Cooks and recipes often get blamed for the subpar taste of turkeys, and while this may be the case, a poor tasting turkey is often the result of inefficient field care. In order to maximize the quality of your turkey, take care of it, fast.
Turkeys don’t have much fat so their body heat is held in their internal organs, breasts, and thighs. Any delay or carelessness in gutting your bird, and failure to quickly cool the meat, can make a major difference in the flavor and texture of the end product.
If you’ve struggled to find a good tasting turkey, try field dressing your bird as soon as possible. Make sure to remove the lungs and any bloodshot or damaged tissues. If near a creek or river, gut the bird and rinse the body cavity, letting it air-cool. If you’re not near running water, take a bottle of water to rinse the body cavity and get it cooling quickly.
Once back at the truck, or in camp, pack the cavity with ice to get those large muscle masses cooling. Doing this will eliminate a surprising amount of the “gamey” taste turkeys often get blamed for.
If you have multiple tags to fill, or are hunting with a buddy, take care of each bird as you get it. Avoid tossing it in the back of a truck, driving around much of the day, without the bird being dressed out. On hot days, it’s not a bad idea to bone out the meat, remove the legs and thighs, and put them, along with the carcass which will be cooked as stock, into a cooler, covering them with ice. Be sure to save the heart and gizzard, as they are excellent eating. Some folks enjoy the liver, too.
For turkeys that may have taken a pellet or two in the gut cavity, be sure to quickly remove the internal organs. Bird meat can easily be tainted by a gut shot wound, and a quick inspection after the shot leaves no question as to the point of impact. When head shot, turkey often flop on the ground and routinely break a wing or leg. When this happens, inspect the bird to make sure no broken bones punctured the internal organs. If they have, immediately gut the bird.
Some turkey hunters opt for bleeding their birds prior to field dressing them. Bleeding a bird is simply done by cutting the throat and letting the head hang downward until the bleeding stops. Bleeding a bird will optimize it’s overall flavor, but be sure to gut it, soon after.
Last Thanksgiving at our house we had two wild turkeys and a store-bought turkey for dinner. The wild birds were picked clean way before the domestic bird. Many guests commented that the wild birds were the best eating turkeys they’d ever had, a strong testimony since over half of them didn’t hunt. It also confirmed that efficient field care, along with proper cooking, prevailed.