A Wild Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner

Here are a few tips to ensure that your wild turkey roast is the most flavorful bird that’s ever graced a Thanksgiving Day feast. And we’ll let you take all the credit.

Wild Turkeys vs. Domesticated Turkeys

Wild turkeys are not your average grocery store turkey. A wild turkey is agile, built for speed and survival. It flies into the trees to roost at night, and uses its long, muscled legs to outrun danger. All of this physical activity equates to a leaner bird, with more dark meat and stronger connective tissue. A domestic turkey, on the other hand, doesn’t fly and is definitely not a runner. In factory farming practices, a domestic turkey leads a sedentary life, promising a larger, broad-breasted bird with more white meat. However, a heritage breed of turkey, like the Bourbon Red or Narragansett, can look similar to its wild cousins when dressed: narrow-breasted, leggier, with more of that flavorful dark meat.

Taste Comparison

Taste is another difference between wild turkey and their domesticated brethren. A factory-farmed bird is typically raised on corn-based feed, giving consumers the turkey they’ve come to expect: lots of bland white meat. The family farmer may supplement their heritage birds’ feed with forage, which translates into more delicious flavor. A wild turkey relies solely on foraging, and eats acorns, beechnuts, weed seeds, insects, wild berries and fruit found in wooded areas. This diet adds to the distinct, full flavor of wild turkey meat. While we know that wild turkey is delicious, there are those who believe it to be tough and gamey. Correctly preparing your bird will win over any nay-sayer seated at your table.

Brining is Crucial

Someone holds a freshly plucked wild turkey

A plucked wild turkey ready for brining [Image: honest-food.net]

Brining your bird makes all the difference. By not brining, you risk having your bird dry out too much during the roasting process. If you are very concerned about the bird tasting too gamey, after you brine try soaking it in buttermilk overnight.

The Pioneer Woman’s Favorite Turkey Brine

Courtesy of Ree Drummond at The Pioneer Woman

Ingredients

  • 3 cups apple juice or cider
  • 2 gallons cold water
  • 4 tablespoons fresh rosemary
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons peppercorns
  • 5 whole bay leaves
  • Peel of 3 large oranges

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover with lid.
  1. Allow to cool completely. Then pour into a large brining bag or pot. Place the uncooked turkey in brine solution, and refrigerate for 16 to 24 hours.
  1. When ready to roast, remove turkey from brine. Discard the brine. Submerge turkey in pot or sink of fresh, cold water. Allow to sit in clean water for 15 minutes to remove any excess salt from the outside.
  1. Remove the turkey from the clean water, pat dry, and cook according to your roasting method.

Ready to Roast

A roasted wild turkey on a platter with herbs

Make a wild turkey the center of your Thanksgiving table this year. [Image Credit: Travis Rathbone]

Since wild turkeys have less fat, keeping them moist while roasting is crucial. There are many ways to go about this. Try sliding a few pats of butter under the skin. Or, if you find there’s not enough basting liquid in the pan, have some chicken or turkey stock on hand. If you have skinned your turkey, keeping the turkey moist is a bit more difficult. Try soaking cheesecloth in cooled bacon fat; place this fatted cheesecloth over your turkey while it roasts to retain moisture.

The Wild Chef’s Thanksgiving Wild Turkey Roast

Courtesy of Jonathan Miles at Serious Eats

Ingredients

  • 1 wild turkey (11 to 13 pounds)
  • ¾ pound fatback, salted pork, or bacon (½ pound minced; ¼ pound sliced)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 3 ribs celery, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups (8 oz) toasted diced bread
  • 1 cup (8 fl oz) chicken stock
  • 6 sprigs sage, minced
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, minced
  • 8 sprigs Italian parsley, minced

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Render half of the minced fatback slowly in a heavy-bottom sauté pan. Reserve and keep warm.
  2. Dry the turkey well with paper towels. Using a brush, coat the exterior with some of the warm minced fatback. Season well with salt and pepper inside and out.
  3. Heat up remaining minced fatback over medium heat. Add onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add celery and cook another 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Remove from heat and add toasted bread. Moisten with stock and add minced herbs. Taste the bread cubes; add more broth and herbs if needed (they should be moist and tasty). Gently fill cavity of the turkey with mixture. Cover the breast with remaining slices of fatback.
  4. Place the turkey, breast side up, in a heavy roasting pan. Place in oven. Roast for 1 hour. Remove the fatback, raise the oven temperature to 375°F, and continue roasting for 1 hour to brown the breast. Remove the turkey as soon as it registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone.
  5. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 – 30 minutes before carving it across the grain with a very sharp knife.

Don’t chuck that carcass!

It may look haggard, but don’t throw away that turkey carcass just yet! Use it to make some delicious wild turkey broth to use in future recipes.

Wild Turkey Broth

Courtesy of Hank Shaw at Hunter*Angler*Gardener*Cook

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey carcass, hacked into large pieces
  • 7 – 8 quarts water
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 leeks, washed well and chopped (including green tops)
  • 2 – 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 – 3 bay leaves
  • 1 – 2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 Tablespoon dried thyme)
  • 2 teaspoons salt (optional)

Directions:

  1. Break up turkey carcass into large pieces. Place these pieces in a large stockpot. Add water.
  2. Let turkey simmer very gently for 2 – 8 hours. The surface of the broth should be barely bubbling. After 2 hours, add veggies and herbs, and simmer gently for 90 minutes.
  3. Use tongs to remove large pieces from broth. Discard those pieces. Set a paper towel in a strainer, and place strainer over another large pot. Pour broth through paper towel to filter out debris. (You may need to change the paper towel midway through this process.)
  4. Add salt, if desired, or leave as is. If you plan on freezing the broth, leave about an inch of headspace in the jar, otherwise the expanding broth-ice will crack the glass.

We’d love to hear how your wild turkey roast came out this year. Leave us a comment!

3 thoughts on “A Wild Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner

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