wild turkey and cranberry sausage dressing
Jamie Carlson

How to Make Smoked Wild Turkey with Highbush Cranberry Gravy

Turn your Thanksgiving meal into a wild-game feast replete with a wild rice, cornbread, and duck sausage dressing

The wild turkey is one of America’s most iconic birds, and the main ingredient in many iconic meals, like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I was fortunate enough to bag a wild turkey this fall and I used it to make a version of my favorite holiday meal that I’m sure you’ll enjoy this season. For the best results, after you harvest a turkey, break the bird down into usable portions. Trying to cook a whole wild turkey is difficult because different portions of the bird don’t cook the same. The legs and thighs take a lot longer to cook than the breast portion, and trying to get it all to work at the same time is a hassle.

Step 1

two dead wild turkeys
Break the birds down into breasts, legs and thighs, wings, and the remaining carcass. You’ll use the carcass to make a wild turkey stock for the dressing and gravy. The two breasts are the main component in this recipe. You’ll use the legs, thighs, and wings for another meal so package them up and freeze them for another day.Jamie Carlson

Step 2

wild turkey breasts soaking in a brine
The night before you plan to make and serve this meal, make a simple brine and soak the breasts overnight for 8 to 12 hours.Jamie Carlson

Brine Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon of water
  • ½ cup salt
  • ½ cup maple sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • One head of garlic
  • A few sprigs of thyme

Directions:

  1. Combine the ingredients for the brine in a large stockpot and bring the water to a boil.
  2. As soon as it begins boiling, remove the stockpot from the heat and let the brine cool to room temperature before adding the breasts.
  3. Soak the breasts for 8 to 12 hours in a refrigerator.
  4. When you're ready to cook, remove the breasts from the brine and pat dry with a paper towel.
  5. Place the breasts in a smoker at 275 degrees until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 160 degrees (approximately 1 1/2 hours).

Step 3

packs of wild duck sausage
To keep the meal as "wild" as possible, throw together some duck, sage, and garlic sausage using the recipe from Michael Ruhlman's book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing for the dressing. If you don't want to make your own sausage for this recipe, any type of breakfast sausage or country pork sausage works well as a substitute.Jamie Carlson

Step 4

bowl of wild rice
In keeping with the “wild” theme of this meal, make stock from the turkey carcass to mix with soup rice. Soup rice is the leftover bits of broken wild rice and it tastes the same as whole wile rice, but it cooks a little faster and only costs $2 a pound in bulk. In a large sauce pot, add 1 cup of wild rice and 4 cups of wild turkey stock (or store bought turkey or chicken stock) and cook on medium/low heat until the rice is tender.Jamie Carlson
wild turkey stock
Making stock from otherwise useless parts is one of the best ways to get the most out of your wild game. It adds a depth of flavor you won't find anywhere else. If you follow my instructions, you can use the stock from your turkey carcass to make the dressing, wild rice, and gravy for this meal.Jamie Carlson

Step 5

cornbread and wild rice sausage dressing
Combine the ingredients to make a wild rice, cornbread, duck sausage dressing. The little, sweet and tart, dried cranberries mixed with a few cups of wild turkey stock give the dressing a unique flavor, and it’s actually one of the most interesting and delicious dressings you will ever have.Jamie Carlson

Wild Rice, Cornbread, and Duck Sausage Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of garlic, sage, and duck sausage, or you favorite country style or breakfast sausage
  • 2 1/2 cups of cooked soup rice
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 cups of dried cornbread crumbles
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 cups wild turkey stock (or store bought stock)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Brown the sausage in a large pan. After the sausage is cooked, remove it from the pan and set it aside on a plate or in a bowl.
  2. Add butter to whatever drippings are in the pan over medium/high heat.
  3. Next add the onions and the celery and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in the cooked soup rice, add the sausage back into the mix, and stir to blend it all together.
  5. Pour in cornbread crumbles, cranberries, and wild turkey stock and stir until the other ingredients absorb all the stock.
  6. Pour it all into a baking dish and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees before serving.

Step 6

butternut squash and parsnips
For a side dish, grab some parsnips from the garden and a butternut squash from the farm where you shot your turkey (or buy both at any grocery store). Dice the veggies into 1/2-inch cubes and toss them in a mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Then arrange it all on a sheet pan and roast the vegetables at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Roasted root vegetables have a fantastic flavor that goes perfectly with the fall theme of this dish.Jamie Carlson

Step 7

cranberry relish
No holiday meal is complete without the obligatory cranberry relish. You can kick it up a notch by using highbush cranberry jelly in the gravy, which adds a slight sweetness to the taste. If you don’t have highbush cranberry jelly, red currant jelly works as well. The highbush cranberry is a tart and flavorful berry that makes a very interesting jelly you can use to add flavor to sauces or just simply spread it on an English muffin.Jamie Carlson

Step 8

highbush cranberry gravy
As delicious as everything in this meal is, the gravy is the best part. It’s easy to make and it adds a terrific amount of flavor.Jamie Carlson

Highbush Cranberry Gravy

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups wild turkey stock
  • 3 tablespoons highbush cranberry jelly
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.
  2. Once it's melted, mix in flour to create a basic roux.
  3. Stir the roux for about five minutes until it starts to smell "nutty."
  4. Add the stock and continue stirring until the gravy thickens.
  5. Then stir in jelly and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Step 9

smoked wild turkey
When you’ve finished brining the turkey breasts, remove them from the brine and pat dry with a paper towel. Place both breasts in a smoker at 275 degrees. When the internal temperature of the meat reaches 160 degrees, remove the breasts from the smoker, and slice into 1/4-inch slices.Jamie Carlson

Step 10

wild hazelnuts
For one last touch of “wild” in this recipe, I pick some hazelnuts in northern Minnesota, though store-bought hazelnuts will work. After drying and roasting them, I sprinkle a few over the dressing and turkey to add a crunch and a little extra sweetness to balance out the smoky taste. Wild hazelnuts are very small (about the size of a lentil) so i leave them whole, but if you use larger store-bought hazelnuts, you might want to give them a rough chop with a knife.Jamie Carlson

Step 11

wild turkey and cranberry sausage dressing
The final plate looks fit for a king, and it’s absolutely delicious. Try to use as many wild ingredients as possible, but don’t be afraid to make substitutions with whatever you have available.Jamie Carlson