And some tips on handling your bird ahead of the Thanksgiving meal
Classic Thanksgiving stuffing. Pumpkin pie. Cranberry sauce. Sliced turkey breast. Yeah, man, and make mine wild please.
Sure, farm-raised turkeys shared with family and friends are a holiday tradition, as not everyone hunts wild turkeys with the same passion we do. But our birds carry memories of the hunt that extend to the meals prepared with our game. That's a powerful thing for most of us. I’m a big fan of working in a wild turkey recipe or two to round-out the traditional Thanksgiving fare (on this, more shortly).
Non-hunting guests at your holiday table will sometimes ask: "Is it gamey?" (I'm guessing you know a few folks like this.) Yep, wild turkeys are different than store-bought frozen roasters, for sure. But not gamey. Delicious, provided the cook does his part. To me, wild turkey is as turkey as turkey can be.
And it gives us a chance to tell that hunting story just one more time as we pass the gravy.
Packaging and Cooking Tips
Here’s hoping you’ve packaged wild-turkey parts in freezer bags with future meals in mind. If not, start with your next wild turkey. Fillet the breast meat whole, cubed or fingered. Detach thighs from the rest of the leg. Keep the drumsticks. All wild turkey meat can be used, so even hold onto the carcass. Also, save the edible internals such as the heart and liver as you clean your bird. Some tips:
Before cooking, defrost and place your breast 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. True enough, you can also simply use a Dutch oven or crockpot to slowly cook the meat for hours, which will tenderize it as well.
Wild turkey breasts go well in many recipes that call for store-bought chicken fillets or farm turkey. Just swap it out. It’s that simple. Breast meat is great for both grilling or frying.
Many opt to cut the breast meat into fingers, roll it in egg batter, and then flour and fry it in cooking oil. That’s hard to beat, with seasonings offering a range of flavor options.
And yes, you can bake the whole plucked bird in the traditional Thanksgiving manner.
Prepping the Drumsticks and Thighs
Go the game-cooking distance. In the interest of using the whole bird, parboil your skinned wild turkey drumsticks and thighs.
Step 1: Gently place the drumsticks and thighs in a tall pot full of boiling water.
Step 2: After 90 minutes or so, you can remove these parts (use prongs), and cool under running water. Pick the meat for use in soups, stews and other recipes.
Step 3: Go a step further. Parboil the upper and lower de-feathered and skinned body of the turkey (snap it into two pieces). After cooling the carcass, pick the meat and keep it in a bowl. Use these tasty bits with recipes of choice.
Step 4: Reserve the stock from parboiling the turkey for use in soups and stews.
Wild Turkey Recipes
Okay, the moment you’ve all waited for: the recipes.
Resident Realtree.com food blogger Michael Pendley is an avid hunter, as are his family members, both his wife, Cheryl, and their three kids. That makes for a lot of meat in the freezer – and his cooking smarts qualify him to offer a range of wild-game recipes over on Realtree's Timber2Table blog.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree.com's editorial director and turkey hunting editor. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country.