If you want to do something extra special for the holidays this year, while satisfying yourself that a bird has been raised humanely, there is the option of an organic farm turkey that has been pastured and raised outside for your table. A home grown, or farm raised heritage turkey, roasted up with all the trimmings is out of this world.
If you already have a naturally raised turkey already bought and you are wondering how to cook it best to get the best results, you are smart to be looking into it, as there are a few differences between these types of turkeys and the factory farmed turkeys.
If you cook a heritage bird the same way you do a commercially raised turkey, the results could be dry. Delicious but a bit chewy, not quite National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation, but noticeable. So it is it is the moisture control but we need to pay attention to while preparing and cooking the bird.
Main differences between a commercially grown and farm pastured turkey
As soon as you get your fresh farm raised turkey, you will see a few obvious differences. Generally, the body will be longer and thinner and the breast will not be as disproportionately large. Often the legs have a lot more meat due to them actually being used by the bird in its lifetime.
So generally, there will be less excessive meat on the naturally raised turkey, and that meat will be denser as it has taken more time to grow, and will also be a little bit darker than the store-bought meat because of the additional blood supply that bird has developed in his lifetime to use its muscles. That is all dark meat is this extra blood supply.
The other main physical difference that impacts cooking time is because these fowl take a lot longer to grow than the commercial birds, the bone has time to form properly and calcify. In many of commercially raised chickens and turkeys, the keel bone the bond (that goes between the breasts) is just cartilage and allow the bird to cook faster. That keel never does harden into regular bone unless growth is slow. When you have a farm raised turkey especially if it is a heritage breed of turkey that grows slowly, the bone will be more dense, requiring a longer cooking time.
How to keep a roast a heritage turkey moist
The key to having a truly delicious succulent, juicy tasty turkey at Christmas and Thanksgiving is to make sure that it stays moist at every part of the cooking process, except the last half an hour. There are many ways to cook a turkey, but if you can brine the turkey for the night before, you will have a head start.
Before cooking, you should spread butter either on top of or under the skin on the breast of the bird. If you are going to be cooking it pressed up. You can blend in garlic and herbs and spices into the butter before doing that for extra flavor.
Some people recommend cooking the turkey breasts down to keep the moisture in and that certainly is a possibility; others actually cook the turkey in a bag. I prefer not to do this as I do not want plastic touching my cooking turkey, but it is an option for those who are particularly nervous.
Generally, stuffed commercial turkeys are supposed to cook for about 20 min per pound at 350°F. This recommendation actually works quite well on farm raised turkeys. A meat probe is a necessity to make sure your bird is cooked right through (170°F minimum, especially if it is the first time you have cooked this type of turkey from this farm. Once you have cooked a few, you will have a better idea of when they are ready, but you certainly do not want to under cook your turkey.
If you keep repeatedly poking the turkey to see if it is done, you will drive the bird and is the juices are released into the bottom of the pan from the bird. If the turkey is fresh and has never been frozen, expected that the cooking time will be maybe 75% of what you usually expect. Your birds should be aged in the fridge at least one to three days, for maximum tenderness. So sometimes a commercially bird takes longer or sometimes the farm raised turkey does, but it is for different reasons.
Step by step how to cook a turkey
So here is a step-by-step guide on what you should do with your exquisite turkey. First of all, wash the bird and pat dry with a clean pet towel or paper towels.
1) Season and salty inside and outside of the bird, this will make the skin crispy or later. Add your herb or garlic butter to the outside of the skin, especially on the breast and legs, and you can use any herbs you like but these are generally better fresh from the garden or fresh from the store if you have to.
2) Prick the skin between the turkeys legs and where they join the body, as often. This area is very slow to cook and fills up with a lot of fluid from the third.
3) If you want to stuff the bird, do it now, right before you put it in the oven.
4) Use a large roasting pan with a half an inch of water in the bottom. If you cut up carrots into large chunks with onion and celery of the same size and maybe garlic to you can rest the bird on these and use them as a trivet to keep the bird out of the water, and they will add to the gravy flavor.
5) Put your meat thermometer probe in the thigh, but not touching the bone
6) The bird should be covered with either a lid or tinfoil until the bird reaches 180 Fahrenheit in the thigh. You will also know the bird is ready when the legs easily come away from the body and the juices run clear with no pink in them.
7) Baste the turkey every half an hour or so with the juices from the bottom of the baking dish.
8) When the turkey is getting close to being ready, take off the tinfoil (for approx 20-30 minutes) to allow Turkey to become crisp.
9) Once the turkey is cooked right through, remove from the oven and wait 15 min. before carving. To allow the juices to go back into the meat so you do not end up with dry turkey rated the very end by cutting it too soon.
10) Enjoy an a fantastic Holiday dinner the family will not forget!