Wild Turkey Butchering and Cooking Tips
When cleaned and cooked properly, wild turkeys aren't tough and dry table fare; they are absolutely delicious
If you're only taking the breasts from wild turkeys, then you're missing out on some excellent meat from the legs and thighs. (Scott Stankowski photo)
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There are a lot of turkey hunters that do not realize how versatile a wild turkey is when it comes to table fare. When I first started turkey hunting, the first bird I harvested was cleaned whole and frozen. We cooked it like a traditional Thanksgiving turkey and complained about how dry and tough it was. There was a week’s worth of leftovers and by the time it was gone, we were sick of it.
I am a huge trial-and-error person and was not going to stick to that method of cooking. Around this same time, deep frying turkeys was the newest thing to do. Without a lot of guidance from anyone, I decided a wild turkey would be great with this cooking method, because the fryer would lock in the moisture. Man, was I wrong. At the time, I didn’t realize in order to deep fry a turkey the skin must remain on; it turned out dry and tough.
I fell in love with hunting turkeys and had to find a way to make them good table fare. Through a couple of out-of-state trips and the necessity of freezer space, I resorted to breasting out my turkeys. What an ingenious concept that has become for my family. It is all we do now.
I would like to share some tips and preparation how-to that will enable you to enjoy wild turkey as much as we do at my house. We harvest enough turkeys that we no longer buy farm-raised turkey from the store.
Austin, my son, was lucky enough to harvest a nice longbeard during a youth hunt. This video is a step-by-step visual of butchering. If you struggle with the wild turkey butchering process, it is not something to miss.
Lay the wild turkey on its back and begin by making a small cut right along the ridge of the breast bone, big enough to fit your fingers into. Set your knife down and open up the turkey breast area like opening a bag of potato chips. Pull the skin down past where the breast meat inserts into the wing.
Next go to the neck area and pull out the crop of the bird. This is a bag-type structure that birds use to hold their food before they re-swallow it and send it to their gizzard for digestion. When you are done cleaning the bird, it is always a good idea to cut open the crop to see what the bird had been eating. It will give you hints on places to set up for your next hunt.
Once the breasts are exposed, take the knife and cut along the bone of the breast meat on one side. Be careful not to cut into the body cavity behind the ribs and cut down until it inserts into the wing pocket. Repeat on the other breast and you should end up with four pieces of meat. Two smaller ones, which I refer to as the tenderloins, and two larger breast pieces.
I clean those up and divide the larger breast pieces into meals. Typically I can get two meals out of one side of the breast of a decent-size tom. I will then later dice the meat chunks up and use them for a variety of dishes, including turkey Alfredo, breaded and deep fried, or stir fry. If am going to keep the breast whole and grill it I always pound the breasts out with a meat cleaver first.
Are you hungry yet? Well, I have not even gotten to the best part of the bird, the legs and thighs. What? You bet, the best part. I struggled for years with this. I was brought up to not waste what you shoot and always assumed that the legs would be tough, full of tendons and only worthy of soup. Even after boiling them in soup, they still would not tenderize. Well, I learned a new method.
First you need to remove the legs from the bird. Start by dislocating the hip and popping it out. Next cut along the hip bone where there are two medallions of meat on either side of the joint. Dislocate the knee joint and cut off the tendons and feathers.
The legs are so easy to prepare. Buy two cans of soup mix, French onion and golden mushroom. Place the legs in a slow cooker and add the contents of the cans. Add some water until the meat is covered. Cooking time varies, but I usually set on low heat before I leave for work; when I get home the meat falls off the bones. I shred the meat and utilize in a variety of ways. I add barbeque sauce and make pulled-turkey sandwiches, add a bit of taco seasoning and make shredded tacos, add it and the stock to soup, eating it plain with a slice of provolone cheese on a bun is also delicious.
Editor’s Note: Scott Stankowski is the senior outdoor writer for centralwisconsinsports.net and produces weekly articles, typically highlighting getting kids active in the outdoors. His family prides itself on living off of the land. Scott also takes the mantra into the classroom where he teaches environmental science at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School. Scott and his sons have won numerous titles in turkey and deer calling at the state level.