Have you ever tried to dig into the drumsticks of a resilient old gobbler, after it took a dip in the deep fryer? If so, you probably agree that it’s not a completely enjoyable experience. To a turkey hunter, a tender turkey breast is the sought-after prize. Just thinking about a roasted or grilled wild turkey breast leaves many hunters drooling. However, most of the same hunters feel the drumsticks and thighs of a wild turkey are inedible and discard it as garbage.
It’s true that wild turkeys have the reputation of being rough and tough birds. And, many people think their toughest body parts are their legs. After all, wild turkeys depend on them to jump into high roosts, leap over streams and fences to find each other, and to run from predators. It’s no wonder these strong legs are tough to eat! However, don’t push turkey drumsticks away from the table just yet.
There is a simple way to turn tough turkey drumsticks into tender, tasty meals. I refer to this cooking technique as the “cold-cut” method. First, turkey drumsticks and thighs are slowly cooked. Then, the meat is cooled and chilled in the refrigerator. Finally, the fully cooked, cold meat is boned. All the cartilage, grizzle and tough connective tissues are easily removed. The result is shredded, tender turkey meat that can be prepared hundreds of ways.
I find that the cold-cut method maximizes the quantity of meat accumulated compared to boning raw or still-hot meat. This is because once the cooked meat is cold, unwanted parts are more easily identified.
The cold-cut process is described below. All temperatures and times are recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
1) Wash drumstick and thigh meat thoroughly with water to remove any feathers or other matter. Put meat into slow cooker/Crock pot with four cups of chicken broth or seasoned water. Cook on medium-low for four to eight hours. Poultry meat is fully cooked once its temperature is above 165 degrees. It’s highly recommended you use a stem or meat thermometer to check the meat’s final temperature before removing.
2) Cool meat to room temperature. To speed up the cooling process, transfer the meat to a separate container and cut or remove meat from the main bones to allow for more surface area to be cooled. Meat should cool to room temperate in 30 to 60 minutes, but shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours.
3) Chill meat in refrigerator loosely covered or uncovered until it’s hard to the touch. The refrigerator should be 41 degrees or less to properly cool and preserve cold food. Estimated chilling time is –one to two hours. If meat is not used right away, cover the chilled meat until used at later time.
4) By working with cold meat, it’s easy to see and feel the tough and rubbery elements that make drumstick and thighs hard to eat. Simply bone and shred the meat with a knife and fork or tear with clean hands. You’re left with several cups of tender, delicious turkey meat that’s free from its tough reputation. Even a small, spring Jake is likely to produce four cups of high-quality meat!
There are hundreds of ways to prepare your pile of shredded wild turkey. You can simply add your favorite barbecue sauce, heat and serve on a bun. Or, add your favorite gravy and serve on mashed potatoes. Finally, you can add the meat to your favorite casserole, stew or soup recipe. I’m sure you’ll agree that homemade wild turkey noodle soup beats anything you can buy at your local grocery store.
My favorite use for the shredded wild turkey meat is chili. Sometimes I simply add wild turkey meat to a can of Hormel Meatless Chili with Beans. Other times, I’ll get fancy and make a pot of “White and Wild Turkey Chili” from scratch. What you do with the meat is up to you. Whatever your culinary creativity comes up with is a much better alternative then tossing this meat in the trash!
More is Better
The cold-cut method can be used on a variety of game birds. It’s tough to use the two or four small pheasant, grouse, duck or goose legs, when you only come home with just a few birds. However, I save these legs and thighs in the freezer until I have a full bag. Then I use the cold-cut method on the whole batch at one time. I end up with a lot of very tasty and easy-to-use meat for my family’s favorite recipes. For variety’s sake, many poultry recipes can use a combination of meat from various game birds.
Experiment with combinations of wild turkey and other game to see what you like!
Thinking back, I remember once reading a letter printed in Turkey Call about a hunter expressing how annoyed and saddened he was about how many hunters waste meat when dressing their bird by only breasting it out and tossing away the remains. In response, the editorial staff reminded readers that, as ethical hunters, we should make every effort to use as much of the bird as we can. Using ways to easily prepare the “hard-to-eat” portions of wild game into memorable and delicious meals is just one way to fulfill our responsibility as ethical hunters.
White and Wild Turkey Chili
3 cups of cooked wild turkey meat, shredded
5 T. butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup milk or cream
1 bunch of scallions, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup of jalapeno pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups (16 ounces) chicken broth
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1 can (15-16 ounces) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (11-16 ounces) white or yellow whole kernel corn, drained
2 T. lime juice (optional)
1 T. finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Sauté in frying pan, 2 tablespoons butter, scallions, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, garlic, cumin and salt until vegetables are almost soft, then set aside. In large pot or soup kettle, melt 3 tablespoons butter until bubbly, stir in flour and stir briskly creating a roux ("rue"). Gradually stir in milk or cream into roux, and cook until thickened. Stir in chicken broth until soup broth is smooth and creamy. Add in mixture from frying pan, wild turkey meat, beans, corn, cayenne pepper, white pepper, lime juice and cilantro. Cover and simmer on low for 25 to 30 minutes; makes four to six servings. Garnish with shredded cheese, crackers, sour cream, and/or more chopped cilantro.