Plenty of rules to follow when prepping turkey

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A hunter crippled a wild turkey one season. He spent three days looking for it but had no luck. He hung up his gun for the rest of the season. “I know that bird is dead,” he said “and that’s my limit for this year.”

That’s top drawer sportsmanship. But there are more ways than just that one to “lose” a turkey. A common way is freezer burn. Many hunters go through every torment imaginable to bag the bird then wrap it carelessly and toss it into the freezer where it never sees the light of day again. Often, folks just don’t know how to cook it so it gets shuffled around in the freezer until it’s too late to use it.

Another way to lose a turkey is to handle it improperly or cook it inadequately. This can result in severe abdominal distress. Undercooking any poultry, domestic or wild, encourages the growth of bacteria , which can lead to food poisoning .

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources prepared a list of guidelines for safe handling of your wild turkey and all poultry. Following these rules means you’ll never again have to lose a turkey from mishandling.

“Allowing the poultry and gravy to cool at room temperature after cooking increases the possibility of bacterial growth and production of toxic byproducts,” one official said. “To be safe, soon after cooking, place turkeys in the refrigerator for proper cooling to the safe temperature of 45 degrees.”

Each year, food-borne illnesses increase. Turkey should be kept frozen at 0 degrees or below until the thawing process begins. A microwave oven can be used for thawing, provided the cooking cycle begins immediately after thawing. When the turkey is thawed, remove the giblets and wash thoroughly inside and out. Cooking should be begin at once. Turkey never should be partially cooked one day and completed the next.

Bake the stuffing separately from the roasting turkey. Stuffing the inside of a bird prevents the meat closest to the bone from being cooked thoroughly. If the turkey is cooked the day before it is eaten, it should be refrigerated promptly after it is removed from the oven.

Leftover turkey should be sliced from the carcass and stored in shallow containers no more than two inches deep. Do not cool these leftovers at room temperature before refrigerating.

It is because of all these restrictions and for sheer convenience that I tend to my wild turkey in a way that many hunters do; I simply slice open the breast skin, and pull it away from the breast meat. With a sharp knife I filet out the two breast meats producing two fine chunks. These can be roasted if so desired but most folks simply cut the breast meat into strips about and inch thick, soak in milk then roll in bread crumbs and then deep fry quickly.

Like many turkey hunters, when that recipe for cooking turkey breast meat came up from the South, I tried it. My family and I both loved it cooked that way and I have never cooked it any other way for over 30 years.

Wild turkey cooked this way is great for everything from Sunday dinner to a backyard barbecue. Another choice way to fix wild turkey is to take the entire breast filet and cook in the oven or crockpot until almost done . Then remove it from the crock pot, slice and serve with melted butter in which to dip the turkey. Just like lobster.

And a filet of turkey breast can be baked whole with any variety of sauces that may be your favorites. I find that the best cooking recipes are the simplest ones.

Because wild turkey does not have much fat in this meat, it will dry out if cooked too long. So be careful of that. It does not need to be cooked as long as domestic turkey or chicken.

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