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Turkey Tasters Go Wild Over Gobblers Bagged By Hunters

Looking for a tastier turkey? Rob Keck says take a walk on the wild side.

Keck is executive director of the National Wild Turkey Federation and says there’s no comparison between the leaner wild birds and their plumper domestic cousins.

“I think I could prepare the wild and domestic turkey and you would prefer the wild over the domestic,” he said.

What would be missing is the beauty of the domestic bird roasting in the oven and the hours of aroma wafting through the house. Wild birds, which are more streamlined with long, strong legs to run away from predators, don’t roast well.

But make it fried, smoked or grilled, and Keck says there’s no choice.

The two birds are closely related. Today’s domestic bird is descended from birds raised by the Aztec Indians in Mexico and taken to Europe by the Spaniards a century before the English set foot on Plymouth Rock.

Breeding left a white bird with short legs and a huge breast that can barely fly.

Even as domestic flocks grew in North America, the wild turkey retained intense popularity and was hunted nearly to extinction as its habitat was destroyed.

But thanks to habitat improvements and nationwide restoration efforts, the wild turkey now thrives far beyond its historic range. There are an estimated 4 million wild turkeys today and there are hunting seasons in every state but Alaska.

The wild bird is so popular it has been introduced to areas as far away as New Zealand.

Keck’s Thanksgiving turkey was smoked whole. But he also likes to slice wild turkey breast across the grain, perhaps a quarter-inch thick, dip it in whipped egg and Italian bread crumbs and deep-fry it.

“You can take meat from the oldest, toughest gobbler and break it apart with a fork,” he said. “I fixed that dish Friday night at a deer camp. I had two breasts, which was too much for the small group, but by noontime the next day, there was not a piece to be found.”

He boils the legs and thighs (a pressure cooker speeds the process) and chops the meat up into a thick gravy to pour over the fried breast.

“We call that runnin’ gear gravy,” he said.

He also fries the sliced turkey breast in butter or chops it into bits and stir-fries it.