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The Roving Sportsman… Wild Turkey Is Excellent Table Fare

There are multiple ways to honor this “Greatest of Game Birds,” and one of them is to maximize its use at the dinner table. So, as you sit patiently in your turkey blind or against an old oak tree, eagerly anticipating an encounter with a wise old gobbler, here are a few thoughts to contemplate.

First, one of the most important steps to ensuring a great-tasting meal for a spring gobbler is correctly handling the bird in the field. Once the bird has been properly tagged, it is critical to remove the entrails to allow the carcass to begin cooling. If you have a lengthy drive until you return home, have a cooler with ice in your vehicle and place a Ziploc bag of ice in the body cavity to aid in cooling down the meat even further. This cooling process applies to all game birds and game animals and will help reduce any chance of meat spoilage and ensure the best flavor when it is presented for a meal.

There is the old standby of roasting the bird as you would with a domestic turkey, but remember that a wild bird is much leaner than the usual “butterball” bird. You can pluck or just skin the bird, but either way, using an oven bag for roasting will help hold the moisture of a wild turkey. Also, roasting time is noticeably reduced when cooking a wild bird. One option would be to roast the bird in a Big Green Egg cooker – they hold the moisture when cooking any kind of meat, and it is easy to incorporate a smoked flavor using the Big Green Egg.

But there remain many options to use all of the meat – after all, let’s show respect for this great game bird and “waste not- want not!” I am always amazed – and disappointed – when someone tells me they always “breast out” a wild turkey and discard the legs and thighs because they are too tough. That is both wasteful and disrespectful of the bird! I use the leg and thigh meat and gladly accept any my fellow hunters want to give me! Place the accumulated legs and thighs in a large soup pot, cover the meat with water, and bring it to a hard boil – then reduce the heat to yield a slow simmer and let it do its magic for an hour or more. After the long simmer, the meat will be “fall-off-the-bone” tender and can be used in soups, casseroles, salads, cold sandwiches, or served with gravy over toast or waffles. The remaining broth or stock can be used to make soup or gravy.

The entire breast or one side will take on a wonderful flavor when slow-cooked in a smoker. Be sure to have a bowl or tray of water in the cooker to help keep the meat moist. The occasional basting with butter (everything tastes better with butter!) will also help.

Cooking in a cast iron skillet or on the grill is best accomplished when the breast meat is sliced – usually, a quarter to half an inch thick, but thinner works well in the frying pan. A layer of your favorite batter and a combination of cooking oil and butter will help the cooking process and add to the flavor.

Cubing the breast, leg, or thigh meat into one-half-inch size cubes will allow it to be used in soups, chili, or casseroles. Once the meat is cubed, it can also be ground into burger meat. The ground meat is excellent as turkey burgers for chili use or makes great sausage, either as loose sausage or stuffed into casing material and twisted into links.

A favorite use as an appetizer, especially when introducing wild turkey meat to those who have never tried it before, is to stir fry 1” cubes of breast meat and serve them with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard dip or honey mustard.

However you decide to use the meat, it is great to know that it is that “free-range” meat that so many folks are longing for and paying a high price for at the grocery store. Further, it is not pumped up with all of those government-approved chemicals that make the domestic turkeys plump and juicy!

If you haven’t done so before, I urge you to try using the leg and thigh meat as I mentioned – I think you will be pleasantly surprised.