How to Clean a Snapping Turtle

I was down on the creek fishing a few weeks ago and what did my wondering eyes see? Yep, a snapping turtle trying to hurry and get to deeper water because he knew he had been spotted. I didn’t bother jumping down the bank and grabbing him this time but I usually do that once or twice a year. Snapping turtles are prevalent here in Kansas. You’ll see them walking through pastures or crossing the road. You may catch one on the end of your fishing line or just see one up in the shallows like I did. So the hard part isn’t catching one but rather cutting into it. At least it was for me. The shell is a nightmare to get off if you don’t know where to cut and when. I’ll walk you through the process so if you’ve never tried snapping turtle, you can now!

Step 1: Get a snapper. They can be easily handled by the tail, just stay away from their head.

Step 2: Stand on the back of its shell and give it a good smack in the nose, driving its head back towards its shell. This will render the turtle stunned for a bit. While the turtle is still out of its wits grab its head with a pliers or your hand and pull up. Make a quick clean cut from its throat, navigating through its spine, and finally cut the head off. This method, if done right, will make a very quick and clean dispatch for the turtle.
Step 3: I use a 2×12 with a 16 penny nail drove through the bottom sticking up to hold my turtle in place. Simply drop the turtle upside down on the nail and it’ll stay in place while you cut it up. This way also allows you to spin the turtle as you work. Begin by cutting off each foot. The joints are about an inch behind the claws. Use your knife to gently find your way between joints. This will prevent the turtle from clawing and scratching you during the butchering process.

Step 4: Now to get the shell off. Cut right down the center of the bottom plate to its vent; use a wooden baton if needed. Then cut around the perimeter of the shell.
Step 5: Skin the turtle from the middle out. Be careful when starting because the front shoulder blade is right next to the bottom shell. Once again, let your knife “feel” its way through.

Step 6: Work your way around the legs. Right now you are skinning the turtle just as you would with any other animal. Do both sides the same.
Step 7: Once the skin and bottom portion of the shell are removed. You’ll now quarter out the limbs. Turtles have a different bone structure then other animals so it’ll take some trial and error to get the quarters off.
This one happened to be a female, not a bad thing for here. Notice all the eggs, which can also be eaten.
Step 8: Work out the rest of the quarters.

Once the 4 quarters are out, cut off the neck and tail. As you can see, there’s a lot of meat on one turtle!

Step 9:
Using your baton again, gently cut down each side of the backstrap. Remove each side and trim off the cartilage.
Step 10: From this point, trim the meat; cutting off any damaged parts, yellow linings, or other unwanted parts.
Step 11: Rinse the meat and soak in salt water overnight in the refrigerator. What’s left over from butchering can be used for fishing bait or trapping bait (where legal).The shell works as a good attractor for trapping.
Step 12: Lastly, when I make turtle I boil the meat for about 90 mins. This will tenderize it and cook it. For flavoring I’ll then throw it into the cast iron skillet with a little oil and seasoning. Brown each side and you’ll be good to go. Turtle is very good and cutting one up is a skill worth knowing.

About Brandon Jacobs

Brandon Jacobs grew up in central Kansas in a rural community. Helping on the family farm as a kid, he spent a lot of time in the outdoors. His father and grandfather got him started in trapping and hunting at a young age and he continues to enjoy both today.

19 Responses to How to Clean a Snapping Turtle

  1. 101st Airborne Div July 19, 2015 at 6:47 am #

    Nice job – thanks for the “know how”…

    • Brandon July 20, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

      Thank you!

      Hope Mays July 22, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

      I just got me a big snapper today and I’m going to do total underside instead of cutting it in half but thanks for your info. from Hope Mays

    Zman July 20, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    Hey Brandon, great article. I’ve heard a million stories of dressing out a snapper gone wrong. You make it look to be a very manageable task. 1 Question, do you season your boiling water with anything like a crab or crawfish boil or some old bay? Thanks for a great article. You have a new susciber.

    • Brandon July 20, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

      Thank you! I know the first time I tried it; it ended up as a big mess. As far as boiling it in seasoned water, I haven’t yet. It does sound like something worth trying though. I add my seasonings in the skillet, the same as I would chicken or the like.

  3. Corey July 20, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    There’s a large snapping turtle in the pond where I work, but I’m afraid he’d be missed I I tried to catch and eat him. For some reason, turtle meat sounds pretty tasty, though I’ve never tried it.

    • Brandon Jacobs July 20, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

      Definitely worth a try!

      • Crscott2005 June 25, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

        Brandon, I had a snapping turtle I was cleaning and found a yellow fungus looking stuff attached to the meat by it’s neck. It wasn’t fat. I have a pic I can send you. If you reach out to me, same user name Gmail.

        You ever run into anything like that?

        Jessica Ellison May 10, 2018 at 2:09 am #

        Hey Brandon do u have a page me and my fience can follow u on?

  4. Anonymous April 15, 2016 at 1:04 am #

    What’s it taste like? And please don’t say. Chicken!

      Megan C April 1, 2017 at 10:36 am #

      It’s strange but I’ve eaten turtle my whole life down here in southern Alabama and different parts of the turtles body have a different flavor. Like the legs taste a little different than the neck and tail…and No… It doesn’t really taste like chicken. The salt water soak is good to take out a bit of the gameness.

    John "Hoppy" Hopkins July 5, 2016 at 1:08 am #

    Good job. But arcane method. Before being hit with early onset Parkinson’s disease about ten years ago., I’d never been beaten skinning a turtle. I’ve done over a100 a day. Many times. My all time best was 3:38 minutes. 1995 keyesport Illinois.

    Hope Mays July 22, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    I also get mine done and put it in the cooking essentials for 35 or so min. to tenderize it then fry it . With veg. , onions , spices , cel. and more .

    Victoria Chang December 15, 2016 at 9:41 pm #

    Hope you get into a hunting accident.

    • Anonymous February 7, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

      You sound like a bitch

      CHRISTINA May 29, 2017 at 9:31 pm #

      Your an asshat! Bet you eat the need off of a cow or chicken. Animals that were kept in small spaces and fed laws knows what. How in the world do you think parents used to feed there kids and no I’m not taking about in the 1800s. I’m talking the 1930 to 1940s. Stupid people make me want to poke them.

    Debby November 5, 2017 at 11:36 pm #

    I hate haters and negative people. Regardless, Brandon, sounds like something good to know in a survival situation. I wouldn’t want to do it though. I could never whack an animal in the head. Ew. I’m a little weak in that area, however, I’m saving your post and if the need ever arises my hubby can do it. I won’t mind cleaning and cooking it once it’s dead. Good survival skill for the future. And may all you nasty haters starve.

    Joan Akines January 5, 2018 at 2:06 pm #

    Good info. I can no longer eat pork or beef. So to those who made ugly remarks, They are animals as well. Do you eat those? Got to look for other sources of meat.

    Dallas March 19, 2018 at 3:34 pm #

    Great pics.,, great info., thanks.

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