Want to get the most from your next gobbler? Follow the cleaning technique used by multiple Super Slammer Tom “Doc” Weddle
A wild gobbler offers much more good eating than just the breasts. There are delicious turkey parts you might not have thought of using, or ones that seemed too difficult to harvest.
Getting the most out of a turkey is simple after you know how. Tom “Doc” Weddle, an obsessed turkey hunter for many years, can illustrate step by step how easy it is. Weddle, of Bloomington, Indiana, has taken more turkeys in more states than almost any legal turkey hunter. He’s almost finished with his fourth Super Slam — killing a turkey in each of the 49 states with wild turkeys — and has written two fascinating books on turkey hunting.
“Nuts is what I am,” Weddle said. “I have a passion — no, call it a compulsion — and my life is empty without following that dream. Each spring, I look at a map and think, ‘What’s left?’ Then I head out in that direction. I’ve seen a lot of America and gotten total respect for these great birds. My plan is to make sure each turkey gets used to the fullest extent possible.”
Watching Weddle go from a fully feathered turkey to legs, thighs, wings and breasts — all neatly cleaned and bagged — is pure efficiency. Each stroke of his knife accomplishes something as he dismembers a bird. In less than 15 minutes, he’ll turn a slightly cooled turkey into perfectly cleaned sections ready for cooking or freezing.
During chilly days, wait at least an hour before cutting up your bird. The break time lets meat cool slightly and loosen from the skin and bones. Operate sooner on hot days to prevent spoiling.
- Start with the turkey sideways to you. Cut a ring around the bottom leg joint, where the scaly part of the leg becomes feathered. Find the back bend of the leg, and then bend it until you can cut into the actual joint in back. Work around the leg until you cut off the lower leg and foot. Get it out of the way. You can saw off the spurs later.
- Move on to the wing. Make a slit under the wing skin one joint up from the tip. Keep cutting just under the skin, sliding the knife toward the turkey’s body until you reach the body-wing attachment.
- Break the turkey by first cutting the skin between the leg and body. Then push down on the two legs until you hear the joints snap. The legs should now flop to the sides. Leave them on to keep the carcass balanced.
- Cut the skin above the vent where it comes to a point. Pull the skin and feathers back until the breasts are exposed and the roll of feathers and skin are up near the neck. Both sides of the breast will be exposed.
- Carefully cut out the crop, between the neck and the V-joint of the wishbone. Try not to pierce it, especially if it’s an afternoon turkey. If you damage it, anything the turkey has eaten will probably get on the clean, exposed meat.
- Cut about 2 inches deep along the top ridge of the turkey’s breastbone on one side so you can get your fingers between the meat and bone. Move to that side, and gently pull the meat away from the breast part of the way down.
- Pull or cut the tender and remove it from the breast. Tenders are small strips of especially good breast meat with a narrow piece of sinew running through the meat. Don’t remove the sinew until right before cooking, to keep the meat moist and flavorful. Save several tenders, and use them in stir-fry or other meals that require flavorful meat.
- Peel the breast the rest of the way down, and then pull it or pull and cut it away from the carcass.
- Place your knife under the top joint of the turkey’s wing, and snap it over the knife blade. Discard it. Find the slit you made along the turkey’s wing, grab it at the top of the wingbone on one side, and pull. You might have to help with the pulling with small cuts from your knife. When the skin is gone, push the joint back until the bone is exposed. Keep cutting around the joint until the bottom and top are separate. Repeat the process with the wing section closest to the body.
- Cut a slit in the skin along the thigh. Do the same with the lower leg. Pull the skin and feathers off the leg and thigh. Make angled cuts, and then bend the thigh back to detach it from the body. Then cut the leg and thigh apart and save them for soups. Or cut the meat into small pieces for chili and casseroles.
- (optional) To save the tail, push it upward, and cut along the joint until the tail is detached from the body. If you want to mount it, remove as much meat as possible, and nail it on a board to dry. To remove the feathers for other uses, put the tail in a microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds. Immediately pull the feathers. If they don’t come out easily, keep adding microwave time. This should also kill remaining mites or vermin.
- Reach inside the turkey from the butt end and pull out the guts. Cut out the heart, liver, gonads and gizzard. Cut the hard-outer skin off the gizzard, and wash away the mush inside. Finally, throw the carcass in the woods. Give something back to the coyotes, raccoons and foxes. They need to eat, too.
There you have it: Dismantling a turkey from the final gobble to raw materials for meals that will please an outdoor gourmet. Cutup has several steps, but each is easy to complete after you know how. And now you do.