Several friends had inquired about our turkeys over the last month or so, and only needing one for ourselves, we decided to sell the others for the cost of their feed, oh, and you’ll need to help on processing day.  Sunday was processing day.

Will had everything set up by the fire pit.  An old beer keg with the top cut off was filled with water and placed on a large propane burner to bring everything to a boil.  The tables were covered with aluminum foil, knives were sharpened and pliers were on hand.  The hose, some dish soap and a container of bleach made for the cleaning station.  Garbage bags would hold the final product.  To some this will sound rustic, to many it probably sounds disgusting, but I promise you the process is clean. In an indoor processing facility, there are countless cracks and crevices where fluids can splatter unseen and bacteria can grow.  Working outside on covered tables in a space that hadn’t been used for slaughter for weeks, cleaned by the rain and the wonderfully sterilizing properties of the sun, I have full confidence in our little operation.  Even if it’s only a few steps above field dressing.

Once everyone arrived, it was time to gather the birds.  Since the turkeys were in a relatively small space, they were easy to catch.  You grab one, pick it up by the legs and once upside down, the bird no longer struggles.  The actual act of flipping them upside down can involve lots of flapping of giant wings, but once you get the hang of it and move quickly, things go a bit more smoothly for everyone, turkeys included.

Next is the actual killing part.  The bird is tied up by it’s feet.  You hold the head and cut the neck – you don’t want to cut the head off, just gently slice on each side of the throat to sever the artery.  You continue to hold the head while the bird bleeds out, so it doesn’t move around.  It is not pleasant, but at that point the bird is already dead.

Once the turkey drains, you head over to the hot water, which was brought to a boil to sterilize everything, but is now at a 140 degrees.  You dunk the bird for about 3 seconds, pull it out and let it cool down, and then dunk it again – you don’t want to actually cook the skin.  You immediately head over to a table and start plucking.  If any feathers are being particularly troublesome, you turn to the pliers, but otherwise this is the longest, most tedious part of the job.  When all the feathers are removed, the turkey is hosed off to clean all the feather-ness that sticks to the skin like a loose hair sticks to your leg in the shower.

Now it’s time for gutting.  First the head and feet come off.  Then you remove the oil gland on the tail.  There’s a hollow sac by the neck that you cut into to release the crop – this houses whatever the bird was last chewing.  Now you get serious – you “release the vent” which is basically cutting around the butt hole so that when you pull the guts out everything comes out clean and you don’t get poop everywhere.  This is the detail work, as getting this wrong means you get shit all over your bird, which not only sounds gross but is a genuine bio hazard.  Next you reach into the cavity and pull out all the guts.  You can’t see what you are doing and guts are ripping and sinews are tearing and you are slightly freaking out because you do not want to rupture the gall bladder – if that happens, your bird is inedible and irreparably so.  You pull everything out into a bucket.  Cut the gall bladder off the liver and save the liver – it makes for a nice pate.  Someone who knows more than us could save the gizzards but our birds always have gizzards full of grass so we’ve never been able to salvage them.  Reach back up into the cavity and remove the heart and lungs.  The lungs go in the bucket but the heart is worth saving – it’s nice pan fried (or, if that skeeves you, pan fry it and serve it as a treat for your dog).  Rinse the bird inside and out and put it in an ice water bath.  Once it’s cold, you can bag your bird and stick it in the fridge.

We’ve found that turkeys need to sit in the fridge about four days before eating.  Fresher than that and the rigamortis hasn’t subsided and the bird doesn’t taste right – it’s hard to explain what I mean, but trust me when I say you’ve just spent six months raising this bird and a good two hours dressing it, don’t rush the last little bit.