How to butcher a turkey
We have found raising our own turkeys for meat to be an extremely rewarding process, and it has made us appreciate meat even more. Plus the taste of the meat does not even compare to shop bought – you will wonder why you have never done it before.
We raise heritage, Narragansett Turkeys, but this guide can be used for any breed of turkey.
Equipment you will need before you start
– Nice and sharp knives, both for the killing process and also the butchering process
– A large bucket, trash can or bag for collecting feathers during the plucking process
– A hose with fresh water
– Clean, sturdy table
– A large container, turkey fryer, or metal bin. You can complete this process without this, however it makes it much easier.
How to prepare your turkeys for butchering day
We start the butchering process in the morning, ensuring that we have not given the turkeys any food the night before and that they have been put away reasonably early on the previous day. This means that their crop will be empty, which makes the butchering and cleaning process much easier.
If you have more than one bird, ensure your killing and butchering area is far enough away from the rest of the flock not to upset them, and so that they cannot wander over and start getting in the way of the process. They are very curious birds!
Before you dispatch the turkey
Fill up the large container with scalding hot water (150 degrees F / 60 degrees C). This will be used to make the plucking process easier. If you haven’t got a large enough container to plunge the turkey into then don’t panic, you can complete the plucking without it, it’s just easier with!
How to dispatch the turkey / how to kill the turkey
There are multiple ways to kill a turkey and as long as you are being humane, the choice is down to you. I prefer cutting their arteries but everyone has their own preference. I have listed a few options below:
– Using a killing cone, make a quick, deep, cut to the jugular with a very sharp knife. Allow the turkey to bleed out which will happen extremely quickly.
– Using a large turkey/chicken feed bag, cut a hole in the bottom of the bag only big enough for the turkeys head to fit through. Use this as a killing cone and follow the same process as above.
– The process I use is to have the turkey between my legs with my weight gently on the bird keeping it calm and in place. I then cut the main neck arteries with a deep incision with a sharp knife. I continue to hold the bird until all death movements have finished.
– Chop the head off with an axe. This is a very quick death for the bird but does require an accurate, clean strike to the neck. The bird will thrash around afterwards so I would advise having someone hold the bird or have it restricted in a killing cone or bag.
After completing your chosen method, wait for the turkey to bleed out and then move onto the butchering process.
How to scald a turkey
Scalding is the process of heating the skin of the turkey to loosen the feathers. This makes the plucking process much easier.
Plunge the turkey into the container with scalding hot water for between 45 seconds to 1 minute. Do not keep the bird in for too long.
Once this is complete start plucking as quickly as possible. We hang the bird from it’s legs using string and a hook. This gives you good access to the bird and makes the plucking process easier.
How to pluck a turkey
You can get mechanical pluckers for this process. They are extremely efficient and makes the job much, much easier. However I am not sure we will ever make the investment – I actually enjoy the plucking process and find that it is very mindful, allow you to connect to the bird that is allowing you to have your thanksgiving/Christmas feast!
Before plucking I would advise Scalding the turkey as described above, however this is not fully necessary, it just makes the process easier.
To pluck, simply pull the feathers up and out of the bird. Ensure you are pulling the feather directly out in the direction the feather is growing, do not pull the feather at an angle or you will find that the feather will snap, leaving the root in the skin. It is possible to get these out using tweezers but makes the process take much longer.
Start the plucking process with the wings as these cool the quickest. Do not try and pluck the very end feathers of the wing, these are extremely hard to remove. Normally we just chop that section of the wing completely off. Once the wing is complete then move on the main body of the bird.
How to Clean and Eviscerating the turkey
If the bird has been sitting for too long before cooking, there’s an oil gland behind its tail that causes the meat to be bitter tasting if it’s left in place. Slice down behind it and trim it off.
Make a slice in the skin with your knife above the breastbone at the base of the neck.
Tear down with your thumb to find the crop, windpipe and esophagus. Pull the esophagus and windpipe out of the neck cavity, and break the connective tissue around the crop. However, do not pull this assembly out completely– leave it attached.
With the bird still on its back, turn it over so you can work on the back end. Cut right above the vent, and tear open the carcass with both hands. Put your hand into the carcass, pull the fat off the gizzard, and then hook your finger down and around the esophagus. Pull this out– you should have a handful of connected internal organs now. Cut down either side of the vent and underneath to remove all the guts, in one pull. Now go back in to remove the lungs and windpipe.
Feel around inside the bird and ensure that any small organs have been removed. Sometimes the lungs hide themselves in the ribcage so don’t be afraid to have a proper dig around to remove everything.
Leave the turkey to rest
Leave the turkey to rest in a fridge or cool space (less than 41 degree F, 5 degree C).for at least 24 hours before cooking.
I would personally recommend at least 48 hours to allow the meat to soften and to get the best taste.
How to cook the turkey
I won’t go into detail for the best recipes here, but here is a very high level overview of roasting a whole turkey. Again, this will work for domestic and heritage turkeys.
- STEP 1
Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Put an onion and some fresh herbs inside the bird’s body cavity. Push the filling toward the breasts by packing some of it inside the neck cavity. Tie the turkey legs together so they look
- STEP 2
Calculate the weight of the turkey and determine its cooking time using your kitchen scale. Add an extra 30 minutes for every 1kg/2lb above 2 kgs.
- STEP 3
Place a large piece of extra wide aluminum foil into a large roaster pan, then place the turkey inside. Spread the butter evenly across the breasts, then sprinkle the grated nutmeg onto them. Season well. Wrap the breasts in bacon, pour the wine over them, then cover tightly with aluminum foil so they’re sealed inside.
- STEP 4
Open the tin, remove the meat, and let cool slightly. Discard any remaining grease. After removing the turkey from the oven, leave the foil open so that some of the juices remain inside; then remove the turkey again and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving. Baste the meat several times during its resting.
How much time does it take to cook a whole turkey?
The average cooking time for a whole turkey can be anywhere between 3 to 6 hours depending on the weight, but the actual time will vary greatly depending on how you prepare your bird.