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Illustration of a man ready to carve a holiday turkey


The Carver’s Handbook

16 essential tips to host, plate, and serve your best Thanksgiving dinner party yet.

In Meal Planning and Table Service in the American Home, the first edition of which was published in 1923, an associate professor in Iowa State College’s Household Science Department answered “the numberless questions which the housewife meets daily” to inspire American homemakers to entertain graciously in a maid-less home. Among her recommendations are 16 practical tips on how to successfully carve, serve, and plate a roast at a dinner party. They’re still on point, a century later.

1. It is needless to say that a thoughtful hostess will never serve for the first time a difficult roast when there is company. A baked fowl, a planked steak, prime ribs of beef, or a crown roast should always be served in the privacy of one’s own family until the host feels free to perform before guests.

2. The wise host will visit the kitchen before the meal is served to find out if there are any special instructions. For instance, some hostesses sort the white and dark meat so that the host can easily select the proper piece to serve. 

3. While the host is carving, the hostess should assume the burden of conversation, and should distract the attention of the guests from the carver. No host enjoys a dead silence with all eyes upon him and his task. Of course, no hostess will ever give directions to the host during his carving.

4. The carving-knife must be sharpened before coming to the table.

5. The carving fork should be placed in the meat at the left in such a position as to steady the whole roast or fowl. A skillful carver does not remove the fork during the entire carving.

While the host is carving, the hostess should distract the attention of the guests from the carver. No host enjoys a dead silence with all eyes upon him and his task.

6. The host should carve enough meat for everyone before beginning to serve the plates. An exception to this is a planked steak, or similar meat, which is so covered with vegetables that it becomes necessary to remove some of the vegetables nearest the carver before he can cut off any meat.

7. When through carving, the serving silver should be placed on the platter. Never let the silver hang off the platter or be placed on the tablecloth.

8. Do not lift the plate. Have the platter as close to the plate as possible, and use two pieces of silver if necessary. Do not chase a croquette or other serving around the platter for want of a fork held in the left hand.

9. When the hostess has arranged an attractive platter it becomes the duty of the host to make each plate just as attractive.

Do not chase a croquette or other serving around the platter for want of a fork held in the left hand.

10. Ask a guest what portion he desires. If no choice is given, a slice of white and one of dark should be served.

11. Serve fairly small servings at first in order that guests may send their plates back for second helpings of certain foods.

12. Do not overcrowd the plate. There should always be a space left where the knife and fork may rest.

13. Do not place food too close to the edge of the plate: Avoid a messy plate.

14. Serve a bit of the garnish on each plate.

15. Gravy is served by the host, preferably.

16. Before asking a guest to be served a second time, the host carves a few portions of meat. The host asks the hostess to be re-served. She should take a second serving of something in order that the guests may feel free to be served again, if they so desire.

Hero image: ©CSA Images via Getty Images

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