By Joe Shead
Shooting a wild turkey with a bow is challenging. But preparing it so it’s moist and delicious might be even more difficult for many hunters.
Wild turkey meat is not the same as the store-bought variety, which is often pumped full of saltwater. Wild turkey tends to be drier and tougher.
As with any wild game, care and preparation in the field enhances the meat’s flavor. If it’s a warm day or you’ll drive any distance before taking care of your bird, field dress it immediately. If you plan to cook the bird whole, you must remove the entrails anyway. (Don’t field dress it if you plan to have it mounted).
To field dress your bird, make a cut from the bottom of the breast to the anus. Remove the organs, and place those you’ll eat into a plastic bag. Cut out the anus, which is between the pelvic bones. You should also remove the breast sponge, which is fatty tissue atop the breast. Remove the crop, too. If you plan to cook the bird whole, do not cut the skin over the breast.
Check out these field dressing instructions:
Decide how you’ll cook the turkey as soon as you harvest it. If you’ll roast, smoke or deep-fry the whole turkey, pluck it and keep the skin intact. The skin adds great flavor and retains moisture while cooking.
Plucking is time-consuming, even tedious, but it’s worth it. Grab a few feathers and pull straight out, or slightly upward toward the head to remove them. If you grab too many feathers, you might rip the skin.
It’s far easier to skin the bird and cut the meat off the bone. Save the breasts, thighs, wings, legs and any giblets you want to eat. Deboning a turkey also saves space in your cooler or freezer.
No matter how you cook your bird, brining it helps keep it moist. That means soaking it in a saltwater solution. MeatEater founder Steven Rinella offers tips on brining and other turkey preparations here.
Because wild turkey is much leaner than domestic turkey, you’ll want to add fat if you’re roasting your bird. Rub the skin and inner body cavity with generous amounts of butter. That makes the skin crispy and delicious while locking in moisture.
Wild turkey is notorious for being dry, but you can prevent that. Besides brining it, try stuffing the body cavity with halved grapefruits or other fruit. You can also place the bird in an oven bag to retain moisture. The internal temperature at the thigh should reach 165 degrees, but don’t overcook it. You’ll dry it out.
If your hunting skills far exceed your cooking skills, roasting a turkey might not be for you. Deep-frying a whole turkey in peanut oil is a great option. It’s easy and delicious, and frying the skin locks in moisture. Another option is the slow cooker. That works particularly well for thighs, wings and legs, which are naturally dryer and tougher than the breasts. Add broth or soup, and some veggies. In good time that sinewy meat will fall off the bone.
When carving the turkey, cut across the grain of the meat, which makes it easier to chew. That’s especially important for tougher cuts, such as the legs.
For the best results, brine your bird no matter how you cook it. If you’re roasting the bird, rub it with plenty of butter, add fruit to the body cavity, and don’t overcook it. Those steps take more work, but you’ll also be eating healthier meat that lacks the chemicals found in domestic birds.