Knouse: The guide to stop wasting wild turkey meat

The first thing most turkey hunters think of when they daydream of eating their most recent harvest, is usually lightly fried and golden brown breast nuggets. Even if it’s not exactly that, it’s safe to say that it’s some variation of the breast meat that comes to their mind. I can’t blame them one bit, because it’s totally delicious. Unfortunately, that’s led to somewhat of a wasteful trend hence the title of today’s article. Now, I grew up in a family that taught me to waste nothing if at all possible, and that’s led me to develop the attitude that every little bit of meat is worth the time.

Hands down, wild turkey legs are delicious. In fact, when I recently made that exact statement in a room full of turkey hunters, there was either overwhelming agreement, or blank stares and lots of grumbling. With the incredibly juicy flavor of the wild turkey’s breast meat in high demand, the dark meat of this wild game animal has found itself way in the backseat. I often don’t get into telling other hunters what to do with the meat from animals they harvest, but this is different. Taking the breast meat out of a bird, or “breasting out” as they call it, and throwing the rest away makes me cringe. It’s not just incredibly wasteful, it’s just plain lazy, and there’s a lot of elders who would turn over in their place of eternal rest if they knew how frequently it happened these days.

I hear it all the time– but John, there are just too many bones in a wild turkey leg. They don’t have enough meat on them. But…but…but. Stop it. Just. Stop. It. Skin the legs and thighs, cut them off, and the possibilities are endless. But first, let’s talk acknowledge a little of their anatomy. Yes, their legs are abundantly full of tendons, small bones and connective tissues that make getting the meat off a bit of a hassle. That doesn’t mean that the meat that lies in between isn’t a delightful treat with a little effort. In fact, the last turkey I was lucky enough to take home last spring provided around four pounds of meat from the legs and thighs.

So once you have the legs and thighs ready, a good place to start is with your crockpot. A few hours in some broth and, spices, or marinade of your choice and you’ll have loads of delicious meat falling off the bones. My favorite, turkey and sauerkraut is simple and tastes great, while others prefer things such as wild turkey carnitas, barbecue turkey on a “pulled-pork” style sandwich, and more. The fact is, if you’ve allowed yourself to be convinced that legs and thighs aren’t worth the time, you’re really probably going to scoff at this next one.

Turkey oysters, turkey tenderloins, turkey back-straps– depending on the region of the country you’re in, these two small gems go by a lot of different names. So my admission is going to be that I just criticized people for not using the entire bird, but neither do I. To use the entire bird would entail skinning the entirety of the turkey and boiling the carcass to make soup– I don’t always do that, in fact I don’t do that very often at all.

Anyway, back to the oysters. If you skin down the back side of a turkey, just behind where the wings meet the body, these are two half-dollar sized pieces of meat that are so delicious, I’ve taken other peoples carcasses at hunt camp that they were going to toss, and took them out for myself– worth it.

There are folks out there that use literally every part of the turkey– from the skull to the feathers. I don’t go that far, and honestly not many do. Truth be told, countless pounds of wild turkey meat get wasted nationally each spring season. So wouldn’t it be great to know that this season, a little extra effort, might make a big difference in that total?

Hunt hard, hunt safe and shoot straight friends.