Turkey Tails: It’s What’s for Dinner
Reading Time: 4 minutes
This Thanksgiving, after guests spar over which turkey piece is theirs, you may be tempted to discard the leftover turkey tail. This is the triangular part at the end which when roasted turns crispy. However, many chefs argue that the “last part over the fence is the best bite of the bird.” I encourage you to try it, eat it, and use it to not only help with food waste but also to send a message to Big Ag and the globalized poultry industry.
After World War II the U.S. poultry industry was raising turkeys in excess. Producers foresaw Americans not enjoying turkey tail meat and started chopping it off prior to sale. Around the ‘50s and up until today, the trend of favoring white meat over dark meat prevailed. If turkey tails were offered, they probably would not have been favored. Turkey tail meat is dark and not technically the tail. It is the part that connects the showy feathers and houses the oil-preening gland. The meat industry, who were now amassing turkey tails saw a way to make a profit on a byproduct — exportation.
Samoans traditionally eat a healthy diet of bananas, coconut, taro, and seafood. Since meat was scarce on the islands, the poultry industry started discarding their turkey tails on the Samoan Islands. By 2007 the typical Samoan was consuming 44 pounds of turkey tails a year! As you can imagine, their once-healthy lifestyle became sickening with Samoans now having a 93% rate of being overweight or obese.
“It’s not just Samoa where those turkey butts end up; Micronesia is another destination,” Liza Lee Barron says. Barron, a good friend and medical reference librarian, lived in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the early 1990s and was surprised to see so many frozen turkey butts in the store. “They would ship them out there and they would dump them into an open freezer at the store. No packaging whatsoever! Turkey butt stew was popular.”
Barron adds, “Micronesians also suffer many health problems as a result of the introduction of the Western diet like type II diabetes, obesity, and all the problems that come from being overweight.”
In 2007, Samoa put a ban on the import of turkey tails to start healing their country. The ban on turkey tails influenced the locals to buy healthier food. The powerful U.S. poultry industry, of course, did not like this. Samoa had been trying to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) for years. When they applied to become members, they were told their application was blocked until they started allowing turkey tail imports! In 2011, the government of Samoa gave in and lifted the ban so they could participate in the WTO.
I think this story should be shared around the Thanksgiving table. More importantly, we as poultry enthusiasts collectively support homesteading, sustainability movements, and improving human rights. Maybe this will get you to start raising turkeys for food or income. If butchering turkeys isn’t your thing, maybe you would consider supporting farms, like Villari Foods, that sell turkey tails in the U.S. rather than exporting them to countries who don’t want them. Villari sells packaged turkey tails in Walmarts across the country. I’m not saying you should eat 44 pounds of it a year but give it a try.
Here is a recipe Villari Foods recommends on their website: Smoked Turkey Tails over Rice
- 6 Villari Brothers smoked turkey tails
- ½ green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons fresh chopped curly parsley
- Melt butter in large Dutch oven or stockpot. Add chopped onions, peppers, and celery and cook until onions are translucent (about four to five minutes).
- Add flour to the pot to make a roux. Cook roux until it begins to turn light brown in color. Add the broth or stock and whip until roux is dissolved into the liquid and sauce begins to thicken.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Place the smoked turkey tails in a large roasting pan.
- Stir the garlic powder, onion powder, and thyme into the sauce, and pour it over the Turkey Tails.
- Cover pot with lid or aluminum foil and let cook for 2½ hours.
- Uncover and stir smoked turkey tails. Replace cover and let cook for another hour.
- Remove from the oven and spoon the smoked turkey tails on a bed of white rice. Spoon the sauce over the turkey tails and rice.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley and serve.
While many recipes I found online involved using turkey tails to flavor beans and rice, collard greens, or stews some recipes used the turkey tail as the main course. I encourage you to try them roasted, smoked, slow-cooked, and marinated. It would be great to see what Backyard Poultry readers can come up with and we might even feature you in an upcoming issue. We must take responsibility for our food choices. I believe if you are going to eat meat, you should consume more of the carcass. People need to be treated fairly. We should not be putting onus on countries to buy our unhealthy byproducts.
Originally published in the October/November 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.