How to Clean or Pluck a Turkey

How to Clean or Pluck a Turkey

Preparing a turkey is not a complicated process, and it is somewhat similar to what you do when working with a chicken or pheasant.  However, there are some subtle differences to consider along with choosing the best option based on your needs or preferences.  Let’s look at some basic guidelines that will illustrate how easy it is to prepare a fresh wild turkey for your next meal.

Field Dressing

Field dressing the turkey is the fastest and easiest way to get at the meat for immediate consumption.  This method should be used in hot weather conditions so that you minimize the risk of the meat spoiling.  It is also ideal for when you want to quickly get at pieces of the bird instead of cooking the turkey whole.

The first step is to put the turkey on its back and make an incision along the bottom of the rib cage to the anus.  Cut off the tail.  Remove the skin and all of the entrails and internal organs.  You will need to cut out the heart and also sever the neck from the inside as you work your way up.  Be careful not to puncture the intestines, stomach or liver, or the meat will become tainted from the digestive juices and waste products that get released.  Once the abdominal cavity has been emptied, consider filling it with ice to keep it cool.

The next step is to remove the breasts.  Make cuts along the edges of the wings and along the top of the breast bone.  You will also most likely need to cut along the center of the breast as well.  Just cut the skin while trying to avoid gouging the meat.  Rip off the skin.  Take your knife and make a cut inward from the center of the breastbone, following its contours until you completely separate the meat.  The meat should come off in two large pieces, one for each side.  Try to make the cut as close to the bone as possible to avoid waste.

To remove the thighs and legs, simply cut along the joints where they attach to the body and cut off the skin.  Remember, we’re just going for the meat here, so plucking is not necessary.  The same applies to the wings.  Cut off the wings at the base where they attach to the body, remove and skin. 


Plucking is ideal for those who want to roast the turkey whole.  The first step is to cut off the head, neck and tail and drain the blood.  Then, hang the turkey upside down by its feet, spacing them about 12 inches apart.  All you need to do now is start pulling off small handfuls of the feathers.  Try and get your fingers as close to the skin as possible in order to pull out the feathers with more ease.  Pull in the direction of the grain so they don’t tear the skin too much as they are removed. 

Keep up this pattern until the entire turkey has been cleaned.  Keep in mind that this will take longer, and it will be most tedious as you work your way around the wings.   However, you can also cut off the wings or skin them in order to save time.  In any case, a plucked turkey will tend to be moister while also allowing you to have more cooking options as opposed to one that has been skinned.

In both cases, the process of plucking or skinning will get easier and faster with time.  The most important thing to remember is that you need to rinse and thoroughly cook the meat before eating no matter how you prepare the turkey.  Whole turkeys should be cooked to an internal temperature of 170 degrees whereas pieces should be 165.  If you don’t have a meat thermometer, use your best judgment. Wait until there is no more blood in the meat or juices, and make sure that the breast meat is not pink whatsoever.  The thighs and legs should be a greyish-brown color without blood as well.

Try these methods out for yourself the next time you are in an area where wild turkey is abundant.  One good sized bird can provide more than enough meat for a nice meal, whether you are cooking at home or out in the field. 

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