How to Deconstruct A Turkey

December 6, 2013 4 Comments

How to Deconstruct a Turkey

How to De-construct and Then Re-assemble a Thanksgiving Turkey

I call this technique for cooking turkey “De-constructed Turkey” and adapted it from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook where she calls it “The Re-assembled Roast Turkey”. Last year was my first attempt cooking a turkey this way and it was such a success my wife asked me to give it another try this year.

One advantage of roasting a de-constructed turkey is time. It takes much less time to cook the bird this way – almost half. But I think a bigger advantage is controlling the internal temperatures so you don’t overcook the breast meat while bringing the legs and thighs up to the correct temperature.

A 20 lb. fully constructed traditional turkey takes about 5 hours to roast where a 20 lb. de-constructed turkey takes about 2 ¾ hours for the breast and 2 hours for the legs-thighs.

It’s also interesting to note there is not much difference in cooking times for a smaller 14 pound turkey compared with a 20 pound bird when de-constructed. As Julia says, “Timing is more dependent on the thickness of the meat than its total weight.”

My second favorite advantage of de-constructing the Thanksgiving bird is it allows you to bone the thighs and fill them with stuffing. When you slice the thighs at the table you get a ring of dark meat stuffed with dressing. It is so amazingly delicious (and pretty) that we purchased two extra legs and thighs this year for stuffing.


You may be concerned a de-constructed turkey isn’t going to look as good as the one in the Norman Rockwell classic Thanksgiving painting and it isn’t but if “re-assembled” like Julia Child recommends, it will be close. I don’t know about you but in our house the turkey is typically sliced in the kitchen, put on trays and served at the table or banquet style so the artistry of reconstruction isn’t a factor.

Special Equipment

I can tell you from experience it’s good to have a meat cleaver and meat pounder (rubber hammer) on hand to remove the backbone. You’ll also want to have a sharp boning knife to remove the thighbone although you might get away with a sharp paring knife.

Remove the Backbone – With the help of a meat cleaver and rubber hammer, remove the backbone by cutting on both sides until it comes free. Reserve for making stock for gravy.

How to Deconstruct a Turkey

How to Remove Turkey Backbone

Removing Turkey Backbone

Turkey Cavity

Remove the Leg and Thigh – Using a sharp boning knife, carefully remove the leg-thigh from the body. The thighbone attaches to the backbone and should have been separated when you removed from the turkey.

Removing Turkey Legs and Thighs

Remove the Thighbone – This is the trickiest part of the whole procedure and that’s only because I don’t do that much butchering at home. The goal is to remove the thighbone so you can stuff it with dressing and tie it so when it is done cooking it looks like a whole leg.  You have to be careful not to separate the thigh meat from the leg.

Using a boning knife or paring knife, cut and scrape along the thighbone from where it was attached to the backbone up to the bottom of the leg bone to expose the ball joint.  The meat should carefully be scraped from the bone on all sides. When you get to the ball joint, cut through it but not the meat. Free the thigh bone and reserve for turkey stock.


Deboning a Turkey Thigh


Removing a Turkey Thigh Bone

Turkey Thigh with No Thigh Bone

Truss the Thigh – Still attached to the leg but now without a thighbone, the thigh is ready for seasoning and stuffing. After stuffing the thighs, use wooden or metal skewers and butcher’s twine to close the thigh as shown in the photo.

Coat with some olive oil, season with salt and pepper and the leg-thighs are ready to roast on a rack inside a roasting pan. The rack is to keep them from burning and sticking to the pan.

Stuffed and Tied Turkey Thighs

Truss & Mound the Breast

Remove the wishbone from the neck cavity with a sharp boning knife. Use a skewer to pin the neck skin to the back. Truss the wings with a skewer and some butchers twine as shown in the photo. Coat with some olive oil, season with salt and pepper and get ready to mound the stuffing before roasting.

If you want to cook your turkey with stuffing, this is an easy way to do it. Mound a heap of dressing onto a roasting pan. Place the turkey breast down onto the mount of stuffing. In The Way To Cook, Julia uses a sheet of aluminum foil to put the stuffing on and then rolls it up to make a little bed for the turkey to sit on. We didn’t do this last year but will give it a try this year.

Stuffed Turkey Breast Uncooked

Roast the Breast and Leg-Thigh

The roasting times for the breast and the leg-thigh are different so that’s why they are in separate roasting pans. Preheat the oven to 325°F. When ready, roast the breast and leg-thighs as you normally would including basting the meat every 20 minutes.

How long you roast the turkey pieces depends on the size of the turkey and what is your ideal final internal temperature. It’s important to let the turkey rest for at least 20 – 30 minutes after you take it out of the oven and before you start carving.  The internal temperature continues to go up during this time so make sure you take this into account.

It’s important to use an instant thermometer to determine when the meat reaches your ideal temperature minus allowance for resting. Going just by turkey weight and time is a recipe for a dry bird, and relying on one of those plastic “pop-up” devices some turkeys include is guaranteed failure.

Cooked Turkey Legs and Thighs

Cooked Turkey Breast


If you want to present a whole bird at the table, you can plate the breast with the stuffing on a serving tray, remove the skewers and string and place the leg-thighs neatly where they belong.  It will look great.

We slice the turkey in the kitchen and bring the slices out on plates.  As you can see from the photo, the sliced stuffed thighs make an incredible presentation and are a huge hit with my family.

Sliced Turkey Breast and Thighs


This is a great way to prepare, cook and serve turkey. It offers you a great way to control the temperature of the dark and light meat, shorten the cooking time, and stuff the thighs.




Last modified on Sat 12 November 2016 10:15 am

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Comments (4)

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  1. Hi RG, I love the idea of stuffing the turkey thighs! Probably too risky to try it this year but maybe be next year.

    Hope you and your family have a happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Jenni says:

    Wow–now *that* is impressive!

  3. Dan Matarozzi says:

    Looks fantastic, RG. I will also give this a try, but one more time with a tried and
    true favorite from Back in the Day:
    Adele Davis was the author of a series of cookbooks and nutrition guides that were in
    vogue in the 60’s. “Let’s Cook it Right” literally turns turkey roasting on its head by
    recommending roasting it overnight and upside down. The fat from the back trickles
    down through the bird-no basting. In a 200 degree oven, the bird literally cannot overcook,
    at least not for 12-15 hours-light and dark meat come out perfect and juicy. She recommends
    the first half hour or so at around 350 to kill any surface bacteria. I have been using this method
    for many years and have never had anything but a delicious turkey. Once done, you only need
    to keep the bird warm-about 165-till you are ready to carve and serve.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Dan, I have heard of roasting a turkey upside down but never to slow cook it as you describe. Sounds like a great idea and knowing you as a great cook, I’ll have to give this a try. Thanks for sharing and Happy Thanksgiving to you and the family.

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