How to Eat Softshell Turtles

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Discover the process to clean and cook soft shell turtles for dinner.
Discover the process to clean and cook soft shell turtles for dinner. (Image: common snapping turtle (chelydra serpentina) image by Bruce MacQueen from Fotolia.com)

Snapping turtles and other types of soft shell turtles reside in rivers, creeks, streams, lakes and ponds. Fisherman and farmers can remove the turtles by hooking them on fishing line or through a process called noodling, in which swimmers dive and catch the turtles by their tails. While many people remove the turtles to protect livestock, others remove the turtles to eat. Rumors among Appalachian and Southern people suggest that turtles contain several varieties of meat that taste like other meats and exist in different areas of the turtle’s body.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic tote
  • Water
  • Work gloves
  • Bone saw
  • Nylon rope
  • Field dressing knife

Butchering/Field Dressing

Place the soft shell turtle in a large plastic tote and fill the container half-full with water. Allow the turtle to set in the container for a week without food. This effectively cuts down on the smell by helping to empty the turtle’s digestive system. You may consider replacing the water daily to remove feces and urine.

Approach the submerged turtle from behind to prevent him from pulling his head into his shell. Wearing work gloves to protect your hands, carefully and quickly grab the turtle’s neck.

Pull the turtle’s neck out completely. Quickly saw the turtle’s head off using a bone saw through the base of the neck.

Secure a length of nylon rope around the turtle’s two back legs and his tail. Suspend the turtle in the air, with his front facing down. Place the plastic tote under the headless body to capture dripping blood. Allow the turtle to drain for at least 30 minutes.

Take the turtle down and remove the rope. Cut the legs and tail off the turtle with a bone saw and set these pieces aside. Use a field dressing knife to cut into the softest part of the turtle shell, where the top and bottom fuse together.

Pry the two sections of shell apart to expose the turtle’s innards. Remove all organs you do not want to keep and dispose of properly.

Use a water hose to rinse out the turtle and remove all blood from inside the shell. Rinse thoroughly several times.

Remove skin from the legs, neck and inside the shell by cutting the skin and peeling it away by hand. Leave meat attached to bone, as possible, and cut out any fat attached to the meat. For meat inside the shell, cut the meat loose into chunks.

Cooking/Preparing

Remove the meat from the bones and cut into bite size pieces. Place the meat in a slow cooker or cook pot.

Cook the meat on medium heat for 2 to 3 hours to ensure the meat cooks through before adding it to a recipe. Additionally, this extra cook time makes the meat tender and juicy.

Drain the water from the meat two or three times. This helps to remove any fishy or foul taste in the meat.

Add the meat to your favorite recipe, as you would add other cubed meats or chicken. Check the meat for thorough cooking before serving by cutting several pieces of meat in half to ensure that no pink spots exist inside the meat.

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