I have a very strange, recurring nightmare wherein I slice up a steak, take a photo of the slices, and publish the photo in a blog, only to realize that I sliced the meat with the grain. Then everyone—both in the comments and on Twitter—ridicules me for violating this basic meat eating rule, and I never work in this town again.
It’s a bizarre anxiety dream, but perhaps not unreasonable. The way you slice your meat has a huge effect on tenderness. You can watch a video explaining the science behind it here, but the upshot is that chewing long strings of muscle fibers takes far more force than chewing slices made up of a bunch of short muscle fiber cross-sections. This is true of both steak and turkey, and it’s why stock photos like the one you see above are—in my opinion—a culinary menace.
Carving the breast meat directly off of the bird—by making cuts parallel to the breast bone—is a bad idea. That’s called slicing with the grain, and you’ll end up with chewy bunches of muscle fibers rather than tender slices. (And turkey is a meat that usually needs all the help it can get.)
Luckily, it’s easy to give your turkey a wing up in this regard and make sure it feels as tender as possible in your mouth. Start by removing both lobes of breast meat by running your knife along the breast bone on both sides. Keep following the bone until you can remove each lobe in one piece. Transfer to a cutting board, then slice perpendicular to the grain. If you’re not sure what that means, just flip it over and look at which way the meat strings are running—your goal is to make those as short as possible. The thinner your slices, the easier the turkey will be to chew, and the happier you (and your guests) will be.