How to Cut Up a (Wild) Turkey

Its turkey season in West Virginia. I was almost giddy this year when the spring season finally arrived, since we’re out of meat from the turkey the Hubs got last year. (Here’s the link from my post last year about butchering that turkey).

I’d never cut a turkey up before. Or really cooked it, for that matter. But I got the cookbook Afield, which has tons of recipes for wild turkey (and other game), along with tips on butchering game and how to put it up. I absolutely love that cookbook. It is so practical. If you hunt or find yourself the recipient of game meat occasionally, I would definitely check it out.

The only way I’d ever had wild turkey was fried breast cutlets. They are delicious, but that’s only the beginning. There is a lot more meat on these birds than you might think. It’s versatile, too. Like a lot of other wild game, these birds are very lean. Their leg and thigh meat is dark like their domesticated counterparts, and is some of the tastiest.

Most people typically eat the breast meat when a wild turkey is killed. But it’s really easy to cut up the rest of the bird and get more out of it. Once, it’s killed, prep the bird (I recommend doing this outside). Cut off the head and feet. Pluck the bird. It doesn’t take long, and if you grab a handful of feathers with a firm grip, they come out fairly easily. Once you get the body plucked, pluck the feathers up to the last joint on the wing, and cut the wings off here. Next, gut the bird. Cut a circle under the tailbone to get the entrails out. This is probably the worst part. They might just fall out of the hole, or you’ll have to pull them out by the handful. Be extra careful with the intestines to get them in one piece so you don’t get poop all over the rest of the bird. If you can reach your hand all the way up in the bird, reach it up as high as you can and pull from the top (near the neck). Now, spray out the inside with a water hose (and give the outside a good rinsing, too).

Once inside, I rinsed the turkey off again in the sink. I patted it dry with paper towels to keep the mess down (marginally). Now you’re read to start butchering.

Make sure you have a really sharp knife. Also, get a platter or containers out to put the parts in.

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Start with the turkey on its side, breast toward you. Cut up the wings first.

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Carefully cut the meat off the wing bone. Cut away the meat attaching the wing to the body. You might find it easier to turn the turkey breast away from you (depending on if you’re right handed or left handed–just whatever is more comfortable). This is a palm-sized muscle right behind the wing. Cut down to the back bone, and cut it away.

Next, move onto the legs.

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Turn the turkey on it’s back and cut the legs (with the bird breast-side up) straight down to the backbone.

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Carefully cut around on the backside of the legs. Take the tip of the knife and make a shallow cut around the round muscle attaching the leg muscle to the backbone. The backbone is a solid plate-like bone that you’ll have to cut around. You can feel it easily because its near the top of the skin, and it’s easy to see. Cut all the way around until you can see the hip joint. Separate the hip joint  with your hands by bending them apart. You might have to cut a bit of tendon or tissue to get it apart.

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Next, cut the breast meat away.

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Cut along the long, solid breast bone that runs down the middle of the bird.

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it extends down the chest cavity toward the wing and connects to the ribs, so run your knife all the way behind the muscle to cut it loose.

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You’re pretty much done with all the major cuts of meat at this point. You might cut more bits off the bone for ground meat if there are any left.

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I think the meat gets a little tough after it’s been frozen. I’ll keep one breast out to fry fresh. I cut up the other breast to grind into sausage or burger later this year. I’ll freeze the legs whole for braising later, too.

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Some tips: This is the second time I’ve done this and I can say it was about A HUNDRED times easier the second time. It took way less time, too. So, if you try it and get really frustrated, don’t worry. It helped so much to have a good butcher kit. (Here’s the one I have from Amazon.)

I saved the carcass to make stock with. You might want to leave the skin on (particularly on the legs) if the skin looks like it’s in pretty good shape. Last year, I did not. The skin looked like scaly and flaky. It was a bigger bird, so maybe it was just older. I froze the legs individually, because they are pretty large, and we’ll only eat one at a time.

Turkey sausage is easy, but you’ll need a meat grinder. I cut pieces into one or two inch chunks. The ratio is three to one, turkey meat to pork fat, so I froze the turkey meat in a three pound portion to make sausage later.

We ate the fresh breast last night, breaded in flour and cornmeal and pan fried. It was amazing. I cut the breast into two-inch wide strips, across the grain of the meat, and pound them out flat with a meat tenderizer.

At any rate, I’m glad I was able to put up more turkey meat this year. If you’re lucky enough to bag one or know someone who did, I hope you’ll try this. Once you taste some turkey sausage or a hearty stew made from braised turkey leg, you won’t be sorry!

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3 thoughts on “How to Cut Up a (Wild) Turkey

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