Cooking Your Wild Turkey
You’ve done the hard part and tagged a spring gobbler.
Some of the camp talk after our Yamaha Outdoors Texas turkey hunt this season involved eating our kills, too. Good news is, almost all wild turkey meat can be used for recipes. Tips follow to make the most out of your bird.
Clean, Use and Freeze the Rest
Clean your turkey as soon as possible, especially in warm weather. You’ll also want to take some photos while the bird is intact.
You can freeze a whole bird after plucking it, or break it down into various parts (breast meat, drumsticks or just thighs, and meat bits). Freezer paper, plastic zip bags and plastic wrap can all be used. The key is to first let the bird cool.
Package parts as you might imagine using meat for meals. Fillet the breast meat or cube it. Detach thighs from the rest of the leg. All wild turkey meat can be used, so even keep the carcass for soups and stews—especially in hunting camp.
In other words, don’t put it all in one big package as you’ll have to defrost all of it at once.
This Texas longbeard made for a great wild turkey chili. (Steve Hickoff photo)
How to Prepare Your Turkey
After defrosting turkey meat, and depending on the recipe, cube or fillet breasts into smaller parts for tenderizing. To do this, place meat on a cutting board, cover it with plastic wrap and use a meat hammer to gently tap each piece. This breaks the meat down a little and makes cooking and eating it an enjoyable experience. True enough though you can also simply use a Dutch oven or crockpot to slowly cook the meat for hours, which will tenderize it as well.
You can use wild turkey breast meat in almost any recipe that includes store-bought domestic chicken fillets or farm turkey. Just swap it out. It’s that simple. My opinion: fresh wild turkey is far better than frozen-foods-section poultry.
Many simply opt to finger the meat, roll it in egg batter then flour, and fry it in cooking oil. That’s cool—it’s good and seasonings offer flavor options.
While many hunters only keep the thick breast meat for grilling or frying (and obviously baking) that’s only part of it. You can of course bake the whole bird in the traditional Thanksgiving manner. Pluck it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roast the bird breast side up, of course. The internal temperature should read 180 degrees when it’s done.
If the wild turkey’s been skinned, “bard” the breast with strips of bacon. This keeps the lean meat from drying out. You can also cover it in tinfoil as you might with a farm bird.
Use the Drumsticks Too
Go the game-cooking distance. Again, the theme here is to make use of the whole turkey and you should. In the interest of using the whole bird, try parboiling your skinned wild turkey drumsticks. Here’s how:
Step 1: Gently place the skinned drumsticks in a tall lobster pot full of boiling water.
Step 2: After 90 minutes or so, you can remove the legs (use prongs), cool them, and pick the meat for use in soups and stews.
Step 3: Breast meat and legs now removed for other recipes, you can do the same thing with the upper and lower de-feathered and skinned body of the turkey (snap it into two pieces).
Step 4: After cooling, pick the meat and keep it in a bowl. Substitute these tasty meat bits with game bird or even traditional recipes of choice.
Cooking wild turkey well extends the hunt.