Sunday, May 13, 2012

More Than One Way to Skin a Wild Turkey

So you've called in your bird, taken your best shot, filled your tag, your gobbler is on the ground and you're admiring its iridescent gold and brown plumage, its long beard and impressive spurs. As you carry your beautiful wild turkey over your shoulder to your vehicle, your mind probably wanders to the next step - cleaning and preparation of the bird for cooking.

There are two basic ways to clean a wild turkey, and they depend upon how the bird will be cooked, as a whole or in parts. Most modern wild turkey hunters opt for removing the breasts and legs, but you can go the entire route if you want a full-size bird to put on the table. Cleaning an entire wild bird takes a few more minutes and more work than simply removing the breast and legs. It first involves plucking the bird's feathers from its body.

The way to start is by placing the bird on its back and "fluffing" its breast feathers. Note: do this outside; you don't want to pluck a turkey in your wife's kitchen. Move your working hand (the other hand will have to hold the turkey) against the "grain" of the breast feathers and fluff them into the air, then grab a handful of feathers and jerk away from the grain. The feathers should detach from the turkey's skin fairly easily. Be sure to have a plastic bag handy so you can deposit your feathers into it to prevent them from scattering in the wind and perhaps sticking to the bird. Some people dip a bird in a vat of boiling water for a few seconds, and then pluck the feathers from the body.

After plucking feathers from just below its neck to its tail feathers, turn the bird on its stomach and repeat the process, removing feathers from its lower back to its neck and underneath its wings. Remove the flight feathers from the wings to the first wing joint (if you can't pull them free, use a knife to cut them out), then cut off the wing from the first joint. Pluck feathers from the turkey's neck then remove the head (you already should have removed its beard).

Now your bird is ready to have its entrails removed. Starting at the breastbone's center, cut just beneath the skin down each side. Keep your knife cut shallow so you don't penetrate the intestines. Fold or pull down the membrane holding the interior organs in place, then reach inside the body cavity and carefully pull those organs toward the opening your cut has created. After removing the interior organs (lungs, stomach, liver, gall bladder, kidneys, intestines), wash out the body cavity with water. Look for any organs you may have missed and remove them. Also wash the turkey's exterior, then remove its feet. Now you have a whole turkey ready to be roasted, smoked or deep-fried.

The other and probably most-preferred method of cleaning a wild turkey is by skinning. It's less labor intensive and also results in breast meat that can be grilled. As in plucking a whole bird, start by placing the bird on its back with is feet pointing away from your head (this is best done by sitting on the ground or on a porch step) and fluffing the breast feathers, plucking them until the breast is entirely exposed to underneath the wings and down to the drum sticks (legs). Now, take a sharp knife and cut the skin on either side of the centerpiece breast bone and peel the skin away from the breast meat. To remove the breast, cut down one side of the breastbone and keep cutting until you remove the breast section. Repeat the process for the other breast piece. You should have two lovely pieces of meat that can be sliced into small pieces and grilled or sprinkled with salt and pepper, battered and fried in a frying pan with vegetable oil. Turkey breast fried this way tastes exactly like pork tenderloin.

To remove the legs, simply keep peeling the skin back to the knee joint, then cut through at the joint. The second cut will be made along the side of the turkey's body where the legs are attached, then press down with some force to break the ligaments at that joint, then cut through the joint. This final cut will remove the leg from the turkey's body. Now wash the breast and legs and remove any feathers or detritus sticking to the bird. After salting thoroughly, place the breasts and legs in a large bowl, fill with water and place in a refrigerator to soak over night (this removes excess blood and will improve the taste of the meat).

If you're hunting during a hot day and kill a wild turkey, it's a good idea to field dress the bird, especially if you plan to hunt for a second bird or have a long drive home.
Place your bird on its back, and at the bottom of the breastplate use your knife to cut down to the anal opening. Remove the entrails from this opening, then reach into the upper portion of the body, cut the bird's windpipe and remove the heart and lungs. If you have extra water, splash it inside the body cavity. Even better, pack it with ice, if available.
If you want to save a gobbler's body parts for mounting by a taxidermist, you can remove the fan tail of a gobbler (and, of course, the feet and beard). If you want a full-body mount, let a taxidermist skin and gut the turkey for best results.

For information on skinning a turkey visit North Carolina Sportsman
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