Timber 2 Table

How to Skin a Snapping Turtle the Timber2Table Way

By author of Timber 2 Table

There are lots of ways to skin a turtle, but this is what works best for us.

Around here, early summer means the big common snapping turtles are on the move. We find them crossing the road, moving from pond to pond, or just walking around the farm. Whether you pick them up, or catch them while fishing, snapping turtles are good eating. 

While tasty, they can be a bit of a chore to clean. This is the method we use, and it only takes a few minutes per turtle to get them ready for your favorite recipe. It goes without saying, be careful around the business end of a big snapper. They can reach out a surprising distance and strike nearly as fast as a snake. Just for the record, their nervous system is such that the head will still clamp down on anything that gets near it, even after it has been removed from the body. 

The next time you find yourself in possession of an eating-sized turtle, try these steps to get it ready for the table. For gear, you will need a pair of heavy pliers, a sharp filet knife, a heavy-bladed hunting knife, and a garden hose. A board with a nail sticking up through the center helps to secure the turtle, making it easier to skin.

Remove the head from the neck.Remove the head from the neck.Remove the head from the neck.Remove the head from the neck.Remove the head from the neck.

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Image 1 of 13

1 | Remove the Head

1. Grasp the lower jaw with a pair of long pliers. Stand on the tail and stretch the turtle’s neck out. Using a very sharp knife, remove the head by cutting just below the jaw bone and twisting to release the head from the neck. 

Loosen the skin with water pressureLoosen the skin with water pressureLoosen the skin with water pressureLoosen the skin with water pressureLoosen the skin with water pressure

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Image 2 of 13

2 | Loosen the Skin With Water Pressure

2. The toughest part of skinning a turtle is the actual skinning itself. Using water pressure to loosen the skin from the meat of the turtle makes the process easy. After removing the head, insert a hose between the skin and the neck meat. Wrap your hand around the neck, squeezing the skin tightly around the neck to seal the skin over the hose. Turn on the water and allow the water to do the work of separating the skin from the meat. Watch the legs as they expand from the water pressure. When you see the skin on the tail start to expand, release the neck. Prick the skin in a few places and allow the water to drain from the turtle.

Use a board with a nail in the center to secure the turtleUse a board with a nail in the center to secure the turtleUse a board with a nail in the center to secure the turtleUse a board with a nail in the center to secure the turtleUse a board with a nail in the center to secure the turtle

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Image 3 of 13

3 | Secure the Turtle on a Board

3. Place the turtle upside down on the board, pushing the shell down onto the nail to hold the turtle in place but allow you to spin it around to make it easy to work on each quarter.

 

Cut through the joint to remove each foot.Cut through the joint to remove each foot.Cut through the joint to remove each foot.Cut through the joint to remove each foot.Cut through the joint to remove each foot.

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Image 4 of 13

4 | Remove the Feet

4. Remove the feet and claws by cutting through the joint. It might take a little practice, but you should be able to slice through the joint where the foot attaches to the leg

Slice through the skin where it attaches to the shell around each legSlice through the skin where it attaches to the shell around each legSlice through the skin where it attaches to the shell around each legSlice through the skin where it attaches to the shell around each legSlice through the skin where it attaches to the shell around each leg

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Image 5 of 13

5 | Cut the Skin Around Each Leg

5. Using the tip of a sharp filet knife, cut the skin away from the plastron on the bottom of the shell. Be careful not to insert the knife deeply and rupture the intestines.

Separate the plastron from the carapace of the shell with a heavy bladed knife.Separate the plastron from the carapace of the shell with a heavy bladed knife.Separate the plastron from the carapace of the shell with a heavy bladed knife.Separate the plastron from the carapace of the shell with a heavy bladed knife.Separate the plastron from the carapace of the shell with a heavy bladed knife.

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Image 6 of 13

6 | Remove the Plastron

6. Using your heavy knife, find the soft spot that attaches the plastron (the belly part of the shell) to the shell along each side. Slice to separate the two, then filet away the plastron. 

Slice away the loosened skin.Slice away the loosened skin.Slice away the loosened skin.Slice away the loosened skin.Slice away the loosened skin.

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Image 7 of 13

7 | Skin the Legs and Neck

7. Peel the skin away from the legs and neck. Loosening the skin with water pressure speeds this process greatly.

Remove the rear legsRemove the rear legsRemove the rear legsRemove the rear legsRemove the rear legs

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Image 8 of 13

8 | Remove the Rear Legs in One Piece

8. Remove both rear legs and the base of the tail by inserting your fingers under the rear quarters and twisting to release from the shell. Pull them away and cut away any connective tissue that holds the hind legs to the shell.

Use a heavy knife to separate the hind legsUse a heavy knife to separate the hind legsUse a heavy knife to separate the hind legsUse a heavy knife to separate the hind legsUse a heavy knife to separate the hind legs

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Image 9 of 13

9 | Separate the Hind Legs

9. Split the rear leg quarters in half with a heavy knife.

Twist and slice away the front legs from the shellTwist and slice away the front legs from the shellTwist and slice away the front legs from the shellTwist and slice away the front legs from the shellTwist and slice away the front legs from the shell

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Image 10 of 13

10 | Remove the Front Legs

10. Remove the front quarters by cutting around the meat and twisting to release them from the shell. 

Remove the neck.Remove the neck.Remove the neck.Remove the neck.Remove the neck.

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Image 11 of 13

11 | Remove the Neck From the Turtle

 

11. Remove the neck and trim away the esophagus and any fat. There is quite a bit of meat on the neck of a large turtle.

Trim away any fat left on the meatTrim away any fat left on the meatTrim away any fat left on the meatTrim away any fat left on the meatTrim away any fat left on the meat

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Image 12 of 13

12 | Trim Away All Fat From the Meat

12. Trim all fat from the meat. Turtle fat tastes funky and will impart a foul flavor to your turtle meat if left on.

Soak the meat in salt waterSoak the meat in salt waterSoak the meat in salt waterSoak the meat in salt waterSoak the meat in salt water

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Image 13 of 13

13 | Soak the Meat in Salt Water

Rinse the meat well, cover it with salt water, then let it soak in the refrigerator for a few hours.