When you buy a turkey from a farmer or grocery store, you will likely have to gut it, which means cleaning out its inner organs, or innards. While hunters often do this themselves, the average cook who buys a turkey from the store still needs to know how to gut it in order to prepare it for a meal. Gutting a turkey is a straightforward process, as long as you have the correct tools for doing so.
EditGutting a Turkey
- Buy a turkey at the grocery store or from a local farmer. Turkeys come in various sizes, so you will want to pick a turkey whose size can feed the number of people you plan to serve.
- The rule of thumb is to buy 1 pound of turkey for every person you plan to serve. However, this does not allow for leftovers. If you would like to have leftovers, then you should plan to buy 1 ½ pounds of turkey per person. For example, if you want to serve eight people without leftovers, then you should buy an 8-pound turkey. However, if you want to have leftovers after serving those eight people, then you should buy a 12-pound turkey.
- Clean the surface on which you plan to prepare the turkey. It is important to avoid contaminating the turkey, so before beginning to gut it, you should be sure to thoroughly clean your work space.
- Use an antibacterial cleaning agent to wipe down the counter, and be sure that any other tools you plan to use, such as a cutting board and knives, are also cleaned with antibacterial dish washing liquid. Alternatively, you can wash down these surfaces and tools with hot, soapy water.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds prior to handling the turkey. Also be sure to wash under your fingernails, if necessary.
- Lay the turkey stomach-side down on your work surface or countertop and prepare your materials. Make sure that you have all necessary materials that you will need for gutting the turkey either on your person or within reach.
- Cutting board
- Knife or knives
- Gloves (note: latex-free gloves would be a good option, due to latex allergies in some people)
- Cut along the back of the neck to free the trachea and esophagus. This frees these two body parts so that they can effectively be removed later.
- This step is only necessary if your turkey still has the neck. If it does not, you can skip this step and move onto the next.
- Flip the turkey over onto its back. Do this carefully, since you have already made one cut in the turkey. Flipping the turkey over prepares you to make the cuts that will enable you to pull out all of the innards safely.
- Cut a horizontal slit in the skin of the turkey between the point its breastbone and its anus. The slit should be large enough so that you can fit your hand inside to pull out the innards.
- Take care while making this cut so that you do not puncture any of the innards.
- Insert your hand and remove the organs, including the heart and lungs. Pull out all of the organs and set them into the bowls you have set aside.
- Some organs will be able to be kept and cooked as offal, which is highly nutritious. These include the heart, liver, and gizzard. Other organs will have to be disposed of in a proper way.
- Slice down to the anus and carefully cut a circle around it. This loosens the intestine so that you can pull it out, along with the other digestive organs.
- You need to take care while doing making this cut because the digestive juices inside these organs will break down any meat on the turkey if they touch it.
- These are not organs that can be kept to cook, so set them aside in their own bowl to await proper disposal after you finish gutting the turkey.
- Pull out the trachea and windpipe. Again, this step is only necessary if your turkey has a neck.
- Remove the crop from the turkey’s neck. The crop refers to the sac in the turkey’s breast that stores the food it was eating. A store-bought turkey likely no longer has its crop, but it would be worthwhile to verify.
- Cut a slit in the turkey where the neck meets the chest and carefully pull it apart. Inside, you should see the crop. Clean it out completely.
- Move the turkey to the sink to be thoroughly rinsed. Be sure to use strong water pressure to rinse the turkey well, inside and out.
- It is important to remove any remaining blood and lung tissue before preparing the turkey for cooking.
- Use cool water in order to avoid bacteria growth, which will happen with heat.
- Pat the turkey dry with paper towels when you are done rinsing it. Once you have completed this step, you are ready to move on to preparing your turkey for cooking or for storage.
- Store the turkey in the refrigerator or freezer if you are not cooking it right away. Seal your turkey in a turkey roasting bag or a shrink wrap bag in order to store it.
- Only keep it in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking; if it will be weeks or months before you plan to cook it, it should be stored in the freezer until you are ready.
- Wash your hands, work space, and tools after gutting the turkey. You must again use antibacterial cleaning agents or hot, soapy water to clean all of your work space and tools, such as the knives and bowls. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water again to rid them of any bacteria.
EditDisposing of Turkey Innards
- Save the innards that can be cooked, which are known as the giblets. When you gutted the turkey, you set aside its innards in different bowls based on whether they could be cooked later or needed to be disposed of.
- Neck, if you have it on your turkey, can also be cooked and served.
- Store the giblets in the refrigerator or in the freezer. Depending on how quickly you plan to cook and serve the giblets, the freezer is likely the better option.
- If you plan to cook the giblets within a day or two, then wrap them securely in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and store them in the refrigerator until you cook them.
- If you want to save them longer term, wrap them in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and store them in the freezer. It is also a good idea to put them inside a freezer-safe bag for extra protection, up to four months.
- Be sure to get these items into the freezer before the “best by” date on the turkey’s wrapping.
- Dispose of the unused remains wisely. If you have a cat or dog all parts of the turkey that you won’t use can be fed to them, or you can give them to your pet owning neighbor.
- Otherwise, place the remaining innards in a trash bag for disposal. It would be best to double-bag these parts in order to prevent leakage if the first bag rips. You should include all of the innards that you are not keeping to cook later, such as the lungs, intestines, and gallbladder.
- If your community has a green bin program, put them in one of the disposable bags and keep it in the freezer until trash collection day, and then put it in the green bin or if not available dispose of the innards in a dumpster or outdoor trash can. The innards will likely start to smell foul, so it is best to take them directly to a dumpster, if possible, or to throw them away in an outdoor trash can that has a lid.
- Note that wild animals, like raccoons or bears, might try to get into the trash if they can smell the innards and other waste. Secure your outdoor trash can, if possible, so that they do not make a mess by spilling it.
- Start this process with plenty of time before needing to roast or cook your turkey. Gutting is a time-consuming process until you master it, so give yourself enough time to gut the turkey and have it cooked in time for serving it.
- Take great care not to puncture any of the digestive organs while gutting the turkey. The digestive juices inside them will break down the meat if they touch it.
- If your turkey is frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator instead of at room temperature. Thawing it at room temperature can cause dangerous bacteria to grow in the turkey.