A Wild Thanksgiving
John Kruse, November 15, 2020
Turkeys are running scared across the nation and for good reason, a lot of them are going to be consumed for dinner on November 26th! The vast majority of these Thanksgiving birds are store bought turkeys but have you considered some wild game alternatives?
The first option of course is the wild turkey. Turkey season remains open through the end of December in Northeast Washington and harvesting a turkey or two of either sex can make for a fantastic Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. With over 2500 birds harvested in the combined counties of Stevens, Ferry, Spokane and Pend Oreille last year chances for success are good.
Other options include wild pheasant. They are very tasty birds but you’ll need a couple of them to feed a small family and at least a three-rooster limit for a big meal. Unfortunately, wild pheasant can be hard to come by in the Evergreen State these days. Having said that, if you do want to work for your dinner the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports, “Grant County is the state’s top pheasant producer, averaging 12,000 birds harvested annually. Whitman County hunters harvested about 9,700 ring-necks a year over the past five years, followed by Walla Walla (7,100), Yakima (6,600) and Franklin (4,600) counties.”
Another option for pheasant hunters? Pen-raised birds that are released on to several of our State Wildlife Areas. This pheasant stocking program is not as robust as it used to be and in Eastern Washington, bird plants often only occur two or three times a season. Traditionally, these plants occur before the youth hunt, before the general season opener in October and either a few days or up to a week prior to Thanksgiving. You can download a document from WDFW with details about where these releases take place in Washington through this web link - https://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/02166
Turning from getting your holiday bird to cooking it I reached out to Ryan Neeley, the Marketing Manager for Camp Chef, who had some great advice about cooking turkey which applies to both the store bought and wild varieties:
1. Don’t over cook that bird! The standard turkey with a pop-out red meat thermometer shows that it’s done in your oven after the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees. Neeley says that temperature should be 165 degrees and that’s why so many people suffer through a dry turkey meat holiday meal.
2. Instead of putting that turkey in the oven, consider cooking it into a pellet grill. Smoke flavored wood pellets can infuse the meat with flavoring. One popular option for holiday turkeys? Applewood pellets. As for cooking the bird? Camp Chef (and other companies) have internal thermometers in the grill you can insert into the breast of the bird. Neely suggests seasoning the bird over and under the skin. After that, just set the pellet grill to 300 degrees and cook the bird until the temperature reaches 165 degrees for a fantastic meal.
3. Want to put more flavoring into the bird and get moist meat out of it too? Consider using a Turkey Cannon, a large tube sold by Camp Chef. Fill the tube with water, herbs and spices, beer or wine. This puts the moisture in the middle of the bird and helps cook it from the inside out. If you are cooking a pheasant you can use the ‘beer can chicken” method of cooking it for similar results.
4. There’s spatchcocking too. Neeley says this technique takes away from the presentation of the bird but since you are cutting it up anyway the flavor you get out of this cooking method makes it worthwhile. To spatchcock a bird you remove the spine from it, open up the bird, break the breastbone, and lay the bird flat on the grill. This helps the bird cook more evenly and also retains moisture in the meat.
If you want to find out more about cooking a holiday turkey or other birds (whether or not you are cooking them in a pellet grill) tips and advice are available at http://campchef.com
John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com
1. Pheasant hunters can provide a non-traditional holiday meal offering – John Kruse with a limit of roosters – Photo by Guy Miner.
2. A spatchcocked turkey in a pellet grill – Photo courtesy of Camp Chef