Life

Every Piece Of Meat On Your Thanksgiving Turkey, Ranked

We’ve all likely fought over a prime slice of turkey at the table on Thanksgiving. That’s because, deep down, we all know that not all parts of that turkey are created equal. Some people prefer legs (for some reason) while others want some of that grainy white meat to sop up a bucket of gravy. Others will draw blood over the oysters or pope’s nose if they’re still on the bird when it hits the serving plate.

Point being, there’s a lot going on that goes well beyond “white” and “dark” meat. The turkey is a complex creature (that just so happens to pair perfectly with cranberry sauce).

Below, we’ve ranked all nine sections or cuts of the turkey. Spoiler alert, a lot of that bird is really only good after Thanksgiving dinner in much more forgiving dishes. Still, we did our best to think about what you’ll want to race to the table for this Thanksgiving and what you can pass on until the weekend, when sandwiches are getting made.

Let’s dive in!

9. Spine

The Cut:

Overall, there’s not a lot going on here. There are thin strips of meat, fat, and skin with a lot of marrow-filled spine bones. It’s funky and… trust us, no one is fighting over the spine of the bird.

What It’s Good For:

If you’re butterflying (or spatchcocking) the bird for cooking, then you’re going to have an extra spine hanging around. The best use is for making stock. All that collagen, fat, bone, marrow, and skin will make for a great base for future gravy.

Stock cuts are great for sauces. But they aren’t anything worth fighting over at the Thanksgiving table.

8. Neck

The Cut:

The neck is usually loaded inside the bird’s cavity. The cut is mostly bone, sinew, collagen, and fat with some brown meat. The meat is generally pretty stringy, which can be a turn-off for some.

What It’s Good For:

The easy answer here is stock. All that unctuous stuff in the neck helps your stock — and future gravy — shine. That being said, you can smoke, stew, and roast necks as a nice turkey delicacy. As we mentioned, it’ll be stringy dark meat but it’ll have a lot of flavors built-in.

7. Wing

The Cut:

The wings are pretty overlooked during the rush to the dinner table. The tips will likely be singed beyond recognition. The flat of the wing will have a bit of stringy white meat with (usually) dried-out skin. The drummette might be pretty good, depending on how well cooked the turkey is. Still, it’s going to be a little tougher white meat, as it’s a little too thin to take on any moisture during cooking.

What It’s Good For:

This usually either gets thrown into turkey soup over the weekend or the meat is stripped off the bone and gets hacked up into a turkey salad for sandwiches. Overall, if you’re stuck with a wing this Thanksgiving, you have our sympathies.

That being said, if the wings are being smoked or roasted on their own, you might be in business.

6. Leg

The Cut:

The leg is a very flashy cut off of any Thanksgiving bird. But as far as dark meat goes, this is the cheapest and most annoying cut. One, it can get over-cooked due to its position on the outside of the bird. Two, there are about a million bone splints. You can’t bite into a leg and not hit one. That’s a deal-breaker.

What It’s Good For:

We guess you can spend time scrapping meat out from between those bone splints if you want. Otherwise, this is turkey soup and turkey salad territory. Also, if you take the time to scrape all the dark meat out, it works well in a turkey hash or turkey tacos on Friday morning.

5. Outer Breast Meat

The Cut:

Not all white meat is created equal. There’s a massive difference between the outer layer of breast meat and the tenderloin, nestled closer to the bone. The outer layer is the white meat you’re probably thinking of — slightly dry and a little grainy. It’s the meat you see when someone (erroneously) slices into a turkey breast while it’s still on the bird (always fully remove the breast before you slice it against the grain, folks).

What It’s Good For:

Even though this isn’t the most beloved meat at the dinner table, it has a lot of uses post-Thanksgiving. This turkey meat works on club sandos, in turkey salad, soup, hash, hot turkey sandwiches, and maybe even a leftover turkey casserole.

4. Tenderloin

The Cut:

We all know chicken tenders are better than chicken breasts and the same is true here. This is that aforementioned breast tenderloin that’s nestled right next to the bone. This is often the juiciest white meat and pretty hard to screw up while cooking.

What It’s Good For:

We’d argue that this is the first cut of meat worth rushing to the table to get. It’s much softer and meatier than the outer breast (and a lot less grainy). This is good for building the perfect bite on your fork with mash and gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce all stacked on one satisfying bite.

3. Thigh

The Cut:

This is the fatty meat that’s right under the turkey, so all the juices pass through on the way to the pan below. It’s the most flavored and often the juiciest (by far). Usually, the thighs are broken off and the bones removed, leaving big chunks of thigh meat on the platter, which will be gone pretty quick.

What It’s Good For:

This is classic turkey meat. It works on its own and you shouldn’t really need gravy to help this piece of bird shine. If there’s any leftover on Friday (there won’t be), you can also use this cut for anything we mentioned above and it’ll help that dish pop.

2. Oyster

The Cut:

This is prime territory. The oyster, or sot-l’y-laisse (“only a fool leaves this behind” in French), is the most delicate and delicious part of the turkey that’s mostly meat (vs. our #1 entry, which is mostly fat). The morsels are on the spine in little cavities about 2/3 down from the neck. Like the thighs, this area collects all the fat and juices but the meat is about a million times more deeply flavored and fatty.

What It’s Good For:

If you’re carving the bird, these are usually yours. Those in the know will slice these morsels out and eat one and give the other one to the one they love the most.

Note: If you spatchcock or butterfly your bird, you lose these — a definite downside to that technique.

1. Pope’s Nose

The Cut:

This is that little, well, nose at the end of the bird. It’s called the pygostyle and holds the preen gland. Basically, this is a little pocket of pure fat that’s held in crispy turkey skin. When it’s crispy on the outside and hot on the inside, this is like getting one or two bites of the purest essence of turkey.

What It’s Good For:

You really want to eat this immediately. It’s also usually reserved for whoever is cooking as they’ll likely steal it and eat it well before the turkey hits the table. If you do see it there, don’t be afraid to knock down your asshole cousin to get it on your plate first or maybe sneak into the kitchen, do some pre-dishes help, and see if you can score it early.

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