How to Butcher a Turkey

Preparation for a turkey is key, if the bird is prepped correctly the options are endless, when it comes to recipes. Once a turkey has been plucked, the turkey can be used for any whole preparations such as stuffed and roasted Thanksgiving-style turkey.

What I generally like to do,  is split the bird in half so that I’ve got two manageable-sized pieces. This lets me enjoy the turkey in parts, rather than all at once, and it takes up a lot less space in the freezer or cooler, if you’re a traveling hunter. Though you seldom see this procedure undertaken by modern-day hunters, splitting the bird is quite simple.

Note: You can take the breakdown one step further by removing the turkey’s thighs and legs. Now you’ve got a boneless, skin-on breast fillet that can baked, grilled, or sliced into schnitzel.  (Turkey schnitzel is unbelievably good.) The leg and thigh pieces can be smoked, or else braised until they are so tender that you could flick the leg bone and all the meat would come flying off. Handled this way, the leg and thigh flesh is perfect for soups, stews, pulled-turkey sandwiches, and all kinds of other preparations.

Slow down each side of the ridge-like breast bone and begin slicing and peeling the breast meat away from the bone.
Cut through the thigh joint and finish removing the half.Two halves, ready for the grill or transport. notice that the leg is still on this bird, that (the spur, particularly) serves as legal evidence of sex should the bird need to be transported. This one, however, went immediately to the grill.A wild turkey half, vacuum-sealed, labeled, and ready for the freezer

Handling Smaller Game Birds
As I have said, handling upland game birds is similar to turkeys, just on a smaller scale. Here’s some images showing my favorite way to deal with grouse, pheasants, quail, chukar, and just about every other bird that produces mild and delicate white flesh. It’s called spatchcocking, and it’s perfect for grilling and smoking.

As with turkeys, start by carefully plucking the bird’s body. Sever the neck, wings, and feet, leaving only the bird’s edible portions. Using game shears or a sharp knife, split the bird’s backbone from the tailbone all the way up to the neck. Then flatten the bird out.  It’s ready for a marinade or a dry rub (or nothing) and then the grill, pan, or oven.

Shop

The Essential Meatcrafter Knife
Save this product
Benchmade

A hybrid hunting fixed blade with a fine, smooth edge to trim, debone, or slice your preferred cuts of meat. Makes just as much sense in the back of your truck as it does in the kitchen drawer.

Meater+ Bluetooth Thermometer
Save this product
Meater

With up to 165 ft Wireless Range, MEATER is the first truly wireless smart meat thermometer.

7 Seasonings Gift Pack
Save this product
MeatEater

Bring home the entire Mega Spice Collection and change the way you cook.

The MeatEater Fish and Game Cookbook
Save this product
MeatEater

The definitive guide to cooking wild game, including fish and fowl, featuring more than 100 new recipes.

Get the latest in your inbox
Subscribe to our newsletters to receive regular emails with hand-picked content, gear recommendations, and special deals.
Our picks for the week's best content and gear
For the whitetail obsessed, with Mark Kenyon
Redefining our connection to food, with Danielle Prewett
Your one-stop for everything waterfowl, with Sean Weaver
Get out on the water with the MeatEater Fishing crew
Technical hunting apparel
Purpose-built accessories for hunting and fishing
Quality elk, turkey, waterfowl, and deer calls
Save this article