Monday, November 11, 2013

Skinning A Turtle


Both my husband and I having grown up in the country have eaten many kinds of meat other than the traditional beef/pork/chicken purchased at your local corner grocer. My own grandfather trapped to supplement his income and O Wise One's grandfather trapped also. Many of the ways of trapping and skinning were passed down to O Wise One from his grandfather. As for myself having grown up literally on the banks of a river in southeast Louisiana much of our meat came from the rivers, bayous and swamps surrounding us. Crabs, shrimp, crayfish, frogs, turtles, fish and rabbits were just part of the local fare. 

Recently after mentioning in a post about butchering turtles several of you expressed interest so I decided to do some posts on turtles including butchering, preparing the meat and canning and then a post on cooking it.  To start this string of posts I am going to post how to kill and butcher them. For those of you that are squeamish DO NOT READ this post past this point!  


First problem is finding your turtles. We butcher snapping turtles. Not sliders or stink pots but snappers. Back home in Louisiana some call them "cooter" turtles. Be careful handling these babies because they don't call them snappers for nothing! Snappers are usually found near water and many times neighbors will bring us one that was caught on their hook while fishing the local farm ponds and rivers. In the spring many times you can find them crossing the back roads during mating season. Safest way to pick them up is by the tail!! Common snapping turtles are not endangered however their cousin the alligator snapper is rare but are not found this far north.  

Always check with your local wildlife conservation department for laws on harvesting turtles in your area. In Missouri you must have a valid fishing license to possess turtles. A daily limit is 5 and possession limit is 5. 

We are picky about where our turtles come from. You do not want a turtle out of someone's sewage lagoon. Most of our turtles come from farm ponds or rivers.  


Once we have a turtle they go into an old watering tank set out under a shade tree by the garden. We want to keep them in there for about 6 to 8 weeks. We do this to flush the mud and impurities out of them that can collect in their shells and constantly add clean water as it evaporates and we even change the water regularly so that they always are in really clean water. During this time we also feed them. My husband saves fat, skin, gizzards, hearts and such from butchering chickens, fish and rabbits. This can be frozen for future turtle food. When fed regularly this helps to fatten them up for butchering also. When you skin those summer fish the entrails and such feed the turtles. By the end of summer they are ready to butcher. 


You will need the following tools. Long handles pliers(water pump pliers), large nails, fish skinning pliers, fillet knife and a heavy hunting type knife. This particular one is a military knife and it needs to be heavy duty. A hammer and a board about 2 to 3 foot long. Water is also helpful to wash away blood.


 To kill the turtle you are going to tap the front of the shell and get your turtle to open it's mouth. Grab the top lip with your pliers and pull the head to extend it and quickly cut the head off with your heavy knife. Make sure your knives are sharp before you begin. Now let your turtle bleed out. Sometimes it helps to hang the turtle upside down so that the blood drains quicker. 


Your turtles muscles will still continue to move so this requires some wrestling but grab those feet and extend them and you want to cut them off at the first knuckle right behind the claw. It is nothing but gristle right there and you should be able to cut it with a good fillet knife.  


Now take that good sharp fillet knife and run it between the top and bottom shell between the two legs. There is a little groove right there on the side. Your knife should go right in that groove. 


Now run that sharp fillet knife around the shell cutting the skin away from the top shell. 


Once cut away from the shell you will have to take your heavy military knife and tap it with a hammer through the bony neck to release the top portion of the shell. It will still be connected at the tail. 


Lift that top shell at the neck.


Hold the bottom and twist the top shell separating it at the tail. 


Now you want to clean off all entrails leaving nothing but meat and tendons. When you clean the entrails out the neck will come out also. Save this because this piece is the best piece of meat according to my husband. This is one of the few white portions of meat on the turtle other than the back strap.  


Now take one of your large nails and nail it through the middle of your turtle through the bottom plate of the shell or skid plate to your board to hold it down.


Run your filet knife just under the leg skin of all 4 legs and split the skin.


With your fillet knife skinning out that front leg meat by simply running your knife between the meat and the skin all the way around leg. You cut it loose in one place where it attaches to the shell. 


Then remove the entire leg bone and all. 


Your front leg meat should look like this. 


Now repeat the process on the rear legs. The rear legs will come out attached as one piece. Simply take your heavy knife and tapping it between the two legs to break them apart where the tail once was. This separates each leg. 


This will give you 4 legs and a neck piece. 


You are almost finished. Now for that back strap which is probably the best piece of the turtle. Take the upper shell And place your heavy knife right beside the backbone and tap with hammer breaking through ribs. Now go to the other side of the rib and repeat. 


Now run your fillet knife underneath this strip and lift. You should get a strip of pure meat. Remove the strip on the other side of the backbone the same way.  


Now trim the small rib pieces off your back strap and you are done. 

We then soak our meat overnight in salt water to clean and help draw out the blood.  An average turtle will yield about  2 pounds of meat. Twenty years ago my husband used to sell turtle meat around the New Orleans area. It averaged then about $16 a pound. Turtle meat does not taste like chicken and is a darker and richer meat almost similar to a veal. 

From there your meat can be canned or frozen for future use. Next I will post how to can the meat. 

Blessings from The Holler

The Canned Quilter


37 comments:

  1. Great post! Thanks for a thorough description of the process!

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  2. Awesome post! TY Can't wait for the rest of the series.

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  3. I've never seen anything like this! What an interesting post this was :O) I had fried frog legs years ago but never have I tried eating turtle.

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  4. I never wanted to eat turtle and now I REALLY DO NOT want to eat turtle. Thanks for the post anyway. I love your
    blog!!!!

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    1. Sorry : ) It will be over soon and we are now past the bad part!

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    2. I agree with Anonymous, above, on both counts! Thank you so much for this info. Sorry to ask, but do you kill your chickens this way, too? By that I mean, do you just chop off their heads, or do you slit their throats? I couldn't bear to have them suffer, so I'm in the chop-the-head-off camp.

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    3. Then throw it out & order a Pizza & wings.

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  5. Good post! Thanks for the step by step.

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  6. Thank you for posting the very detailed steps. I'm going to have to figure out what our pond turtles are. All are probably half the size of the occasional snapping turtle we run across which look to be about the size of the one you showed.

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  7. My dad had a drag line business and he would find all sorts of turtles when he was working, we would always have a big turtle fry in the summer, turtle & roastin' ears.

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  8. Very interesting post. Thank you to you and O Wise One for the detailed tutorial. I learn something every day!

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  9. Awesome step by step post. Thank you for showing this. My sister in law's grandfather used to own a tavern in our small town many years ago. He had his own ponds that he had snappers in and would make turtle soup for the tavern. People would stop in just for the soup and small town talk. When he passed away so did his recipe.

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  10. Thank you for the great post! Since I have always lived in the Pacific Northwest I didn't even know people ate turtles :)

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  11. Thank you for this post. My husband and I cleaned and ate our first snappers this summer. I do have a word to the wise: The cleaning process takes a LONG time when you're first learning how to process a turtle. But the meat is great!

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  12. Ok. I am totally grossed out now :) I grew up with my dad, grandfather's and uncles "noodling" for turtles, skinning them and eating them. The meat is very tasty! Every labor day we have a family gathering where we serve venison, turtle, wild turkey, fish and chicken for the faint of heart.

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  13. YUCK. And, watching a rerun of Duck Dynasty where they are catching turtles as I read this....But, I guess if I was starving, that turtle would probably taste ok. But, for now, YUCK.

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  14. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE turtle meat. Unfortunately, it's been many years since I've had any. I'd pick turtle over steak any day.

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  15. Wow! Great post, no turtles around here, so this is something I have never seen done.

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  16. Is it really necessary to slaughter and eat anything you see that moves? God blessed you with plenty of food from your garden and there is always a good grocery store with good food to purchase. I understand that you trying to be as self sufficient as possible but really this is inhumane and gross. If your family were poor and starving then I could go along with what you do to animals but this goes way out of reason for this day and time. I am not an activist but I feel so sad for any animal that comes near your farm. I regularly read your blog but I am so repulsed by this post that I am not sure if I will return not knowing what horror might be shown. Do you feel any compassion for the animals when slaughtering them or when eating them knowing what a horrible death they suffered?

    Sue B.

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    1. Sue B.. Do you know how your food gets to the grocery store? You should go watch videos of how Americas meat gets to market.. Not only is that inhumane, its disgusting & dangerous.

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    2. My local grocery store sells turtle.. I don't think that's any different than catching and butchering it myself.. And I'm not sure I'd call this inhumane butchering.. Cutting the head off is pretty effective.. The way it's done for mass meat production is far worse.. I'd rather support people like this than big corporate companies that don't care how food is produced..

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    3. At least she knows what is in her food. I agree with Kimberly, go search out how chickens are butchered before they get to the market. I bet you won't want to eat chicken again. I support Canned Quilter as they are hard workers and obviously enjoy what they are doing.

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    4. I see nothing wrong with what Canned Quilter has done. It is called surviving. I agree with Kimberly, too, meat purchased in stores goes through worse things to get butchered for our consumption. I am new to Canned Quilter's blog, but will be back often to catch up on all the stuff I have missed. Sunnie

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    5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  17. Thank you so much for this post. It is obvious it took time on your part to photograph the process and for that I am grateful. People forget that the meat they eat is processed in some way. Id rather it be done where I can see its done right!

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  18. Wow.. very cool! Thank you so much for sharing how it is done.. My dad used to bring home all manner of wild game when I was a kid but I dont remember eating turtle at home.. I love your way of life and the wisdom you share with us all.. Thank you so much for it.. Too bad more Americans dont live like this.. There would be a whole lot less sick people in the world.

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  19. Thanks for this informative post! I had never thought to keep them a while to flush them out and clean impurites! Will definately try next summer. When we catch a big snapper at our pond, I relocate it at a nice big stream area down the road, but I will be keeping them next time! Do you only do this in warm weather months? I think turtle raising may be my next homestead adventure~~lol! Now my next question is what is your favorite way to prepare it? Again, thanks! Looking forward to the next post.

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  20. Very surprised you didn't point out the glands that will ruin the meat if cut!

    In my youth I caught a huge snapper and my father brought it to "Tarzan Brown" (Boston Marathon fame) who nailed it to a tree and cleaned it. He was the one who pointed out the criticality of not contaminating the meat.

    Also he showed us five different colors / shades of meat found in such large ones. I caught it in '63 and shell had '48 and '56 scratched on it to give you an idea of size!

    Jim Sminkey
    Westerly RI

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  21. Colorful life of Tarzan ~~~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellison_Brown

    Ironically I was working at the "Wreck" summer of '75 he was murdered! He was a great guy who would actually chew bar glasses for another drink!

    Jim Sminkey

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  22. Never noticed how graphic this stuff is until I see it on the internet like this haha. I've always just hurried and got the job done in my backyard but I guess there needs to be good tutorials like this. Great images and you couldn't have done a better job explaining it!

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  23. Thank you for having this blog. When I was a kid, I caught a large alligator turtle, (or rather grabbed my dad by the hand and showed him where it was). He grew up in WV and hadn't had turtle since he was a small boy. So he took that time to show me how to make turtle soup. It was delicious. I hadn't had one since but even so, I forgot most of what he showed me since I was so small and we never had another. It brought back memories of how my father use to live on the farm and how they would supplement different meat for their table.

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  24. Thank you for the amazing post! Now I think we can tackle our first turtle. Very informative and well done!

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  25. Oh my goodness the memories. I am full blooded Cajun French, born and raised in Southern Louisiana, in Iowa, Louisiana to be exact. I have butchered and eaten many a turtle. My daddy and I would love to eat any eggs they may have in them. Some people don't like the eggs, cause even boiled, the white of the egg never cooks, but the yolk does, we put alittle salt on it. Growing up, I was the one out of the four kids that always helped my daddy butcher the turtles. I thank you for sharing you story, as it brought back really good memories, and now it is making me hungry for turtle. I live in Missouri now, near St. Louis. And my mama and daddy are both in their 80's, still live in Louisiana, and they still catch and eat turtles, and the occasional gator.

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  26. I also am from the Pacific Northwest so I had no idea that turtles were still eaten. I have heard of turtle soup of course but thought that it was cooked from endangered turtles which I wouldn't be interested in! I have one question... are the shells still in good shape when you are done? Is there something that can be done with them? I'm thinking like curing them and using them in some way.

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    1. A woman after my own heart! Years ago my husband and I would dry and clean the turtle shells and then carve them and I would then paint wildlife scenes on them. Then my husband would put a protective coating on them and mount clock works on them. We would sell these at the occasional art fair/festivals and such.

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