Cooking A Wild Turkey

Let us walk you through the process of cooking a wild turkey step-by-step. Wild turkey has more flavor than domestic turkey, but you must know how to prepare it!

We are huge fans of wild turkey. They don’t taste like regular turkey. They taste far superior to their domestic counterparts. However, because it has less fat than domestic turkeys, you must know how to cook it.

Water or salt brine is usually injected into the meat of domestic turkeys. This significantly dilutes the turkey flavor.

HOW TO PREPARE YOUR CHICKEN

  • Field dress your bird right away. Remove the crop and the innards.
  • Save any organs you intend to use. The giblet gravy is fantastic!
  • Rinse the bird.
  • Pluck. Remember to pluck your bird while it is still warm. The feathers will come out much easier, and your skin will tear less. To remove the stubborn pin feathers, you’ll need a drill with a plucking attachment or a good pair of mechanics needle nose pliers. (Normally, we do not pluck the wing tips. They’re a pain, and there’s not much meat on them anyway. To ensure even cooking, prop the bird up with slices of onion, orange, or lemon.
  • After dressing the bird, thoroughly wash and dry it.

How to Cook a Wild Turkey

Let us show you how to cook a wild turkey, step by step. Wild turkey is more flavorful than domestic turkey but you need to know how to cook them!

Wild turkey with oranges and fresh herbs.

We absolutely love wild turkey. They taste nothing like a domestic turkey. They really have a much better flavor than their domestic cousins. However, because it has less fat than domestic turkeys, you must know how to cook it.

Domestic turkeys usually have water or a salt brine injected into the meat. This dilutes the turkey flavor severely.

How to Prepare Your Chicken

  • Field dress your bird immediately. Remove the crop and innards.
  • Save any organs that you will use. Giblet gravy is awesome!
  • Rinse bird.
  • Pluck. Important Note: Always pluck your bird while it is still warm. The feathers will come out much easier and you will get less skin tearing. You will need a plucking attachment for the drill or a good pair of mechanics’ needle-nose pliers to remove the stubborn pin feathers. (We don’t generally pluck the wing tips. They are a total pain and there isn’t much meat on them anyway. For even cooking, you may have to prop the bird straight up with slices of onion, orange, or lemon.
  • Wash the bird well after dressing it and dry it thoroughly.

TO BRINE OR NOT TO BRINE

We have cooked wild turkeys both ways, brined and not brined. An unbrined turkey can be as delicious when cooked correctly. The two keys are to use butter or olive oil to baste the bird while you are roasting, adding flavor with fresh herbs and aromatics, and most importantly, not overcooking!

When we don’t brine, we always fill the cavity with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, a quartered onion, a broken celery stalk and carrots, and a whole orange and/or lemon. Just poke holes in the orange and lemon with a skewer, and as the orange gets hot, the juice from the orange will squirt out and flavor the inside of the meat and also keep it moist.

Bringing produces more consistent results. The meat is tender and juicy.

The birth process serves two functions. First, the effect of salt and citrus on the tissues tenderizes the meat. Some of the tough connective tissues are broken down.

Second, bringing the bird close to the meat seasons the meat better than simply rubbing salt and spices on the skin.

There is lots of debate about whether to brine your bird or not. Some suggest that brining it because it increases the water content of the individual cells, will render the bird less flavorful. This is fair. It does increase the water content of the tissues, but it also does a great job of seasoning the meat, so that is the trade-off.

We would never suggest bringing a regular domestic turkey because there is already water added to them (increasing the weight and how much you are paying), so you will end up with a flavorless bird. If you buy them fresh from a farmer or organically in the store, then they will not have added water, so it would be OK to brine them.

HOW DO THAW IT

If you have previously frozen your turkey, make sure that you thaw it thoroughly. To thaw the turkey, place it in a large container, in case of drips. Place it in the back on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator, where it is the coldest. Turn the bird once a day so that both sides thaw. Thaw a large 15-20 pound turkey for a minimum of 5 days, up to 8 days, if needed.

If you have cut up your turkey into pieces, it will probably take 4 or 5 days to thaw thoroughly.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR BRINED TURKEY

  • turkey – cleaned, dressed, and plucked. It needs to be cooked with the skin on so you have to pluck it. (unless you use a roasting bag, but the skin will help retain moisture in the meat.)
  • water – plain tap water will work, if you like the flavor of your water. If not, use bottled water.
  • kosher salt – I prefer coarser granules like Diamond brand or even Morton’s, which are larger still.
  • sugar – you can use white sugar, brown sugar or turbinado sugar
  • fresh lemons – halved
  • fresh oranges – we like juice oranges, halved
  • onion – just quarter the onion.
  • black pepper – freshly cracked or whole peppercorns will work herbs – dried thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, and/or sage will work
HOW TO BRINE IT

If you prefer, you can cut your turkey into pieces, but we recommend plucking and leaving the skin on. At the joint, separate the legs from the carcass. Separate the breasts from the carcass by running a sharp knife near the breast bone and following the bone down, taking care not to remove too much meat. Finally, separate the thigh from the joint and use your knife to cut the cartilage. (Remember to save the carcass for making homemade turkey stock.)

In a large saucepan, combine the salt, sugar, and water. Heat the water until the salt and sugar dissolve.
Add the citrus, onion, pepper, and any herbs you want at this point.
Allow the brine to settle. Place the turkey in a cooler, a large bucket or pan or anything else that it fits in. If you keep the turkey whole, you will need a large container that the turkey will fit in. If you cut your turkey into separate pieces, you can pick a smaller container. (Whole turkeys generally require 3-4 times the recipe written below)

Pour brine over the turkey. If the brine does not cover the turkey, you must turn the bird every 12-24 hours. Turkey can be brined for 24-72 hours for the best flavor.

WHAT YOU NEED IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BRINE

Use these additional ingredients to roast your brined bird too.

  • turkey – cleaned, dressed and plucked. It needs to be cooked with the skin on so you have to pluck it. (unless you use a roasting bag, but the skin will help retain moisture in the meat.)
  • kosher salt – I prefer coarser granules like Diamond brand or even Morton’s, which are larger still.
  • fresh lemons – halved or fresh oranges -halved
  • onion – just quarter the onion.
  • celery – 1 stalk
  • carrot – 1 large
  • orange or lemon – we like juice oranges. Poke holes in the skin of the orange with a skewer or fork.
  • herbs – fresh herbs like parsley, rosemary, sage or thyme are great to flavor the bird.
  • black pepper – freshly crack

Let us show you how to cook a wild turkey, step by step. Wild turkey is more flavorful than domestic turkey but you need to know how to cook them!

Wild turkey with oranges and fresh herbs.

We absolutely love wild turkey. They taste nothing like a domestic turkey. They really have a much better flavor than their domestic cousins. The huge BUT… here is that you need to know how to cook it, since it has less fat than domestic turkeys.

Domestic turkeys usually have water or a salt brine injected into the meat. This dilutes the turkey flavor severely.

Top view of roasted turkey.

Brining usually provides a more consistent outcome. The meat comes out tender and juicy.

The brining process serves a couple purposes. First it tenderizes the meat do to the effect of the salt and citrus on the tissues. It breaks down some of the tough connective tissues.

Secondly, brining seasons the meat of the bird better than just rubbing salt and spices on the skin.

There is lots of debate whether to brine your bird or not. Some suggest that brining, because it increases the water content of the individual cells will render the bird less flavorful. This is fair. It does increase the water content of the tissues but it also does a great job seasoning the meat, so that is trade-off off.

We would never suggest bringing a regular domestic turkey because there is already water added to them (increasing the weight and how much you are paying), so you will end up with a flavorless bird. If you buy them fresh from a farmer, organically, or in the store, they will not have been brined, so you can brine them.

HOW DO THAW IT

If you have previously frozen your turkey, make sure that you thaw it thoroughly. To thaw the turkey, place it in a large container, in case of drips. Place it in the back of your refrigerator, on the bottom shelf, where it will be the coldest. Turn the bird once a day so that both sides thaw. Thaw a large 15-20 pound turkey for a minimum of 5 days, up to 8 days, if needed.

If you have cut up your turkey into pieces, it will probably take 4 or 5 days to thaw thoroughly.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR BRINED TURKEY

  • turkey – cleaned, dressed, and plucked. It needs to be cooked with the skin on so you have to pluck it. (unless you use a roasting bag, but the skin will help retain moisture in the meat.)
  • water – plain tap water will work, if you like the flavor of your water. If not, use bottled water.
  • kosher salt – I prefer coarser granules like Diamond brand or even Morton’s, which are larger still.
  • sugar – you can use white sugar, brown sugar, or turbinado sugar
  • fresh lemons – halved
  • fresh oranges – we like juice oranges, halved
  • onion – just quarter the onion.
  • black pepper – freshly cracked or whole peppercorns will work
  • herbs – use dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, and /or sage.
Ingredients for brine. See recipe for details.

HOW TO BRINE IT

You can cut your turkey into pieces if you’d like but we do recommend plucking and leaving the skin on. Remove the legs from the carcass at the joint. Separate the breasts from the carcass by running a sharp knife very close to the breast bone and following the bone down, so that you don’t remove a lot of the meat. Lastly, separate the thigh from the joint and cut the cartilage with your knife. (Be sure to keep the carcass to make homemade turkey stock.)

  1. Add salt, sugar, and water to a large saucepan. Heat until the salt and sugar dissolve in the water.
  2. At this point add the citrus, onion, pepper, and any herbs that you’d like to add.
  3. Allow the brine to come to room temperature. Then refrigerate.
  4. Place the turkey in a cooler, a large bucket or pan, or anything else that it fits in. If you keep the turkey whole, you will need a large container that the turkey will fit in. If you cut your turkey into separate pieces, you can pick a smaller container. (Whole turkeys generally require 3-4 times the recipe written below)
  5. Pour brine over turkey. If the brine does not cover the turkey, you must turn the bird every 12-24 hours. Turkey can be brined for 24-72 hours for the best flavor.
Step by step photographs of the process for brining wild turkey. See details in recipe below.

WHAT YOU NEED IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO BRINE

Use these additional ingredients to roast your brined bird too.

  • turkey – cleaned, dressed, and plucked. It needs to be cooked with the skin on so you have to pluck it. (unless you use a roasting bag, but the skin will help retain moisture in the meat.)
  • kosher salt – I prefer coarser granules like Diamond brand or even Morton’s, which are larger still.
  • fresh lemons – halved or fresh oranges -halved
  • onion – just quarter the onion.
  • celery – 1 stalk
  • carrot – 1 large
  • orange or lemon – we like juice oranges. Poke holes in the skin of the orange with a skewer or fork.
  • herbs – fresh herbs like parsley, rosemary, sage, or thyme are great to flavor the bird.
  • black pepper – freshly cracked is the best
  • butter or olive oil

HOW TO ROAST NOT BRINED TURKEY

Whether the turkey is brined or not, it can be roasted in the same manner.

Using paper towels, dry the bird both inside and out. Preheat the oven to medium. 325°F /165°C
For unbrined birds, rub oil or melted butter inside the cavity and on the outside of the skin. Then generously season both inside and out with salt and pepper.
Use a metal skewer or long-tined fork to poke holes in the lemon or orange. Insert into the cavity.

The turkey can be roasted in the same way whether it has been brined or not.

Dry the bird inside and out with paper towels. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 325°F /165°C
Rub oil or melted butter inside the cavity and on the outside of the skin of unbrined birds. Then season liberally with salt and pepper, both inside and out.
Poke holes in the lemon or orange with a metal skewer or long-tined fork. Place in the cavity.

Roast the bird until the internal temperature of the thighs reaches 160°F (70°C).

PRO TIPS FOR YOUR SUCCESS

  • Weigh your dressed bird before proceeding with the recipe.
  • If you are bringing the bird, make sure you turn it in every day so that you get even bringing it.
  • Dry off the inside and outside very well with paper towels to achieve crispy skin!
  • Do not overcook the meat! Remove it from the oven at 160°F/ 70°C.
  • Important Note: Wild turkeys are tall and slender compared to domestically raised birds, which have been bred to be short and squat. You must use the bottom rack in your oven to place the bird on. Carefully watch the breast which will be close to the top of your oven. Tent it with aluminum foil after it is sufficiently browned and baste the top well!
  • Use an instant read or a wireless meat thermometer. I used this Meatstick Mini that I was gifted and it worked like a charm. (affiliate link) We tested this thermometer and it performed well alongside another wireless meat thermometer that we have used for a while. Its small size and the lack of additional hardware to make it were much easier to set up than our other brand.
  • Tent the bird with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
  • Don’t stuff a wild turkey because it takes longer for the bird to cook through, so you’re in danger of overcooking the meat. Cook your stuffing in a casserole dish and fill the cavity with aromatics.
  • Carve your chicken breasts against the grain.
  • Breast and leg meat are typically cooked in the same amount of time. Legs and thighs may take a few minutes longer to cook, but only a few.)
  • Because wild turkeys have to work much harder to avoid predators and find food, their legs can be tough. We like to finish the thigh and leg meat in the slow cooker on low for a few hours before using it in tacos, enchiladas, sandwiches, soups, and stews.
  • It’s worth noting that the thigh and leg meat of a wild bird is typically much darker than that of its domestically raised cousins. Don’t be alarmed by the color difference; it more closely resembles venison steaks.

Cooking A Wild Turkey

Cooking A Wild Turkey

Prep time:1 hour Cook time:1 hour Rest time: minutesTotal time:2 hours Servings:5 servingsCalories:156 kcal Best Season:Available

Description

We are huge fans of wild turkey. They don’t taste like a regular turkey. They taste far superior to their domestic counterparts. However, because it has less fat than domestic turkeys, you must know how to cook it.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Dress and pluckthe bird. Rinse wel10-poundund turkey – cleaned, dres, sed, and plucked.
    Add salt and sugar to water in a large saucepan and heat until salt and sugar melt.
    2 cups kosher salt,2 cups sugar,2 gallons water
    Let cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate until cold. Once cold, add oranges, lemons, pe,upper, and herbs.
    2 fresh lemons,2 oranges,1 onion,2 tablespoons cracked black pepper,4 sprigs dried thyme,2 sprigs rosemary,10 leaves sage leaves,4 sprigs dried parsley

    Add turkey to a large bucket, cooler, or any container that it will fit in. Pour in brine.

Notes

  • Wild birds generally take about 15 minutes per pound to roast at 325°F/165°C.
  • – you can use white sugar, brown sugar o,r turbinado sugar
  • You can use a large food-safe bag to bring turkey in. Don’t use a garbage bag! They are treated with deodorizer spray and chemicals.
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