Harvesting, processing and cooking wild turkey

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By Jenny Underwood Few things are tastier than wild turkey; our family likes to eat it every year during the hunting season. Now that our sons are old enough to hunt turkeys, we are blessed with a lot more fresh turkey. But how do you process a wild turkey for optimal use? Are they the same as tamed turkeys?

First, a wild turkey is not the same as a tame turkey that you buy at the store. Most often, only gobblers (males) are hunted in the wild in the spring and are usually several years old. This means the meat is full of flavor, but you have to handle it properly or end up with a tough, chewy piece of meat.

Field dressing a wild turkey is similar to any poultry slaughter. However, we like to remove the breast and keep the legs and thighs separate. To do this, you will need a skinning gambrel. Spread the legs of the turkey over the gambrel. Then pluck the breast feathers. After exposing the breast meat, start with a sharp knife in the center of the breast bone. Make your first cut staying just along the edge of the breastbone. Continue cutting the meat until it comes away from the breastbone in one large piece. You will repeat the process on the opposite side. To skin thigh and thigh meat, simply cut the skin off the thigh until you can fit your fingers between the meat and the skin. The skin will then easily come off the meat by hand. Once you have all the skin on the drumstick and thigh, you can separate the thigh with the drumstick attached to it at the joint that connects it to the main body of the turkey.

After cutting the pieces of the carcass, you can process them into small pieces for freezing or proceed to the preparation of cooking the turkey. Freeze:

  1. Cut the breast into small pieces and carefully remove any tendons. This tendon will never become tender, so remove it quickly for best results.
  1. Thinly slice the breast if you plan to fry it. If you want, you can use a meat tenderizer and pound the slices for even more tenderness.
  1. Cut it into small pieces (about 1 inch by 1 inch) for stews, dumplings, pies or canning.
  1. To grill, cut it into slices about ½ inch thick.

I leave the legs and thighs whole to make broth. I then place my pieces in salted ice water or a marinade (see marinade ideas later in the article).

Side note: check all parts for lost pellets. Nothing ruins a meal like biting on a piece of hard metal!

Buttermilk Fried Turkey Breast

  • 1 wild turkey breast, thinly sliced, sinew removed
  • Buttermilk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cajun or chili seasoning (if desired, add more or less for spiciness)
  • 1 inch hot oil in a cast iron skillet or deep fryer

Let the turkey breast marinate in the buttermilk for 6 to 8 hours (or overnight). Combine flour, salt, pepper and any other seasonings in a storage bag. Shake well. Heat your oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Shake off excess marinade. Gently coat the breast pieces with the flour mixture. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden on one side (about 2-3 minutes). Flip and brown the other side. Place on a plate with several layers of paper towels to drain. Serve hot or cold.

Alternative marinades to buttermilk are ranch dressing, salad dressing, or Italian dressing. One brisket will serve 6 with side dishes.

Instant Pot Turkey Breast

  • 1 wild turkey breast, thinly sliced, sinew removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Vinaigrette (½ bottle)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Place wild turkey breast, onion, dressing, and olive oil in an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker. Close the pressure valve and cook in poultry mode for 60 minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally. Alternatively, you can use ranch or Italian dressing in place of the dressing. You can add 4 potatoes (cut into 2-inch by 2-inch pieces), chopped carrots, and celery for a delicious roast-style meal.

1 brisket will serve 6 with sides.

Stewed wild turkey with gravy

  • 1 wild turkey breast, thinly sliced, sinew removed
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Water
  • Sauce
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 cups of milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy cast iron skillet (with lid), heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot. Combine flour and spices in a storage bag. Add the turkey breast, 1 piece at a time, to bag and coat well. Add to skillet. Heap the pieces into the skillet. Lightly fry on one side. Then flip and brown on the other side. Add about ½ inch of water to the skillet, lower the heat to low, and cover the skillet with a lid. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, adding water as needed to prevent burning or drying out. When the meat is fork tender, remove it from the pan. In a measuring cup, whisk together flour and milk. Add to the cooking juices of the meat in the same skillet. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-high. Whisk constantly until it bubbles quickly. Remove from heat and serve hot with smothered turkey, mashed potatoes and warm cookies.

Turkey Broth

  • 2 turkey thighs and thighs
  • Water
  • 2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • ¼ cup butter or olive oil

In a pressure cooker, roasting pan or slow cooker, place all the ingredients except the water. Then cover the turkey thighs and thighs with water. If using a pressure cooker, close the pressure valve and cook in poultry mode for 90 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally. If using a countertop roaster or slow cooker, cook at 275 degrees F (or low) for 12 hours until everything is fork tender and the broth is dark and rich-looking. A pot on the stove can also be used, but you will need to keep adding water and simmer for 4-5 hours. Remove thighs and thighs for other uses. Strain the broth and freeze it, store it, or store it in the fridge for use within a week.

BBQ turkey thighs and thighs

  • Pulled turkey meat removed from 2 legs and 2 turkey legs
  • 1 bottle of barbecue sauce
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers (sweet), chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

In a heavy iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and peppers and sauté until tender. Add turkey and sauté lightly. Then add the BBQ sauce, cover and simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve with hot rolls and crispy fried potatoes. For 6 persons.

To prepare any turkey breast for pies, stew or meatballs, cook your turkey in a pressure cooker for 60 minutes on the poultry setting with 1 liter of water and 1 stick of butter. Or cook in a slow cooker for 6-8 hours. Then add the turkey to the desired recipe.

Remember, if you prepare your wild turkey properly, you’ll want hunting season to come around a lot more often! So, clean the turkey well, cut it into small pieces and cook it in a way that retains moisture, and you will be delighted with the result.

Originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of Journal of the campaign and the small stock and regularly checked for accuracy.

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