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How-to Content • Updated Wed, Jan 24, 2024

How to Cook Wild Turkey Barbacoa

For cuisine, innovation is often wed with tradition, crafting novel flavors from the mundane using age-old techniques and flavor profiles. Enter the realm of wild turkey — a hidden treasure waiting to burst forth with a symphony of taste, with parts of the bird often dismissed and overlooked. This recipe takes something seemingly ordinary and, with the flair of a willing culinary conjurer, can transform turkey parts into a masterpiece. Here is a delicious way to prepare your wild turkey, using the famed flavors of traditional, barbacoa-style cooking.

This article covers:

  • Genesis of The Recipe
  • Culinary Alchemy
  • Barbacoa Wild Turkey Recipe
  • Fresh Guacamole Recipe
  • Fresh Tortilla Recipe
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Cooking Wild Turkey

Genesis of The Recipe

After a successful day hunting, we want to make something special out of your bird that you put so much effort into harvesting. Most recipes will discard the legs and only use the breast meat, losing the richness involved with proper dark meat. Early attempts with slow-cooker style recipe variations birthed a tangy, yet distant cousin of pulled pork. Delectable, but far from the essence of turkey itself. A craving surfaced—a need for a natural recipe that honored the very essence of this underrated cut of meat. Enter the sacred knowledge of traditional Mexican barbacoa—an ancient practice of wrapping meat in banana and avocado leaves, now distilled into a simplified Dutch oven adaptation. 

This method reveled in natural spices and aromatics, enhancing flavors without losing the turkey's inherent character. The outcome was a meat so tender, it easily surrendered to the fork's touch. Slow cooking became the lifeblood, using the post-meat extraction for a salsa, reinvigorating the meat with the essence of its own juices. Freshness emerged as a cornerstone—an ode to the adaptation of Barbacoa's preparation style.

The recipe, embracing the bone-in legs, ensnared additional flavor from within the bone marrow. Storebought or raised turkey is much lighter and less robust, whereas wild turkeys are running to survive. Because of this, wild turkey legs are tender and strong, and when properly butchered and prepared, invoke a monumental flavor. Simple in preparation, yet a patient endeavor in time, its true magic unfolded in the assembly—nestled within homemade tortillas, bedecked with guacamole or salsa verde—a seamless fusion of flavors. 

The epiphany? This method transcended leg-centricity—unlocking the culinary potential of whole birds, doubling the canvas for a flavorful feast. So a revelation emerged—a way to honor the overlooked turkey legs and transform them into a culinary delight. 

Culinary Alchemy

The roster of ingredients reads like a homage to Mexico’s spice repertoire: guajillo, ancho, pasilla chiles, Tellicherry peppercorns, lime, onion, celery, carrot, apple cider vinegar, garlic, oregano, cumin, thyme, and bay leaves. These allies united in braising the turkey, yielding succulent tenderness. This recipe is more than flavor; it’s a feast for a gathering, acknowledging the bountiful size of wild turkeys. And the secret? It embraces the entire bird, unveiling a culinary abundance. From friends to skeptics of wild game, this dish unites all in celebration. It’s not just about turkey legs; it’s about unlocking a hidden culinary realm from an underappreciated gem.

So, the next time you glimpse those disregarded turkey legs, remember this transformation. With a dash of barbacoa magic, the resounding anthem echoes: "You will never discard your turkey legs again."

Barbacoa Wild Turkey Recipe

Ingredients

  • Turkey meat
    • breasts, legs, thighs, and tenderloin are all fair game
  • Whole chiles:
    • 6 guajillo
    • 1 ancho
    • 1 pasilla
    • Up to 4 arbol (for spice)
  • 2 limes, squeezed
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 4 bay leaves
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Whole black telicherry peppercorns
  • ½ cup yellow onion
  • ¼ cup celery
  • ½ cup carrot
  • ½ cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Water for braising
  • Avocado and banana leaves (optional)

Directions

  1. Char chiles in hot cast iron before removing seeds for 3-5 minutes.
  2. While doing this, coat the bottom of the dutch oven with olive oil and brown your 2 turkey legs and thighs. You can also add any breast meat/tenderloin you wish to cook. (If using the alternative banana leaf preparation, see below).
  3. Once browned, add water to the dutch oven for braising, along with celery, yellow onion, carrot, chiles, whole black tellichery peppercorns, salt, garlic, oregano, cumin, thyme,  and bay leaves.
  4. Allow to simmer for 4-5 hours, or until meat is falling off the bone. Stir occasionally.
  5. Remove meat and place on a baking tray to cool off slightly before pulling.
  6. Remove bay leaves from the remaining liquid in dutch oven, then pour the remaining contents into a blender or food processor.
  7. Blend until smooth and set aside in a bowl for serving.
  8. Serve with authentic guacamole and handmade tortillas for a proper feast (see recipes below).

Alternative Preparation using Banana and Avocado Leaves

  1. Before placing anything in the dutch oven, unwrap your banana leaves and lay them flat. On a hot griddle or pan, slightly sear them for 15 seconds on each side and repeat for each one.
  2. Line the dutch oven with your banana leaves and make sure to cover the bottom. 
  3. Sprinkle the avocado leaves on top of the banana leaves, then add the meat, fillings, and spices per the directions above.

Fresh Guacamole Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4-6 large avocados
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • ½ cup cherry or Roma tomatoes
  • ¼ to ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder, or 1 minced garlic clove
  • Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Halve the avocados and remove the seeds. 
  2. Place the avocado flesh in a large bowl.
  3. Fold in lime juice and spices and mash it to be slightly chunky
  4. Mix in the rest of the ingredients slowly
  5. Serve in a large bowl with tortilla chips

Fresh Tortilla Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ⅓ cup of shortening
  • 1 cup of hot water

Directions

  1. Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and mix.
  2. Slowly add the shortening until it is a coarse meal.
  3. Find a large surface and sprinkle flour on it. Fold and work the meal into a dough ball.
  4. Separate the dough ball into 10 equal portions, rolling each on the surface.
  5. Cover the dough balls in a damp, clean kitchen towel and let it rest on the counter for 30-45 minutes.
  6. After this resting period, place an ungreased griddle/pan/skillet over medium heat.
  7. Grab a rolling pin and roll each dough ball into tortillas on your floured surface. Start by pressing it forward, then backward without passing the edge. Turn it 45 degrees and repeat until it forms a circle.
  8. Place the tortilla on your hot griddle and flip when browned, after bubbles form. Once flipped, keep it on for 10 seconds, then take it off the griddle. Cook each one until you have a whole stack.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cooking Wild Turkey

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