The thought of cutting up a whole turkey was rather daunting for me, to say the least! Maybe many of you already feel competent at this and I’d love to hear your pointers in the Comment section! Cutting up a chicken seemed like a big deal to me, though, and then the idea of cutting up a pasture raised 30 pound bird, well that wasn’t even something I pondered until my daughter Rebecca did it for me.
We had numerous whole turkeys in our freezer, and I really didn’t feel like just cooking whole birds each time I wanted a turkey. Don’t get me wrong, a whole roasted turkey is fabulous; delicious, nutritious, and lots of Save-A-Step meals cooked ahead and in the freezer for busy days so I sure do roast them.
However, I wanted to try something different this time; I wanted turkey breasts, turkey stir fry, turkey drumsticks, and wings.
And if I wanted a whole bird cut up into freezable pieces for a variety of meals, well maybe you do too. Rebecca showed me how to do it, and I’ll share with you my technique for simple, easy cut up whole turkey in 5 simple steps.
Before we cut up the turkey, maybe you are wondering WHY BOTHER?
Why not just have turkey a couple times a year for special occasions and roast them whole? Why not just buy a chicken, or chicken pieces? Honestly, I ask myself that sometimes, yet there are many reasons to cut up a turkey: it might be what you have available, it might be that you can get turkey for a good price and you decide to stock up on a few of them, it might be that your family prefers turkey over chicken.
And in our case, it is what we raise on our farm and the turkeys we raise are on pasture and fed a soy free ration so those of us that are sensitive to soy can still eat poultry. Since I am sensitive to soy, I cannot go to the store and buy poultry so we raise our own. You might have different reasons for cutting up a turkey, or maybe you’d like to cut up a chicken; the same 5 Simple Steps apply to a chicken as well as a turkey.
Whatever bird you choose to cut up, I hope these steps will give you confidence that you can do it!
Think of this as extending your food budget rather than that you might make a mess of it all; “Oh I might waste some of the meat, it’s a big bird, so expensive, so much meat, so much money……yikes can I really do it? Should I?” Well, SOMEONE HAS TO CUT UP THE MEAT, either you or the butcher. It can be cheaper for you to do it and likely a lot less waste happens in your kitchen than in a large scale Butcher shop.
This isn’t meant to criticize the butchers, I have a great deal of respect for the butchers out there and we really like all of our butchers! They do a fabulous job! But they only have so much time to carve up the turkey or chicken while we can take a little extra time to carve off extra meat if we like, or we can leave a little extra meat on the carcass for our soup pot. Either way, we save everything from cutting up the poultry, including the bones, the neck, the giblets, and the fat and we get the cuts of meat for the price of the whole bird rather than for the price of each part. What a blessing in our kitchen!
One final note before we start cutting: the colder the better and half frozen is perfect though it doesn’t have to be that cold. Being slightly frozen gives more flexibility, like if the day you plan to cut up the turkey looks busy or becomes full, then you can move the cutting up process by a day either side of your original plans. I use a silicon glove to hold the turkey when it is cold, so that I don’t slip and cut myself. As well, keeping the turkey cold while cutting it up after proper thawing in the refrigerator, means that we can refreeze the various turkey parts, which to me is the main advantage of cutting up a turkey!
5 Simple Steps to Cutting up a Turkey (or a chicken)
1. Set up
2. Cut off the wings and legs
3. Debone the breast, side 1 and side 2
4 .Package the meat, label, freeze any parts you don’t wish to cook right away
5. Clean up the mess and make a delicious supper for your family
- Set Up
I keep my set up really simple:
-Clean and scour the sink.
-Grab all supplies you need before starting as your hands will get really sticky. Cutting board, knife, silicone glove, freezer bags, roasting pan.
-Place turkey in the sink.
2. Cut off the wings and the legs including thighs.
Cut off the plastic and leave it under the turkey for stability; no need to pick up the bird yet. Cut the fat that holds the legs together and open up the cavity, pull out the neck and giblets and place in a freezer bag. I put that freezer bag in the adjacent sink, open for easy access to put extra fat or pieces of meat that I’d like to save for the stock pot. Now cut alongside the drumstick and thigh, then turn the bird if needed to access the wing and while stretching the wing out keep cutting the skin around the wing until you find the joint. Once the skin is cut you can see where to keep cutting and it is really easy! Picture the meat you want to eat! Except, it won’t look as perfect as the butcher – he’s been doing this for a long time – not us! We just want to feed our family good food, and it’ll look prettier once we’ve cooked it!
Remember, SIMPLE IS GOOD! No need for perfect here, just getting the job done, and the more we cut up poultry, the better we’ll get at it. Cut and pull until the wing snaps and the joint and muscle can be fully removed from the bird. Go back to pulling the drumstick and thigh up to access more of the skin; you will easily see the joint – slice the muscle meat and pull the leg until the joint snaps and now you can cut the thigh and joint and remove the leg from the carcass. I lay the pieces on the adjacent cutting board or roasting pan. Turn the turkey over and do the same thing with the other wing and drumstick and thigh. At this point you can leave the breast on and roast it on the carcass if you wish, or go on to step 3 and de-bone the breast.
Step by step pictures:
3. De-boning the breast side 1 and side 2
This is when I put all cut pieces (wings, drumsticks, thighs) of the turkey into the roasting pan and place the pan in the fridge to keep cold prior to packaging and place the carcass with breasts on the cutting board. The plastic bag from the whole turkey goes in the garbage and I briefly wash up my sink area with Young Living Thieves Household cleaner to keep my area tidy while I work on the breasts.
Begin cutting the skin, slice down the middle of the turkey breast to expose the muscle meat and then slice down the middle of the muscle, on one side of the bone – use your knife to push the meat away from the bone as you go. Keep sliding the meat off and away from the bone. Keep trimming and pushing away with the knife until it is fully released from the bone. Set aside. Repeat with the second side. Don’t worry about getting all of the meat, get as much as you neatly can do.
I usually cut one of the poultry breasts in half and leave one whole. Go back over the carcass, now, and look for any missed pieces of meat; these can go into a stir fry bag. I usually find some nice pieces that I’ve missed. Taking the carcass, pull it and see that it can be pulled and cut in half width wise, I prefer it this way because the half’s fit better together into a freezer bag as well as into my stock pot.
Step by Step pictures
4. Package the meat, label, freeze any parts you don’t wish to cook right away
This is the super easy part; just package them in freezer bags depending on what you might need or like for cooking. I didn’t separate the thigh from the drumstick, nor did I separate the small drumstick from the wing, however those could be done if it suits your needs.
This is the 5 Simple Steps to cutting up a turkey remember! What does your family like to eat? Drumsticks without thighs? Thighs deboned? Wings separated and cooked with BBQ sauce? Whole breasts, half or even quarter breasts? Maybe even breast steaks or breasts sliced into stir-fry pieces? Once you are comfortable with cutting up a whole turkey or chicken, the extra details are super easy to add on!
5. Clean up the mess and make a delicious supper for your family
Once the mess is cleaned up (like I mentioned, I use my Young Living Thieves Household Cleaner to disinfect the area where I had the raw turkey), dirty dishes get washed up in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher and the turkey parts get put promptly into the freezer or fridge. Yay, now the fun part! With the turkey breast I made a Stir fry dish.
Asian turkey stir fry:
Slice half a turkey breast into bite size pieces. marinade in olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, cilantro, tandoori seasoning, salt. Set in fridge while cutting up vegetables.
Slice potatoes and add to a cast iron skillet with olive oil and coconut oil. Cover and let cook. Heat a dutch oven to medium high heat with olive oil while slicing 1 red onion, 5 carrots, 1/4 of a cabbage, julienne style. Add onions to the dutch oven, saute for about a minute and then add the other vegetables. Once slightly softened add 1/4 cup of broth and 1/8 cup of Coconut amino or soy sauce. Cover and turn down heat. Heat another pan and add half the turkey to saute. Once cooked, add this to the vegetables and cook the rest of the turkey.
Once the potatoes are cooked crisp on one side and soft all the way through, add some salt and turn off the heat. Serve with brown rice, roasted almond slices and pineapple chunks.
Whether you’ve been cutting up poultry for a long time or whether it is new to you, please share your stories with us! I love learning from all of you!
The cleaning product I use all around my house is Young Living Thieves Household Cleaner; it is a non-toxic disinfectant that I use instead of bleach or vinegar since I cannot tolerate either one and I prefer a non-chemical approach for my cleaning routine. Thieves cleaner is a terrific all purpose, plant based non-toxic cleaner that is truly terrific, does a fantastic job of cleaning up the greasiest of messes, and smells amazing! I’ve tried so many varieties of natural and non-toxic cleaners over the last decade and this is by far the best I’ve ever used, using it simplifies my purchases too, because I only need the one highly concentrated cleaning product rather than a variety of items. Mixing together some baking soda, lemon essential oil, and Thieves Household Cleaner makes an all purpose scouring paste too, for those difficult cleaning jobs.