Thanksgiving is just around the corner and many families are looking forward to spending some well earned time together.
Turkeys are synonymous with Thanksgiving dinner, and most of us just drop by the supermarket to buy one, take it home and prepare it. But, what would you do if the supermarkets and roads faced a government shutdown and all you could get was a locally raised live turkey.
Could you still meet your families Thanksgiving expectations if you had to complete the whole cycle form live turkey to thanks giving dinner? This article will discuss the process from slaughter all the way through to having a turkey in the fridge on Thanksgiving morning.
Returning To The Old Ways
The modern world is slowly but surely leading us away from tradition and self sufficiency, towards greater dependance on governments and large corporations for survival. But not all of us feel comfortable to place our lives in their hands.
The ability to provide food is an age old and honoured tradition. The future may see us returning to the old ways of living. Raising animals and harvesting them may again become one of the cornerstones of survival.
I prefer fresh turkey that has never been frozen. I do find that it’s tastier. It’s also a great teaching opportunity, not just for the kids, but also to remind you where the food we eat comes from. Raising your own birds has the added benefit of knowing they were raised and slaughtered ethically.
End of Life
It’s an uncomfortable reality to face, but every ounce of meat we consume, was once a living animal. Ending the life of an animal that will provide us with sustenance, is completely natural. It’s important to acknowledge the sacrifice, and allow the animal to die with dignity and respect.
There are many ways to end the life of a bird. Some people choose to stun it with electricity, then sever the main arteries in the neck. Other stun birds with impact to the head, then sever the arteries. You can also just sever the arteries and let the bird bleed out.
There are pro’s and con’s to the various way’s. Where I come from, we chop of the head with a sharp and heavy knife. It’s best done by two people, on a firm surface like a chopping block or thick piece of timber. One person is holding the bird down on its side, the other is controlling the head and delivering the fatal strike close to the head. From there you take control of the neck to ensure the blood is directed into a dish.
The picture’s in this article start from where the head has already been severed, and the bird is hanging by it’s feet, the last of it’s blood dripping into a large dish. We opted for a 7 pound female turkey who had suffered a a leg injury and had difficulty moving.
It was an humane kill, and I felt that her death could contribute to knowledge on the subject. Even though she is smaller, the exact same principles apply.
- Chopping block
- I large bowl or dish for capturing blood.
- Large heavy knife (Super Sharp)
- Small knife
- Stanley knife
- Cutting board
- I work on old newspaper, saves time cleaning up
- Bag for feathers
Scalding and De-feathering
#1. Plucking a turkey can take a while, so it’s best to scald it in very hot, but not boiling water. The water must be around 60 degrees Celsius, or 150 degrees Fahrenheit. A few minutes of vigorous dunking will do.
Take the bird by the feet, and work it into the water. Move it about, up and down and sideways to ensure the water reaches everywhere.
You can use a prodding stick to push parts down that want to float. After about two minutes, start pulling at the feathers. As soon as the come of easily, hang the bird and pluck it. You will see that a very thin outer layer of dead skin also comes of during the plucking.
Some of this dead skin will remain on the bird after plucking. I just rub that off with a wet cloth and some cold water, until I have only clean, pale skin remaining.
#2. The first cuts are to remove the lower parts of the legs. This is the scaly shin portion and feet. Cut through the skin, all the way around the joint. Then use a scissors to cut the ligaments, or twist them hard to remove.
You can now rinse the bird in clean, cold water, dry it off, and move it to where you will be butchering it further.
Next you remove the crop, which is a sac of air and food, located on the front of the breast where the neck enters the body.
Make a thin cut through the outer layer of skin and pry it open until the entire sack is outside. You want to pull as much of it out as possible, finally cutting all tissue to remove it completely.
#3. Turn the bird on it’s back, with the tail pointing toward you. Make cut from above the cloaca, or the “but hole”, up toward the breast bone. Don’t cut to deep, and DON’T cut the actual “but hole”. Pry this cut open until you can fit your hole hand inside the chest and intestinal cavity.
Push your hand in there and loosen the intestinal sac from the body. Try to cause as little damage to the intestines a possible.
Once you have pried it loose, remove it from the body. Then cut it free, ensuring the cloaca is still attached to the intestines. This cut is done between the cloaca and the tail, or you can cut the tail of along with the cloaca.
You can now remove the giblets; heart, liver and gizzard(stomach). I leave the neck on the bird, but some folk count the neck as part of the giblets.
You can trim the main arteries off the heart. I split the liver in two, removing the glandular tissue that connects the two liver lobes. The gizzard is severed in the middle of the two white sinewy parts, and then cleaned under running water. Also remove the hard “skin” portion inside the gizzard.
Related: How to Can Your Leftover Turkey
#4. You are now basically done. You can cut the neck to your preferred length.
And then give the bird one final wash. I like to rinse the intestinal cavity under running water, while brushing it out with a bottle brush or old tooth brush. Dry if of as well as you can before packing.
I then wrap the gizzards in small bag and stuff them back where I found them.
Then compact the turkey as much as possible and wrap it up tightly in a butchers bag before putting it into the fridge for storage. If you are storing for more than three days before cooking, I would suggest freezing the bird.
The images show the turkey being cooked in a home made smoker. This one was made using an old 55 gallon oil drum. It is really cheap and easy, and works really well.
I smoked the turkey in there for around two hours on medium to high heat.
I stuff some onions and garlic into the cavity to release flavour and moisture. Other spices include rubbing with melted butter, salt and pepper. You can get as creative as budget and time allows. I close the front skin flaps over the breast to seal in moisture.
You will see that I make a fire separately, and use a shovel to transport the required amount of charcoal into the base of the smoker. I test the heat by tapping a whet finger on the top of the drum. When it sizzles, it’s hot enough.
So there you got it folks. Fresh turkey for Thanksgiving. The founding fathers would be proud!
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