How to Clean a Turkey

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Once the kill is made, pictures are taken and vital statistics such as size and spur length are recorded, it's time to clean the turkey. While cleaning a turkey requires little skill, it is important it is done right to preserve the quality, taste and texture of the meat. Based on the type of kill, weather and preparation method, the ways to dress and clean the turkey vary.

Swift Timing

  • It is important to dress and clean a wild turkey quickly after it is killed to prevent spoilage. On a bow-killed turkey, the intestines should be removed within one hour to prevent any rupture in the intestinal cavity from affecting the quality of the meat. For a bird killed with a shotgun, a wait time of a couple of hours to gut the bird is acceptable if the weather is cool and no vital organs were punctured.

Gutting the Turkey

  • Slit the turkey from its breastbone to its vent, or anus, using a sharp knife. Insert a hand into the bird's cavity and pull out the large intestine. With the other hand, cut a circle around the vent to free the intestine and remove it from the bird. Reach back into the cavity to remove the gizzard, liver, heart and lungs. Rinse the entire cavity with fresh, cold water. Place ice in the cavity while in the field hunting to keep the meat cool and prevent spoilage. Never leave a gutted turkey in a hot car, because this can quickly cause spoilage.

Plucking vs. Skinning

  • Plucking is the preferred method of preparing a turkey for roasting, smoking or deep-frying, because its skin locks in moisture during cooking. To pluck a turkey, dip it briefly in boiling water and pull out its feathers out. This can also be done in the field with a dry turkey; however, it is more time consuming. To skin a turkey, use a small knife to remove the breasts and as much meat as possible from the bird while in the field. Skinning is a good method for grilling or frying turkey meat.

Preparing a Turkey

  • If you are planning to cook the turkey whole, no other cleaning or preparation is needed after gutting and plucking or skinning the turkey. To cut the turkey into pieces for cooking, begin by removing the breasts by pulling or cutting the skin back from breast and slicing out the breast fillets. Work from the rear of the breast forward, making an incision along the breastbone to help loosen the fillets. Peel the skin of the wings back and cut the wings away from the body at the joint. Cut through the thigh muscle where it attaches to the back and continue to cut through the joint until it is removed from the body.

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  • Photo Credit Slavica Stajic/iStock/Getty Images
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