Processing your own Holiday Turkey
**Disclaimer: Not for the faint of heart or those who get queasy at the sight of blood**
We recently processed our own Turkeys. It was quite the adventure being my first time. I decided to document our process along the way to possibly help others that may be embarking on a similar journey as I had. I hope you can use my experience to avoid the mistakes that I made and maybe even apply some of my learnings for the next time you process a Turkey (or any bird for that matter). Please share any suggestions or tips you may have.
- Fishing net
- Rubber gloves
- Box cutter blade
- Large, Double-burner stove
- Large plastic tote
- Large freezer bags
Before wrangling up the Turkeys we started boiling two very large pots of water. This was in preparation for scalding and plucking the Turkeys later on. We used a large fishing net to capture the Turkeys and then placed them in a cage. I found this to be fairly easy since the Turkeys were so big and slow. We then carried the cage with as many Turkeys as we could fit over to our butchering station.
To slaughter the Turkeys we tied some strong wire/rope around the Turkey’s legs then strung them hanging upside down on the outside of a large cage. We then sliced their throats with a very sharp box cutter knife so that they would bleed out very quickly. I would suggest either using a large kill cone or hanging them in the open air. The reason I suggest this is because when we killed the Turkeys they would flap their wings for a couple minutes. Their wings kept slapping on the cage which tore some of the skin on the wings. Once they stopped we removed the head and moved them to the plucking station.
We scalded the turkeys by placing the boiling water in a large tote/tub. I dunked mine for a solid minute. Plucking was definitely the most tedious and time-consuming step. When I started plucking the feathers I learned two things: first pull the feathers with the grain (I guess is the best way to say it) to avoid leaving tiny pieces of feather in the skin. The second lesson I learned was to pull the larger feathers first. Since it was a cold day the larger feathers such as the tail and wing feathers would harden back up making them harder to pluck.
I gutted the turkey by cutting a hole around the anus. If I cut it well I could avoid the very fowl smell of the left-over… droppings. Let’s just say I learned my lesson after the first bird. I pulled out all the innards fairly easily; it was the small tissue/s left behind that were tricky to remove. It took me a while to do this. I then made a cut at the part where the neck meats the breast. Inside I found lots of recently eaten food. This was easy to remove. The skin peeled off the inside very easily and was cleaned out in a matter of seconds.
After I was satisfied with cleaning out the insides I rinsed my turkey inside and out using a garden hose spigot. Since there
was fresh snow all around we were able to place the fresh turkeys in the snow while we moved on to the next ones.
Later that night at home I did another cleaning of the insides and I plucked the small pieces out of the skin that were left behind from plucking in the wrong direction. I did this with tweezers. I gave it one last rinse and then wrapped the turkey as tightly as I could with plastic wrap. I then put the turkey in a new garbage bag and tried vacuum sealing the turkey using a household vacuum. It actually worked pretty well! I will be leaving it in my chest freezer until it’s ready for Christmas time.
5 Key Lessons Learned:
1. Rubber gloves come in handy, they help grip and just feel more sanitary.
2. Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty/stained
3. The bird will stay positioned how you leave it. What I mean by this is that as the rigor mortis sets in the turkey’s arms and legs will stick in the position you leave it in. Since it was such a cold day this happened during the plucking process. I would recommend banding the legs together as soon as you can and plucking the breast side first so that the wings can settle inward.
4. Use strong rope to tie up the turkey’s legs. They would sometimes break the cord we were using.
5.Pluck largest feathers first and always pull them out in the direction that they are pointing.
So take these learnings and maybe the next time you process your bird/s you will remember what I learned and be able to use it to your advantage. Happy Holidays!