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How to Grill a Wild Turkey

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November 19, 2012

How to Grill a Wild Turkey

By David Draper

Sure, you could play the hipster card this Thanksgiving and roast your $75 heritage turkey in the oven, but because you’re a Wild Chef reader, you’ve gotten your free-range, organic holiday bird by more honest means—by hunting it. And, because you follow this blog, you also grasp that the purest way to cook that bird is over fire, on a charcoal, or if you must, gas grill.

I will admit those perfect, pricey store-bought turkeys and their Butterball brethren have a leg (and plump breast) up on the wild turkey in that they’ve been bred for both the taste and ease of cooking—a result of their fat-filled diet. The wild turkey is a lean bird, spending its days in the opposing efforts of feeding and fleeing predators. This leanness can present some challenges in cooking it on the back deck, but these obstacles can be easily overcome with these simple steps.

Brine The Bird: By Wednesday morning, at the latest, you should have your wild turkey, whether it’s plucked whole or just the breast, in some sort of brine. I won’t get into the details of osmosis and diffusion, but put simply, brining transfers moisture and flavor into the meat, which greatly enhances the finished product. The basic brine ratio is one cup of both salt and sugar to one gallon of cold water. You’ll probably need to double this for a whole turkey. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water, then submerge the bird and place the container in the refrigerator or an ice-filled cooler for 24 to 48 hours. Don’t be afraid to experiment with other flavors by adding garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, peppercorns, or other spices to the brine.

Spatchcocking: If you’ve got a big enough grill (or small enough bird), you should consider spatchcocking your turkey. The photo above shows a chicken that has been prepared for this simple technique, which promotes quicker and more even cooking of a whole bird. Remove the turkey’s backbone by using kitchen shears to cut down either side of it. Then flip the bird over and press down on the breasts until the bird lays flat. You may also have to manually disjoint the leg quarters by pulling them up and away from the body cavity.

The Whole Bird: If you prefer the presentation of a whole bird, Weber has a great recipe. Note this is for a commercial turkey, so you may have to babysit the bird a bit more to ensure it doesn’t dry out. Just be sure to pull the turkey off when a thermometer stuck in the thigh reaches 155 degrees or so.

Choose Your Smoke: A simple way to raise the flavor bar when grilling your bird is the addition of a handful of wood chips to the fire. I throw these directly on the hot coals, but you can also put them in a smoke box, or make your own with some heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Beer Can Turkey: Another great way to infuse flavor and moisture into your turkey is by cooking beer-can chicken style. The tough part is finding a big enough can. In his magazine column awhile back, Field & Stream Wild Chef columnist Jonathan Miles solved this problem by using a Foster’s “oil can.” There are also several commercially made infusers on the market. I’ve used the Camp Chef Turkey Cannon on turkeys, geese, and ducks and can attest that it works well.

Comments (12)

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from sgtsly wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Can you just quarter it and grill it as you might a chicken?

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from Double D wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

sgtsly - Yes, quartering it would certainly work just fine as well.

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Key on lean meat is "thin to win" You need to reduce cooking time to retain moisture. I fillet out my pheasant breasts, and split them...broiled them are juicy, but only because they lay flat, and thinner than a whole breast. This Thanksgiving? Pheasant breasts "cubed" and dipped in breading then deep fried. May smoke the breasts some before cubing, and deep frying. These chunks that are quickly deep fried are incredibly good.

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from Improved-clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I keep seeing chickens prepared like this, I need to try it some day.

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from Hornd wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I have found wild turkey breast makes great jerky. Use your recipe for venison/beef and just pray it dries out.
How do wild birds deep fry?
I've heard oven bags are great for items that dry out.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Levi Banks wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I've roasted some hens whole in the oven, the plucking takes a while, but lay some strips of bacon across the top the bird while roasting at for about an hour at 350, then take the bacon off and turn the oven up to 375 for about another hour, that should brown the skin. I think I went a little less time than that since my birds weren't big gobblers. It was a little weird to see some slightly pink juices, but it was pretty tender and juicy, especially for a wild bird, and no one got sick.

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from Marine ATC wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Looks delicious!

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Wild turkey is hardly delicious from talking to those that have shot a turkey.

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from Double D wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

clinchknot - You must be talking to the wrong people. I've shot a lot of wild turkeys and they've all been delicious. In most instance, when someone tells me is hardly delicious, I tell them they're cooking it wrong.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Double D wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

*that's supposed to say "when someone tells me any game animal is hardly delicious..."

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

double D...I dunno. This deal where folks presume to give you an honest opinion, then the notion, "oh, you are cooking it wrong" I've listen to that story before. A wild turkey is no domestic turkey by a long shot according to most I've talked to. They don't get to excited about wild turkey.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

And I shot numbers # 19 and # 20 roosters yesterday. Sure like to have a taste off between that wild turkey, and my deboned, brined, slightly smoked pheasant breasts that will be chunked up, breaded in a Louisiana breading, and deep fried.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Double D wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

clinchknot - You must be talking to the wrong people. I've shot a lot of wild turkeys and they've all been delicious. In most instance, when someone tells me is hardly delicious, I tell them they're cooking it wrong.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Double D wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

*that's supposed to say "when someone tells me any game animal is hardly delicious..."

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from sgtsly wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Can you just quarter it and grill it as you might a chicken?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Double D wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

sgtsly - Yes, quartering it would certainly work just fine as well.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Key on lean meat is "thin to win" You need to reduce cooking time to retain moisture. I fillet out my pheasant breasts, and split them...broiled them are juicy, but only because they lay flat, and thinner than a whole breast. This Thanksgiving? Pheasant breasts "cubed" and dipped in breading then deep fried. May smoke the breasts some before cubing, and deep frying. These chunks that are quickly deep fried are incredibly good.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Improved-clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I keep seeing chickens prepared like this, I need to try it some day.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Hornd wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I have found wild turkey breast makes great jerky. Use your recipe for venison/beef and just pray it dries out.
How do wild birds deep fry?
I've heard oven bags are great for items that dry out.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Levi Banks wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

I've roasted some hens whole in the oven, the plucking takes a while, but lay some strips of bacon across the top the bird while roasting at for about an hour at 350, then take the bacon off and turn the oven up to 375 for about another hour, that should brown the skin. I think I went a little less time than that since my birds weren't big gobblers. It was a little weird to see some slightly pink juices, but it was pretty tender and juicy, especially for a wild bird, and no one got sick.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Marine ATC wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Looks delicious!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

Wild turkey is hardly delicious from talking to those that have shot a turkey.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

double D...I dunno. This deal where folks presume to give you an honest opinion, then the notion, "oh, you are cooking it wrong" I've listen to that story before. A wild turkey is no domestic turkey by a long shot according to most I've talked to. They don't get to excited about wild turkey.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 21 weeks ago

And I shot numbers # 19 and # 20 roosters yesterday. Sure like to have a taste off between that wild turkey, and my deboned, brined, slightly smoked pheasant breasts that will be chunked up, breaded in a Louisiana breading, and deep fried.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment