Skip to main content

Wild Turkey Butchering and Cooking Tips

When cleaned and cooked properly, wild turkeys aren't tough and dry table fare; they are absolutely delicious

Wild Turkey Butchering and Cooking Tips
If you're only taking the breasts from wild turkeys, then you're missing out on some excellent meat from the legs and thighs.
Print Recipe

Permitted use provided by:

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 barbecue 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 and produces weekly articles, typically highlighting getting kids active in the outdoors. His family prides itself on living off 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.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Sometimes you have to fish a bait that allows you to cover a lot of water efficiently. When you're on the search for bass that have moved into deeper water off the bank and away from obvious holding spots, a swimbait can locate them.

On the Search with Swimbaits

One of the best imitations of a wounded baitfish is the soft-plastic jerkbait, or fluke. A fluke darting just beneath the surface can be too much for a bass to resist. Rig it and fish it according to water conditions and cover to make this great bait even more effective.

Fun with Flukes

There are three models in SPRO's Outsider crankbait series: 55 (runs 3-4 feet), 60 (7-9) and 80 (19-21). Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley goes over the specifics at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

SPRO's New Outsider Crankbait Series: First Look

Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley highlights the features of SPRO's new lures at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Essential Series Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits from SPRO

Syd Ribes with Sea Falcon highlights four new lures for saltwater fishing. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Lineup of Lures from Sea Falcon

Syd Ribes highlights two new saltwater lures from SPRO: Flutter Tail Shrimp and Cannon Ball Jig. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Saltwater Lures from SPRO

AFTCO's Matt Florentino highlights the features of the new Barricade cold-weather suit, a Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022 in Orlando. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

New from AFTCO: Barricade Cold Weather Tactical Gear

Three-time ICAST Best of Category winner Bubba covers it all with new knives set. With Bubba's Matt Kinamore and Game & Fish's  Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

4-in-1 Bubba Multi Flex Cutlery Kit

The innovative landing net will weigh and measure your catch while it's still in the net. Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

Award-Winning Frabill Witness Net 'Keeps You Honest'

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now