How to Clean a Turkey

Getting Your Bird to the Table

Turkey.jpg

Turkey
Jim Rathert

Cleaning a Turkey

Novice turkey hunters are often intimidated to clean this large bird. Just like a chicken or other fowl, there are two basic ways to clean a turkey: plucking and skinning. Plucking is the best option if you want to keep the moisture in the turkey while cooking it whole. To pluck the turkey, remove feathers from the turkey the same way you would pluck a chicken. This method does take more time than skinning and it is messy.

Skinning the turkey is faster and cleaner, but you need to wrap the bird in foil or place in a baking bag to cook whole. Here are some tips to make skinning the turkey easier:

  1. Hang the turkey by both feet at chest level. The turkey should hang so the feet are 12 to 18 inches apart.
  2. If you want to save the beard, remove it now. Grasp the beard as close to the body as possible, give it a half-twist, and then sharply pull it away from the breast. The beard will pull away with a little tissue on it.
  3. Remove the fan by cutting the skin away from the tail.
  4. Cut off the wings at the elbow or second joint.
  5. Grasp the skin at the tail and begin pulling it down. Work the skin off around the wings and pull it down to the neck.
  6. Cut off the neck and the skin. The feathers and head will come off in one piece.
  7. Open the body cavity and remove the entrails, if you have not already done so in the field. Be sure to remove all lung material from the backbone, as it tends to spoil quickly.
  8. Cut off the legs at the knee or second joint.
  9. If you don't want to cook or freeze a whole turkey, consider cutting it up into smaller portions. Remove the breast and other meat from the carcass and cut off the legs and wings. Package in appropriate servings for cooking. Double-bag the turkey in plastic freezer bags and seal as airtight as possible to prevent freezer burn.

Preparing a Turkey

As you decide how to prepare the wild turkey, keep in mind whether your turkey is an older, tougher bird or a younger, more tender bird.  Older birds should be cooked with a moist-heat method, while younger birds can be grilled or fried. Look at the Department's list of turkey recipes for some ideas. 

Related Content

Wild Turkey

Adult males are very large and dark with a bare, red and blue head, with red wattles on the throat and neck. They have long legs. The feathers are bronzy and iridescent. Males, and some females, have a tuft of hairlike feathers (a “beard”) in the middle of the breast. Females are smaller and less iridescent. Turkeys are most famous for their gobbling calls, but they make many other vocalizations as well.