posted on August 13, 2005 00:00
Wild Turkey for a Healthier Thanksgiving Dinner
Courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation
During this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, don’t cheat yourself out of eating more turkey because you’re trying to watch your weight. Instead, try eating a wild turkey rather than the store bought domestic bird. So what’s the difference?
The domesticated turkey, which most Americans eat every year for Thanksgiving, isn’t as healthy as the one that hunters pursue in the spring and fall.
Most pen-raised turkeys live on ground feed and are given antibiotics to keep them healthy. They’ve also been bred to have more breast meat, meatier thighs and white feathers.
Wild turkeys, on the other hand, feed on acorns, grasses, fruits and plants, which provide them with natural vitamins. And because they forage for what they eat, wild turkeys have less fat content than their domestic cousin.
“It’s no secret wild turkeys, like any wildlife, tend to search for more nutritional food until they find it,” said Dr. James Earl Kennamer, National Wild Turkey Federation senior vice president of conservation programs. “They prefer acorns, seeds, small insects and wild berries.”
Pen-raised turkeys grow faster than their wild relatives because modern production methods have sped up the time it takes for tame turkeys to mature. In just 18 weeks, male turkeys can reach a market weight of 35 pounds. Wild gobblers are only 5 pounds at that age and not nearly plump enough for table fare. You might say wild turkeys are slow grown in the woods, which means that what you’re eating is all-natural, not some frozen food that’s been raised for mass consumption.
“It’s definitely much healthier to eat wild turkey,” said Chef Albert Wutsch, director of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts. “Wild turkeys aren’t given dietary supplements or bred for a specific color and flavor.”
Tasty Turkey Tactics
Just as there are genetic differences between wild turkeys and the tamed variety, there also are differences in the way they are cooked and prepared.
“One of the most meaningful ways to share in natures bounty is by sharing the fruits of the hunt with friends and family," said Rob Keck, NWTF CEO.
It is important that wild game is properly field dressed and frozen. Amy Minish, registered dietician in Alabama, says an important first step is to field dress the wild turkey----—or remove its internal parts—soon after the bird is killed. Doing so helps prevent bacteria from spreading to the meat. She also recommends cooking the turkey at an internal breast temperature of 160 degrees.
“If you remember nothing else, remember the flavor of game meat depends partly on how it was handled in the woods, how it was hauled home and when it was cleaned,” said Keck. “Many who have eaten wild turkey and think it’s too gamy have likely tasted meat from a poorly field dressed bird.”
Deep-fried wild turkey
Traditionalists say no turkey is fit for the table without its skin, so years ago, turkeys were plucked by hunters or camp cooks after a long day in the woods.
Actually, the decision about whether to skin or pluck really depends on how you plan to cook the turkey. For methods that can dry out the meat, such as roasting, the skin should be left on to seal in moisture. Plucking, rather than skinning, also reduces the risk of freezer burn.
But if skinless is your choice, consider deep-fried wild turkey; the meat will be moist and tender.
Follow these tips for deep-frying your wild turkey from the NWTF’s Wild About Turkey & More cookbook:
1. Always thaw the turkey completely.
2. Clean the turkey the same way you would for roasting.
3. Do not stuff the turkey.
4. Inject the bird with liquid seasoning or rub dry seasoning inside and out. Examples include hot pepper sauce, black pepper, Italian dressing, Cajun seasoning and paprika.
5. To figure out how much oil to use in the deep fryer, fill the pot with water and submerge the turkey (Water should cover the turkey without spilling over.) Remove the turkey then measure the amount of water left in the pot. Discard the water and fill the pot with oil.
6. Heat the oil to at least 375 degrees before adding the turkey.
7. Skinless turkey should be cooked for 3-3 1/2 minutes per pound.
8. Let the turkey cool for at least 20 minutes before carving.
In Wild About Turkey & More, NWTF volunteers have shared their favorite turkey recipes; many are like heirlooms that have been handed down for generations. Also included in the cookbook are ways to bring your game from the woods to a warm kitchen, steps that include field dressing your bird to giving new life to leftovers. Several pages are devoted to the history of turkey hunting, a pastime rich in tradition that began long before settlers came to America.
For more information on preparing and cooking wild turkey for delicious wild turkey recipes, or learning the basics, such as how to breast your bird, how to stuff it and the proper way to carve it, order a copy of Wild About Turkey & More for $19.95 (plus shipping) by calling 1-800-THE-NWTF or order online at www.nwtf.org.