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Tough Turkey, How to Use More Meat

This article originally appeared in CARNIVORE Issue 2

Rather Than Discarding Those Stringy Legs, Use a Pressure Cooker to Turn Them Into Tender and Delectable Meals

Wild turkeys have the reputation of being rough and tough birds. Many predators in the woods want to kill and eat them, and when they aren’t evading threats, they’re fighting each other for a place in the pecking order. But what makes them tough enables them to survive. These strengths can make turkeys difficult to harvest, especially if you’re hunting hard-to-call gobblers in areas heavily pressured by other hunters.

When you’re lucky enough to harvest one, you’ll find yourself with wild meat that also has a bad reputation of being tough, lean, and dry. It’s a well-earned reputation. Although wild turkey breast meat is very good, it’s certainly not a plump, juicy “butterball.” Its untamed life and everyday diet of insects, seeds, and other rough forage is reflected in its texture, but that also makes its flavor profile much more complex and satisfying than anything you can buy in a store.

Additionally, wild turkey thighs and drumsticks are naturally tough. Some claim this meat to be inedible and even discard it as garbage. Wild turkeys depend on their legs to jump into high roosts, leap over streams and fences to find each other, and to run from predators and hunters, so it’s no wonder these strong legs are tough to eat. Fortunately, there are solutions to turn these robust birds into succulent dishes that’ll make you wish Thanksgiving came every month.

A Steamy Solution
One of the best ways to prepare breasts, thighs, and legs for tender, succulent, and juicy dishes is to use a pressure cooker. And since this old-fashioned cooking tool has been around for decades, recipe options are almost limitless.

Pressure cookers are on the comeback because they make delicious food quickly and safely, no doubt spurred on by all those mouth-watering infomercials. They’re especially ideal for wild game, because anything that you’d braise, stew, or boil can be made in a pressure cooker — but faster. A venison stew that would normally take at least two-and-a-half hours to cook takes as little as half an hour. And safety valves mean that, unlike the pressure cookers of the past, today’s cookers won’t blow their lids.

Tender Turkey Recipes
Wild turkey is infamously time consuming and tricky to cook to tenderness. You could slow cook your turkey all day, or you could try these delicious pressure cooker recipes that you can knock out in as little as one hour.

Adapting recipes for chicken or turkey, we found that wild turkey needed between 30 to 45 minutes longer to reach tenderness. Pressure cooker recipes often have two phases of cooking. The first phase involves getting the meat mostly cooked in a liquid such as broth. The second phase consists of adding in more delicate ingredients such as vegetables or pasta. This allows you to adjust phase one to get your wild turkey to desired tenderness, without rendering the accompaniments to mush.

If you’re using an electric pressure cooker, simply set the cooker for the amount of time indicated in the recipe. You don’t have to wait for it to come to pressure. For stovetop pressure cookers, set the burner to medium-high to bring the temperature/pressure up and once pressure is reached, turn the burner down to medium for the rest of the cooking time. You may have to turn the heat up or down to maintain pressure for the duration.

Wild Turkey White Chili
This is the gateway drug for guests who’ve never experienced the joys of wild game — it uses familiar-looking breast meat, so there’s less culture shock involved. Top this white chili with sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and green onions. If you’re feeding folks with varying heat tolerance, you can add the jalapeno as a topping.

turkey chili

Ingredients: (Serves 6 to 8)
+ 2 pounds boneless, skinless turkey breasts
+ 3 cups chicken broth
+ 1 teaspoon salt
+ ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
+ 1 teaspoon cumin
+ 2 teaspoons chili powder
+ 1 teaspoon ground coriander
+ 1 cup minced onion
+ 2 cloves garlic, minced
+ Two 15-ounce cans Great Northern beans, drained
+ One 10.75-ounce can tomatoes with green chilies
+ 1 green jalapeno, diced (optional)
+ 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
+ ½ cup shredded Monterey Jack or mild cheddar cheese

1. Place the turkey, broth, salt, black pepper, cumin, chili powder, coriander, onion, and garlic into the pressure cooker and secure the lid.

2. When pressure is achieved, set a timer for 45 minutes (see note above about achieving pressure for electric or stovetop cookers).

3. When cook time is up, fully release pressure (follow manufacturer instructions), carefully remove lid.

4. Add the beans, tomatoes, jalapenos, and half the cilantro.

5. Secure the lid, (for stovetop cooker, achieve pressure again) and set timer for 5 minutes.

6. Repeat step 3.

7. Stir in the cheese and remaining cilantro.

Pulled Turkey Drumstick Sliders
Turkey legs are the trickiest to get a tender result from, but the pressure cooker does the job in one-third of the time. When pressure-cooked for several hours, the leg bones along with all the cartilage, gristle, and tough connective tissues fall off and can easily be picked out and discarded. You’re left with several cups of tender, delicious turkey meat that’s free from its tough reputation. Even a small spring Jake is likely to produce 4 cups of high-quality meat. A pressure cooker is simply the best way to process and eat turkey drumsticks — using a crockpot or Dutch oven would require 6 to 8 hours for similar results.

turkey legs

1) Put drumsticks (can be frozen) into pressure cooker and completely submerge in water. Follow the instructions for your pressure cooker and cook drumsticks for 3 hours.

2) Cool meat to working temperature and simply shred the meat with a knife and fork or tear with clean hands, easily removing any tough cartilage and rubbery elements that make drumsticks and thighs hard to eat.

3) There are many ways to prepare shredded wild turkey. Add your favorite barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomato, and serve on a bun. Or swap out the barbecue sauce for buffalo sauce topped blue cheese dressing. Two drumsticks are typically enough make two large sandwiches or four sliders.

Wild Turkey Cacciatore

Serve this classic Italian dish with garlic, pressure-cooked mashed potatoes.

Ingredients (Serves 4):
+ 2 pounds wild turkey breast
+ ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
+ 1 teaspoon salt
+ ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
+ ½ teaspoon garlic powder
+ 1 cup thinly sliced onion
+ 1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
+ ½ cup red wine
+ ½ cup chicken broth
+ 1 cup canned diced tomatoes
+ 1 teaspoon capers

1. Place the turkey into the cooker and season with the Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

2. Add the onion, bell pepper, wine, broth, tomatoes, and capers and secure the lid.

3. When pressure is achieved, set a timer for 45 minutes (remember note about achieving pressure for electric or stovetop cookers).

4. When the cook time is complete, fully release pressure and carefully remove lid.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

A classic side dish that pairs well with Wild Turkey Cacciatore and other hearty meat dishes.

Ingredients (Serves 4 to 6):
+ 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes peeled and halved
+ ½ cup chicken broth
+ 2 whole garlic cloves, crushed
+ ½ teaspoon salt
+ ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
+ ¼ cup heavy cream, warmed
+ 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Place the potatoes, broth, garlic, salt and pepper into the pressure cooker and secure the lid.

2. When pressure is achieved, set a timer for 7 minutes (remember note above about achieving pressure for electric or stovetop cookers).

3. When the cook time is complete, fully release pressure and carefully remove lid.

4. Drain the liquid and add the cream and melted butter, then mash until potatoes are smooth.

Researched and Recommended

Every pressure cooker will simmer a pot of beans or braise a tough cut of meat, and the end result is more or less the same. But the qualities to look for in electric and stovetop models differ slightly. The differences lie in ease of use and how well they sear meat. Poorly designed electric cookers have complicated interfaces and nonsensical instruction manuals. Flimsy stovetop cookers scorch while searing meat and have lids that are difficult to attach.


Electric models are more hands-off than the stovetop versions as they have heat/pressure sensors that auto adjust for you. They’re really multi-cookers, in that they pressure cook, slow cook, sauté, steam, and make rice. Browning your food is where the stovetop versions win out though. Cleaning an electric pressure cooker can also be a little tricky. The lid, in particular, has many nooks and crannies for food to hide. The best cookers have a simple lid assembly with a removable gasket and detachable lids.

One of the most popular and affordable electric cookers delivers a super-easy pressure-cooking experience and includes a slow-cooker and rice cooker mode. Compared with other electric models, this model has more heat settings, its uncoated inner pot is more durable than nonstick ones, and it’s also one of the best for sautéing. A major bonus is the detachable lid, making it much easier to clean. The Instant Pot comes in 5-, 6-, and 8-quart sizes, but the 6-quart version will satisfy most home cooks.

Price: $99 to $130


Stovetop cookers are simple to operate, have the ability to get a good sear on meats, and deeply caramelize vegetables and aromatics. If you like cooking large batches of any dish, stovetop models come in sizes up to 10 quarts, unlike electric models that top out at 8.

This model browned meats and aromatics better than most stovetop pressure cookers — and all electric cookers — and has a wide base (heats up faster and browns meats better), good price, and easy-to-read controls. It’s a better choice than the Instant Pot if you want to sear meat directly in the pot, if you want more control over depressurization, and if you want shorter cooking times with its higher pressure levels — as long as you don’t mind keeping an eye on the pot. Unlike cheaper models, it has two pressure settings, so you can cook at low pressure for delicate fish or vegetable dishes, and at high pressure for roasts and beans. This model is a balance of good price and performance that’ll make most people happy.

Price: $115 to $120

TOP RATED BUDGET: Presto 8-Quart Stainless Steel

1813 #3

If you want to try pressure cooking with a smaller investment, then this basic pot is a solid place to start. It’s a basic yet sturdy stainless steel pot. The lid has a jiggler for maintaining pressure and a safety valve, plus clean up is easy.

The Presto offers only one pressure setting, and you have to keep a closer eye on the controls to ensure the pressure is maintained. Its wide shape makes searing meat possible, if kept to small batches.

Price: $58 to $65

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