- Again this year, we have been fortunate enough to have the experience of culling our own Thanksgiving turkey. If you’re cringing already, I totally get it. Reading about the details on how your meat gets to your table can be jarring. I was a vegetarian for a while in my late teens. I even had an outspoken, politically active vegan boyfriend who also happened to be a metal drummer. How cliche. We attended many a Gwar concert and spent hours covered in fake blood and guts in the mosh pit. If that sounds contradictory, I get that, too. I’m basically a walking conundrum, and I digress. Anyway. This post is going to be blunt and detailed, because that’s just how I roll. There will be photos of innards.. mostly because it’s stuff we never get to see, and I found them beautifully fascinating.
The first year we did this, we stood in a circle around our freshly killed turkey as it dangled from a tree above a trash can. My husband, aunt, uncle, step-son and I all grabbed handfuls of feathers, plucking this huge bird with our bare hands as it spun around in circles making us all look like we were at a Gwar concert. Trying to get the feathers in the can was a joke. We didn’t even dip the dang thing first. We basically had no idea what we were doing.
This was our third year, and by now we knew what to do, and what not to do, the main points I’ll highlight below.
1. DO use a killing cone. The cone basically calms the bird and keeps flapping to a minimum. I’m not even gonna get into what it was like our first year.
It’s still gonna be messy though, there is just no getting around that.
I’ll be honest. The empath in me just can’t bear this part, and I leave it to the men.
It’s a joint effort between my husband and step-son. My husband was raised with a strong Native American influence, so thanking the animal and respectfully handling its death is very important to us as a family. My step-son is 13 now, and after learning the family way, culled all the turkeys (5) this year himself. My aunt and I took on the processing aspect, which brings us to the next few points.
2. DO NOT feed your bird a *ton* on culling day.
That being said, I disagree with the popular opinion of not feeding your bird 12-24 hours before hand. On one hand, you’ve got a massively full crop when processing, (because turkeys are pigs and gorge themselves) which in my case, ALWAYS ruptures when I try and remove it, getting gritty turkey food all over the place and is just a disgusting experience.
On the other hand, I didn’t care for searching through the chest cavity for a completely flat crop of which I could hardly see the borders of, as a result of withholding feed for 12 hours.
A half full crop is easiest to find and extract.
3. A hot dip before plucking is a must. Those wing feathers just won’t come out otherwise, and you’ll spend hours digging out feather root follicles (that’s the scientific term, right?) all over with a pair of tweezers while your toddler slaps the turkey’s breast. Ask me how I know.
4. A plucker saves SO much time. Seriously. Plucking by hand is for ancients and people who like to punish themselves. But sometimes you just have to. A pair of sticky rubber gloves can help. You can buy one here, or build your own Whizbang Plucker.
5. This goes without saying really, but sharp knives. Or even better, scalpels. Every year my knife is dull and it’s irritating af. The few cuts you are making are on the outside of the bird, and precision is important when you’re excising bowels and the oil gland.
Onto the photos!