Ready to de-bone that Thanksgiving turkey? It's a job that requires a little time and patience, but it will be so worth it on the eating end. You can practice this same method with small chickens until you master this technique, which is quite simple. And if you love the idea of a boneless bird but not the extra work, you can always ask your butcher to remove the bone.
Why de-bone the turkey? Without the bones, the bird cooks faster, for one thing, so it's juicy and tender. It also looks beautiful in presentation. And maybe most incredibly, it is so easy to carve -- like slicing up meatloaf. Be warned, though, boning a turkey is not the most beautiful procedure in the world. If it looks a mess, that's OK. As you'll see, there's just no beautiful way to do this. Also, a note on knives: The best tool for this operation is a knife with a thin and flexible blade, preferably one designed for boning.
1.) First, make a long slice along the length of the backbone.
2.) We'll work one side of the bird at a time. Pick a side, then trimming with the tip of your knife, work down from the backbone along the edge of the rib cage, opening up the meat. Keep the tip of your blade against the carcass as you go; the meat will fall away as you cut. The key is, as much as you can help it, don't cut into the meat or skin.
3.) As you trim away the meat, you'll run into the hip joint at the back of the bird. Trim around it. You'll notice where the thigh bone joins the carcass. Twist the leg and pop the bone free from the carcass. Then continue trimming down until you reach the bottom of the carcass.
4.) Now let's move to the wing part of the bird. Find the thin, flat bone at the shoulder and trim along it until you reach the shoulder joint. Cut through the cartilage and carve around the wing bone, scraping the meat from the bone.
5.) Now work down the other side of the bird, performing the same routine, until you have freed the carcass from the meat. Caution: Be sure that when you arrive at the bottom that you don't accidentally cut the turkey in half. You want to free the carcass without cutting through the meat and skin.
6.) OK, so far so good. But we still have the leg bones and wing bones to deal with. Lay the bird out flat, skin-side down. Find the thigh bone. Using the tip of your knife, trim along the contours of the bone, following it along until you've removed the bone.
You'll notice long, thin, white strands sticking from the meat. These are tendons that need to be removed. Yank them out with needle-nose pliers if you have them. If not, grab the tendons with one hand (wear kitchen gloves for this or cover your gripping hand with a kitchen towel) and scrape the meat off the tendons, scraping in the direction away from you. Then pull the tendons free. 7.) Follow the same procedure for the wings. Twist the lower portion of the wing, twisting it until it pops. Then slice through the joint to dislodge it. And then trim away the meat from the bone.
8.) Congratulations, the turkey is bone-free! You may find a few gaps between the breast meat and the thighs. No problem. You can fold the tenderloin part of the breast back to fill in the gaps. Again, there are no extra points for beauty here. Once the bird is trussed up and roasted, you'll never know the difference. Now you're ready to stuff and roll your boneless turkey! Check out Chef John's recipe for Boneless Whole Turkey. And save the carcass, leg, and wing bones! There will still be meat on the bones, enough to create truly flavorful turkey soup or turkey stock.