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Because I like the dark meat of turkey cooked differently than the white meat, this year I cut my Thanksgiving turkey into parts for cooking and it turned out great. I don't plan to ever roast a whole turkey again. However, cutting the backbone out of my small, ~13lb (~6kg) turkey was really difficult. As a matter of fact, I badly sliced my finger doing it with standard kitchen shears and a knife. To make things even more difficult, my dominant hand has a bad tremor and both hands are weak.

I have a much larger (~20lb, ~9kg) turkey for Christmas.

I've read reviews of kitchen shears, and even the highest rated just don't look strong enough for the job especially considering my difficulties. The ones that look close are ludicrously expensive.

I'm thinking that I might have better luck at Home Depot. If I buy a tool to use for cutting poultry bones, I would only use it for that purpose.

What might do the trick for me? Any advice regarding technique would also be welcome.

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  1. The brute force aproach

Typically when shears don't cut it, you bring in a saw:

Butchers use them to halve cows or pigs, cut through large bones and generally chop down an animal in short time. For the home cook, the larger versions (bandsaw, hand-held circular saw, ...) are certainly overkill, but smaller ones are quite useful.

A hacksaw is in every butchers' toolbox (figuratively speaking) and available at every Home Depot or similar. Ask your shop assistant for the recommended sawblade and other details. The ones sold as tool might not be fully compliant with local food safety regulations, but if you don't plan to sell your food, a good scrubbing to remove oils and other residue from fabrication should suffice.

If you plan to do some butchering - at least for small-to-medium sized animals - on a regular basis or love electric gadgets and have a few extra dollars, I found a small hand-held, cordless electric bone saw plus a video showing it in action. As I see it, it should be possible to operate it even with limited strength and dexterity. enter image description here (Source)


  1. The surgical aproach

My first impulse when reading your question was to approach it as a surgical problem - if your existing tools can't cut through the bone, you can always use a scalpel or similar knife to dislodge the ribs from their joints one by one. You don't get a nice clean cut, but can always trim a bit afterwards. This procedure shouldn't require much strength, a tremor might be a problem, though.


  1. The completely different aproach

You might not need to remove the backbone at all, unless you insist on a traditional spatchcooked bird. the kitchn features an article on how to spatchcook a turkey "the Latin American way".

In short, you bend the bird's legs outwards, slice towards the hip joint and dislodge the tighs. Cut towards the wings until you can flip the breast part up, then finally cut through the backbone:

enter image description here

(More details and step-by-step instructions here.)

This means you are only dealing with some thin lower ribs and one cut through the backbone. You get two pieces, the breast (plus wings) with the whiter meat and the legs with the darker meat. It should be easy to procede from there.

  • That electric bone saw is just awesome. – Joshua Engel Feb 24 '17 at 15:51
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The closest thing to poultry shears at a hardware store that I'm aware of would be aviation snips or gardening sheers -- but they don't have that notch back near the pivot to grab the bone, so I suspect they'd be more more hassle than they're worth.

(and I use my garden sheers on poison ivy, so it's never going into my kitchen)

If your kitchen sheers don't have that notch (on the inside cutting edge when it's open, not a bottle-opener on the outside), you might just want to get new ones. The notch makes sure the bone stays near the pivot, so you have good mechanical advantage.

The closer the notch is to the pivot, the better your mechanical advantage will be, but if it's too small, you can't manage larger bones. It can also cause problems if your hand has to open too wide for the size bone that you're cutting. You'd have to experiment with what is the best notch-size for your hand and what you're cutting. If you have a kitchenware store near you with demo models, you might try bringing some small sticks or bamboo (eg, from garden stakes) and see if they'll let you try them out.

Poultry sheers tend to be spring loaded, so they might actually be more of a problem for people with poor hand-strength unless they're articulated to give extra mechanical advantage (like aviation snips).

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