The Great Turkey Debate
By Victoria Tillinghast
Spring turkey season is upon us. While hunters in some states have already had their first chance to get out in the field, others may still be waiting in anticipation for their turn. However, the time for everyone to spend some time in the shade listening to those toms gobble is here. If you are lucky enough to have tagged your first bird already, you may find yourself to be among those who are asking, “What now?”
There are many debates when it comes to preparing your wild turkey, from skinning to plucking, to types of brine and cooking methods. We’ve weighed the options to keep you informed.
The first decision the hunter must deal with once his bird is on the ground and properly tagged is how to clean their bird. While breasting is a wildly popular method, it is not legal everywhere in the U.S. Always know the laws for anywhere you will be hunting. Where it is legal, however, breasting the bird out—a process whereby the turkey breasts are simply cut from inside the bird—is fast and easy and gains the hunter roughly 90 percent of the usable meat on a turkey. You can also then cut the legs from the carcass and save them for cooking as well.
The hunter can then remove the feet and fan (he should’ve already removed the beard before breasting), as part of their trophy. When it comes to quality cooking options, the quickest and easiest way is not always the best, however. Instead, consider plucking or skinning for the following benefits.
Reasons to Pluck: Though more work, plucking means keeping all that tasty skin on your tom. According to Bowhunting.net, “Plucking is the perfect way to prepare your meat to roast, smoke or whole deep fry.” The skin helps keep in the moisture, which will result in more savory meals when you prepare your turkey for dinner. Skinning, while easier, increases the likelihood of drying out the meat upon preparation.
Reasons to Skin: Skinning is more straightforward; you do not need hot water to perform a wet pluck and it can be done in a fraction of the time of plucking. Bowhunting.net, adds that skinning, can reduce “the amount of fat and cholesterol that gathers in the skin” for a potentially healthier meal. Health reasons aside, most hunters seem to gravitate toward this method simply because plucking can be time consuming and messy—often even requiring pliers for giant wing feathers.
Once your bird is field dressed, we come to another bypass in our meal preparation. Wet brine or dry brine? Or for some, what the heck is a brine anyways? Wade Truong from TheMeateater.com breaks it down best noting that brining “is simply infusing protein with salt, which seasons the meat internally, helps retain moisture and firms up the texture. Since (wild) turkey is so lean, this process makes up for the lack of fat and helps to keep the meat moist.”
Reasons to Wet Brine: With a wet brine, you can create any flavor profile you wish. Whether you’re aiming for a traditional Thanksgiving flavor with rosemary and thyme, or a springtime Easter turkey with citrus, all you need is liquid and a little salt. According to TheMeateater.com, “A good rule of thumb is 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water.”
Reasons to Dry Brine: The most popular reason to dry brine is to avoid the hassle of finding a way to refrigerate a bucket, but there are other considerations as well.
“I find that dry brining works best for turkey that I plan on cooking with liquids, such as any recipe that calls for braise or stew,” Truong writes. He also shared the ratio for salt-to-meat to prevent the meat from curing.
“The perfect amount of salt in a dry brine is 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent by weight,” he writes. Once you’ve cleaned and prepped your bird, you’re ready to start cooking.
For more cooking tips from iSportsman, check out our article “From Field to Table, to Date Night”