circular slices with juicy meat around the outside and moist flavorful stuffing in the middle. Also, the meat’s close proximity to the stuffing prevents it from drying out, even if you slightly overcook it.

To properly debone your turkey, you will need the following:

1 turkey

1 small (3-5 inch) sharp boning or paring knife

1-3 quarts of stuffing 1 trussing needle and string

One brief word of advice: No matter what, do NOT pierce the skin of the turkey with the knife. All other boning errors can be hidden by the skin and stuffing.

Here’s how to debone:

Step 1: Find the wishbone at the front of the bird, trace around it with your knife freeing it from the meat. Wrench it out and down to remove it.

Step 2: Now turn the bird breast side down so you can make a slice down to the bone the entire length of the turkey’s back.

Step 3: Done? Now pull the skin away from the wing joint, and cut it away from the back (not the breast!). Do this on the other side, and then grab the wing on one side and use it to peel the meat off the frame by pulling it straight back towards the tail of the bird. Meanwhile, use your knife to free up any meat that is not peeling off the rib cage/back area. Do the same on the other side and then, using two fingers, run them down each side of the breastbone to free the whole breast from the bone. Again, depending on the size and age of the bird you may need to use your knife to assist the process.

Step 4: You should see the small dark and round pieces of meat on each side of the bird at the base of the thigh/leg where it attaches to the frame. Take your knife and cut through to the hip joint. You need to wrench the leg out of its socket and then nick the tendon holding the rest of the leg to the frame and then pull it away. Do the same thing on the other side and then gently pull the rest of the bird off of the carcass. Don’t tear the skin!

Step 5: Now the tricky part. You should now have a turkey cape that is pulled away completely from the frame with all the leg and wing bones. Now you need to remove the thigh bones to ensure even cooking.

Step 6: First cut around the base of the leg socket and then holding the free bone end use your knife to scrape the meat from the bone down to the knee joint. Cut this joint and yank the bone out. Yes! You can do it. It’ll just pop out. Do the same on the other side.

Step 7: Congratulations! You have a boneless bird! Salt and pepper the meat liberally inside and out with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Now the easy part is to make a delicious stuffing and cram it into the nooks and crannies of the bird plus a good amount below the breast (don’t over stuff!) then stitch it up using either a trussing needle and string or by rolling it up and tying it like a roast.

Step 8: Once you have your turkey together, roast in the oven at 425 degrees for 45 minutes to brown the skin and render basting fat. Then lower the temperature to 325 degrees and roast until the thigh reaches 165 degrees. Don’t forget that half the battle for juicy meat is to let it rest for at least 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

Remember to save the bones and use them to make an old fashioned stock for leftover turkey soup!

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