Cooking your natural Thanksgiving turkey

Our turkeys grow to size in an all-natural environment free of hormones and antibiotics on a diet of natural grains and feed. The result is a fresh, wholesome turkey of incomparable flavor and tenderness.  Your turkey has been carefully raised and readied for your dinner table.  If you are not familiar with cooking fresh, all natural, free range turkey, you will find it to be a bit different than cooking a frozen Butterball.  No water, broth, brine, salt, or any other materials have been added.  Your bird has been rinsed in ice water, then chilled in the bag.  In order to ensure ultimate freshness for Thanksgiving, please continue to chill your turkey until you are ready to cook it.  Be sure you start with an ice free turkey before cooking, and give it a final rinse before preparing.

Rinse the skin and cavity and pat dry.  Tuck the wing tips under the back if the size of your oven and roasting pan allow, and tie the legs together with string after stuffing with your favorite dressing.  Best flavor can be had by basting with herbed butter under the skin.

Heritage Turkeys

Heritage turkeys are different.

There are as many recommendations on how to cook a heritage turkey as there are ways to prepare chicken, so feel free to use what seems right to you, there is no “right” way.  Just be aware that your turkey is very lean, has a low moisture and body fat content, and will cook much faster (and consequently overcook much faster).

My favorite method is to butter up your turkey under the skin with seasoned butter, toss some chopped savory fruits and vegetables (onions, celery, apples) loosely inside the cavity after salting and peppering it, and roast it as usual, either starting out at a high temp to crisp the skin (425 for ½ hour, then 325 until done) and others like to cook at a single temperature, rubbing the skin with salted butter for crispness.  Since turkey skin tends to be a little thicker and chewier than chicken skin, I put my efforts into the meat rather than the color of the skin.

The best kind of roasting pan has low sides and no top.  The best results can be had by cooking your bird on a wire rack so that they don’t drown in their drippings.

For a moist and flavorful bird, baste the meat, not the skin.  Our heritage and natural birds do have a lot of fat under the skin, as they eat a healthy diet, grow to maturity, and get a lot of exercise.  But you can enhance the flavor even more without brining or basting.  Melt salted butter, and season with minced onion, minced celery, rosemary, fresh ground pepper, and other seasonings to taste.  Allow to cool enough to handle while loosening the skin from the meat.  Slide pats of seasoned butter under the skin of the bird so that as the butter melts, it will baste the meat.

Finally, melt a little butter, add salt and pepper, and brush on the entire skin of the bird.

We recommend not stuffing the cavity of the heritage turkey with dressing for a couple of reasons.  Cooking the bird until the stuffing is done often results in an overcooked turkey because it takes longer for the interior to reach the desired temperature.  Starting out with high heat will dry out any dressing near the edges, and the stuffing will draw moisture from the meat.  And finally, the bird cooks much more evenly when hot air cooks from the inside as well as the outside.  This reduces cooking time and improves the flavor of the turkey.  You can drizzle a couple of spoonfuls of pan drippings onto your casserole-dish-cooked dressing and it will be every bit as good!  Just pop the covered casserole dish in the oven about 45 minutes before the turkey is done, and uncover to crisp the top when you remove the turkey from the oven and cook an additional 15 minutes while carving, or until the temperature of the dressing is at least 155.

When do you remove your turkey from the oven?  When the temperature of the breast meat and inner thigh are 155 and the juices are clear.  You don’t need to cook to 180 degrees, that will lead to a dry and tough bird.  Time is variable depending on many factors…pan style, oven heat retention, stuffed or not, bird size, body fat, moisture content.  Estimate half of your cookbook turkey times for a starter.  When you remove the turkey from the oven, cover it with a foil tent and let it rest for 15 – 20 minutes to allow the juices to settle into the meat before carving.  While the turkey is resting, you can make your gravy.  If the breast reaches temperature before the thigh and drumstick, split the bird and allow the breast to rest while the dark meat continues to roast.  Drain the drippings into another pan so you can make your gravy while the dark meat finishes.  And if your bird is done roasting well before dinner time, don’t worry.  Just cap with foil and a clean old towel, and place pan and all into a cooler to rest for up to 3 hours.

Gravy with this roasting method is a simple matter. Drain the drippings that have accumulated in the cavities of the bird by tilting the rack in the pan, and allowing them to drain into the roasting pan.

While the bird is resting and doing its “carry-over cooking”, set the roasting pan with the drippings on two burners on the stove, and make gravy. Skim most of the fat from the drippings and discard it. Then bring the drippings to a simmer and stir them, reducing them a bit. I like to take the onion that was in the turkey cavity, cut it up (it is usually half cooked by this point) and scatter the slices in the pan with the drippings. Stir, and then add a handful of flour–start with 1/4 cup per 2 cups of drippings.  If you need more gravy, add chicken broth or water to increase the volume.  Cook and stir until bubbly, and season to taste.

Here are some approximate cooking times for a heritage turkey roasted at 325F.

Heritage Turkey
Roasting Times
Unstuffed Turkey
325˚F Roasting Time
1¼ to 2¼ hours
2¼ to 2¾ hours
2¾ to 3½ hours
3½ to 4 hours
4 to 4½ hours
4½ to 5 hours
to 6 hours

Please share your favorite recipes with us!

Here is a blog about properly cooking white and dark meat (hard to do both to the right temperature).  But the results can be worth the trouble.  The recipe is based on a commercial bird but the idea is the same.  With less white meat, heritage breast meat overcooks more quickly.

3: White vs. Dark Turkey Cooking Methods


Directions for Broad Breasted Turkeys (not selling these anymore)

Times below are approximate and will vary depend on your cooking method and your oven.  If you use a roasting bag, covered roaster, or convection oven, check your recipe for recommendations.  Cooking the turkey in an oven without much space around the bird will also shorten the cooking time.  Use foil to cover any parts of the bird that brown too rapidly such as drumsticks and wingtips.  If not stuffing the bird with dressing, consider stuffing with chopped celery and onion.

Remove excess pan juices, reserving for gravy or basting.  Cut the string on the legs after approximately 3 hours of roasting, and check the internal temperature of the meat and stuffing.  If the turkey is done to 170°F at the thickest part of the thigh and the stuffing has not reached 160°F or more, remove stuffing to a pan or bowl and continue to roast the stuffing.  Set the turkey aside with a loose tent of foil for 15 to 30 minutes before carving, during which the meat should reach 180°F.  Juices should be clear and the drumstick should be loose.  This time is perfect for making the gravy.

Method 1:  Slow roast.  Super moist, falling off the bone.  The skin may not brown quite as deeply.

Roast uncovered.  Stuffing may require additional time to heat through.  Roast breast side down for the ultimate in white meat juiciness.

Oven temperature: 325°F
Unstuffed: 10–12 minutes per pound
Stuffed: 13–15 minutes per pound

Method 2:  Modern roast.  Presents the best looking bird with plenty of juicy white meat.

Roast until lightly golden, then tent loosely with foil.  Remove foil the last 45 minutes to brown the skin. Roast breast side down for the ultimate in white meat juiciness.

Oven temperature: 350°F
Unstuffed: 9–11 minutes per pound
Stuffed: 12–14 minutes per pound


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