Of all the birds we hunt, I think the wild turkey is the most under-utilized when it comes to enjoying all the body parts. Many hunters will “breast” the bird, cutting off only the breast and discarding the rest. To me, that’s a cardinal sin, but that’s just me. I must have a weird chromosome, because I see every gram of wild meat, whether it’s on a dove, moose, or fish, as a precious piece of flesh that should be enjoyed at the table. And, I should mention that each state has rules regarding the edible portions of wild game. You could be in violation of the law if you toss the turkey carcass after removing the breasts.
Being large birds with big, tough feathers that are stubborn when you try to pluck them, most hunters skin turkeys. That’s how I do it, because I use each part in a different recipe and skinning works best. Here’s what I save from my bird: the breast meat, legs, including the thigh and drumstick, wingbones, neck, and the eviscerated carcass. I’m personally not much for the giblets, so I discard them, but there are many folks who enjoy them.
Start by laying the bird on its back on a clean surface. Cut off the beard, if there is one. Using the point of a knife, make a slit under the skin on the breast. Then, with your fingers, rip away the skin. It should peel off easily. If possible, skin the bird when it’s still warm, since the skin will peel easier. You need to decide what parts of the bird you want to keep. If you’re saving just the breasts and legs, you obviously don’t need to skin anything else. But if you want the wing meat, neck and carcass, you need to skin the entire bird. The wings are extremely difficult. Heavy kitchen shears are handy for cutting the ends of the wing feathers where they’re attached to the body.
Fillet off the breast by inserting the point of a sharp knife against the breastbone which protrudes and is easily located. Slice the breast off by pressing the knife blade flat against the breastbone and cutting away the meat in one piece. Follow the line of the meat until you get to the crop which has undigested food and gelatinous- like flesh and discard it. When done, you should have two chunks of breast meat.
To remove the legs, press against one backwards until it’s tight and use your knife to find the bone joint next to the body. Cut around that joint and the entire leg can be removed. The leg is made up of the upper thigh, the lower drumstick, and the feet. The feet are inedible. Cut them off at the joint or snip them off with shears. Save the spurs if you wish. You can separate the thigh and drumstick at the joint, making them more compact for freezing or cooking.
Removing feathers from the wings is tough. Pull off what you can, and use shears to cut away the large feathers. This is a difficult process, but in my opinion the wing meat is the most delicious of all the parts and I believe it’s worth the effort.
Cut the neck off and use it with the giblets or put it in a large pot with the carcass. The last step is to remove all the entrails and clean the inside of the bird thoroughly. Boil the carcass and neck in a big pot with enough water to cover everything. Add a cut-up onion and several pieces of celery, salt, pepper, and garlic salt. When done, the liquid will be a delicious broth. You can break the carcass down into smaller pieces if it doesn’t fit into the pot. Cook until the meat on the carcass is very tender so it can be stripped away. Use it in a variety of recipes or with the meat from the legs once they’re tender.
Cooking the drums and thighs requires slow cooking in a crockpot for a very long period of time, typically 8 to 10 hours. You can do the same in a baking bag with the oven at 200 degrees. I add the wingbones to the mix, but remove them from the pot after a few hours, since they’ll tenderize much more quickly. Instead of using water in the crockpot, I make up enough chicken broth to cover the meat. Instead of the more expensive cans of broth, I make it either with cubes, granules, or paste.
The breast meat can be used in countless recipes. I use the tender meat from the cooked legs by making soup with noodles or rice, and adding veggies and favorite herbs and seasonings.
This technique utilizes every bit of edible meat on your turkey. I believe it’s worth the effort and I’m sure you will, too, once you try it.