With the butchering done and the bird sufficiently bled out (until its barely dripping), you’ll have a decision to make: should you pluck or skin it?
Plucking is most common, which means the skin is left intact on the bird while feathers are removed. While it takes longer, I believe the end result is worthwhile! Benefits to leaving the skin include a) natural fats and richly flavored meat, b) a moist and tender meat. Don’t forget about crispy flavored skin either! A favorite!
Skinning involves removing skin with feathers intact. Its quick but you’ll also have a drier bird when baking. If stewing or pressure canning the meat, this method is perfect as the skin is usually thrown out.
The procedure for gutting the bird is the same, whether skinned or plucked.
How to Pluck Your Birds
There are two methods to plucking your birds. Dry plucking is not recommended if you have more than 1-2 birds, while scald-plucking does well with any number.
After the bird’s nerves have settled, remove from cone and immediately begin remove wing and tail feathers as they are the toughest to pull when bird has cooled down. Upon removing all of ’em, begin on wings and around the base of legs. Work your way over the bird and finish before butchering another one. Note: if perchance the skin rips, the bird’s skin is too hot in the given area. Move elsewhere and come back a minute or two later.
You’ll need at least a 3 gallon pot for scalding the turkeys! An outdoor propane stove is nice for this purpose. Water ought to be heated to approx 145F (62C-63C). It shouldn’t burn the finger to do a quick dip, but neither should your hand be comfortable if ya submerged it! And truly? You’ll never get the perfect temperature! Some bird’s skins are tougher than others, were already cooler because they were butchered first, were more stressed, etc.
Remove the hanging turkey’s head with a knife. Take the bird and submerge in water by pushing down on the feet. Test the mostly-submerged tail feathers. If they pop out when gently tugged upon, the bird is ready.
Its easiest to pluck a bird when hung by the feet. A tarp or even rubbermaid bins placed strategically below will help to contain the feathers. Again, begin with wing and tail feathers. Once removed start at the top of legs and work your way down. Let the feathers fly! Except they won’t because they’re wet!
If the skin rips when you pull feathers, it was submerged for too long (or water was too hot) and skin partially cooked in the heat. Let it cool a wee bit before proceeding.
These machines can usually be rented at a reasonable price. As they cut back plucking to at least 1/6 of the time, they may be a worthwhile choice. If you have a friend with an automatic plucker, you are in luck! Be careful though, as they tend to tear the skin. When scalding, its best to be a wee bit on the “less warm” side than over done with these rubber-finger machines! But make certain you have an ‘open plucker’ as turkeys may not fit into the contained types intended for chickens.
Skinning the Bird
Don’t wanna mess with feathers? This is your method! Remove the bird’s head and leave it hanging by its feet. A strong rope or baling twine is needed for this procedure. Lots of weight will be applied to those strings!
Begin while the bird is still warm, just after its nerves have calmed. Starting at the feet, remove feathers until 1 inch of skin is exposed. Pinch and pull it out with one hand and with the other, cut a finger-width slice in the skin. Hook a finger in and, putting your weight into it, pull downward. The skin ought to rip smoothly. Do the same for the other leg. Cut across the breast skin and take the lower half downward.
You’ll get hung up at the wings-guaranteed! Cutting them off at the second joint enables you to keep most of the meat (yes, they have a decent amount) and allows for easy skinning. To remove the flight feather insert a sharp knife and run it down, almost parallel to the side-bone. The quills will slide away with the skin.
As the tail is mostly fat and holds onto the tail feathers, it is easily removed. Beginning with the bird’s back facing you, slice through the tail and toward the vent. The challenge? To cut through either just before or just at the bird’s vent. Extending too far can be messy…and ain’t nobody who wants that!
Some feathers will cling around the legs. Take hold of the bird and slice upward, as if you were carving bark off a stick. Once you’ve reached the joint, cut through and pop the legs off.
Video of skinning the bird…coming soon!