A wild turkey is one of the tastiest game animals around, so avoid these pitfalls to get the most from your bird
Wild turkey is one of our favorite meals. Forget the genetic freaks from the supermarket that modern poultry producers have bred to reach gigantic sizes in a few short months. They don't taste like turkey. In fact, they don't taste like much at all.
Wild turkeys spend their days foraging for wild food. Acorns, grains, bugs, the first tender, young green shoots of spring grass and clover: those things add real flavor to the meat of a wild turkey. Couple that with the turkey's constant need to be on the move, be it to find food or evade predators, and you get dense muscle instead of the limp and flaccid meat found in a supermarket production turkey.
But just because the meat from your wild bird starts out better than a factory-farmed turkey, that doesn't always transfer to the dinner table. Here are a few ways you might have done a disservice to some of the tastiest wild game on the planet.
*Editor's Note: This gallery was originally published in March of 2018.
(Don't Miss: How to Make Wild Turkey Legs Delicious)
You wasted more than half of it.
Taking just the breast meat from a wild turkey and leaving the rest in the woods ranks right up there with just taking the backstraps from a deer. Just about every part of a wild turkey is edible.
While the legs and thighs of a wild turkey aren't as tender as the breast meat, they are even more flavorful. Use them in soups, stews, slow-cooked turkey barbecue, and, my favorite, turkey and dumplings.
(RECIPE: Turkey Leg Pozole Verde)
Besides the legs and thighs, turkey hearts, gizzards and livers are delicious. Fry them just like you would chicken livers or gizzards. They work well in dirty rice recipes, too. Turkey backbones and necks can be skinned and slow simmered with roasted vegetables and aromatics to make one of the tastiest stocks you can get. Even turkey feet can be skinned and fried, and are considered a delicacy in many other countries.
You let it get too hot.
Late-season turkey hunts can get hot. Temps of 90 degrees or more aren't uncommon. When it gets that hot, don't leave your bird hanging in the sun all day. During warm-season hunts, I like to break my turkey down quickly, pack it in zip-style bags, and stick it in a cooler on ice. Getting the meat chilled quickly ensures top-quality table fare.
(RECIPE: Popper-Style Whole Wild Turkey Breast)
You didn't pack it well for long-term storage in the freezer.
This is even more of an issue if you skin your turkey before freezing. The absolute best way to store your freezer is vacuum sealing. Sealed this way, turkey meat will taste fresh for up to a year.
The next best way to keep your turkey fresh tasting in the freezer is to use a freezer zip-style bag. Squeeze all air from the bag before sealing. A great way to make sure there is no air in the bag is to submerge all but the top zipper part in a bowl of water, then zip closed. The pressure from the water squeezes out air pockets you might miss if you seal by hand.
If you still fall under the white freezer paper camp, try wrapping your turkey meat tightly with plastic wrap before wrapping well with waxed freezer paper. Don't spare the tape.
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You overcooked it.
With fears of salmonella and other issues in commercial poultry over the past few years, many people feel the need to cook their wild turkey to 175 degrees or more. Don't do it. Wild turkey is lean, muscular meat. Overcooking squeezes out every bit of moisture from the meat, leaving it dry and stringy.
Cooking to 155 to 160 degrees is more than enough to make wild turkey safe. Brining before cooking adds a bit of extra moisture to the turkey, giving a bit of a buffer if it does cook a bit too long.
For tougher cuts like turkey thighs and legs, try slow braising (a slow cooker is perfect) in liquid to break down connective tissue without drying out the meat.
(RECIPE: Wild Turkey Leg Enchiladas)
You got in a rut with your recipes.
While everyone loves fried wild turkey nuggets, that isn't the only thing you can do with your trophy. Try roasting, smoking, or grilling. If you do stick with frying, use the fried turkey to build flavor layers in a recipe like this Cheese Stuffed Wild Turkey Marsalla recipe.