How to Butcher a Turkey

Outdoors Allie • April 07, 2023

This year I was fortunate to harvest a turkey on opening day in South Florida. The hunt was incredible, but now it’s time to butcher. I thoroughly enjoy butchering animals at home, all by myself. Learning about the anatomy and physiology of the animal and understanding the whole picture of where my food comes from is important to me. And butchering is a huge part of that process.

As the saying goes, there are a million ways to skin a cat. Take this information knowing this is only one example of how to butcher a turkey. Use it as a platform to learn from and grow from there. Let’s get into it.

The first thing you want to do is pull off the beard. Locate the beard and place one hand at the base, against the body, then grab the beard near its attachment point and give it a quick yank. Up and away. You can also use a knife for this process; just make sure to cut as close to the flesh as possible.

The next step is to remove the fan. The fan consists of multiple layers of feathers. To remove it, you want to bring all those feathers together and push them away from the butt. Then make a cut directly above the butt and across the front of the base of the fan to connect the two cuts. Make sure to leave some of the smaller feathers on the front of the fan. It makes for a nice presentation in the end.

Now let's get into the meat. You’ll want to start with the bird on his back and remove the breast meat first. The best way to do that is to locate the big protrusion on his chest called the “mound” or sternum. The breast meat runs at an angle on both sides and down from the mound. You’ll want to break through the skin and rip it open from the mound downward, revealing the beautiful meat. Make a small incision with your knife, then use your fingers to pull the rest of the skin open.

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Now that you’ve made those initial cuts, you can see a couple of things are happening here. You've got the bird's crop and then the bird's meat. You can clearly see the difference between what the crop looks like, which is not edible, and what the muscle looks like. Make sure to remove as much of the crop as possible throughout this process.

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Start by cutting along each side of the chest plate while making sure that the knife blade is angled inward towards the bone. That will ensure that you are removing as much meat as possible. Continue the cuts until you hit the rib cage underneath. Grab the meat with your free hand and continue to trace the meat away from the bones until you’ve freed the breast. The tenderloin is attached to the underside of the breast meat and will come off with the breast as you fillet it from the bone. Repeat the same process on the opposite side.

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Onto the legs next. The first thing you need to do is split open the legs at the pelvis. Grab both legs and pull them away from the pelvis until you hear the hip joints pop. When you do that, you'll feel it loosen. Now that the hips are opened, you’ll want to cut the skin and expose the muscle underneath. You can use your knife to start the incision and your fingers for the rest. The skin separates shockingly easily.

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Once you have the leg free from skin and feathers, you're going to go from the inside and cut through the connective tissue with your knife until you get to the hip joint, which is a ball and socket style joint. Cut across that joint and behind it, on the back side of the hip joint.

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There's a little bit of meat that wraps around the back of the hip, but as long as you are cutting from both sides, you’ll get the majority of it. There you have yourself a turkey leg. To remove the bottom portion of the leg, you can use a Sawzall or work though the joint with a knife.

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I hope this has helped you understand the process of butchering turkey at home. It’s much easier than it seems and only takes about 20 minutes. Also, it isn’t a very messy ordeal when compared to processing a big game animal. As always, it’s best to learn from watching someone experienced do it in person, but this article combined with a well-thought-out YouTube video is a good place to start.

--Outdoors Allie