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Heritage turkeys--worth it?

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nooodles Oct 3, 2005 03:37 PM

I'm considering getting a 15-20 lb heritage turkey this year instead of the regular Safeway turkey.

I know it will taste better than a regular turkey, but am curious as to how much better others have found these birds to be. As far as I can tell, I'm going to have to dish out $70-100 for one, so it needs to wow the guests as well as me.

$100 isn't too much to spend for a main dish for a dozen or so people. But will they notice a difference, or will they (not all chowish) just think it's another $15 bird from the market?

If people aren't going to bite in and say "Hey, this tastes like no turkey I've ever had before," the price difference could be used to buy a really great ham, a crown roast, a rack of lamb, or something else that everyone can enjoy.

Thanks for all input!

  1. p
    pitu Oct 3, 2005 04:05 PM

    I hate to say it, but the reason they might say Hey This IS Different is because it's easy to overcook a heritage bird -- they are less plumped up than cheap birds. That said, i've been getting free-range organic heritage birds for a couple years and I think they are very good. Plus I'm committed to the sustainable agriculture thing, and I like a non-factory farmed bird. Yes, I know the farmer the bird comes from - I get mine through a food cooperative, so the price is a more reasonable $2-something a pound.

    I don't think there's a HUGE difference in the taste tho.

    1. t
      TomSwift Oct 3, 2005 04:09 PM

      We've done Bourbon Reds for the past several years and find the difference quite noticable. We love dark meat and the Reds have so much more dark meat than the big-breasted white turkeys. Less breast meat, though. I think it has a more intense turkey flavor than supermarket birds. We always brine ours and that makes a world of difference as well.

      1. m
        Morton the Mousse Oct 3, 2005 04:15 PM

        Haven't tried Heritage, but we've been using Diestel turkeys for a few years now (ever since my stepdad tried a Diestel at Chez Panisse). Hands down, best Thanksgiving turkey I've ever had. They tend to be smaller than traditional turkeys which is ideal for our small family (half of whom are vegetarian) but may not work for a larger gathering, although the small size makes it much easier to cook trhoguh without drying out the meat.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Morton the Mousse
          c
          Candy Oct 3, 2005 06:46 PM

          I was going to suggest getting 2 10 lb.turkeys instead of 1 20 lb. bird. The smaller birds will cook more evenly and provide better eating. Also, 4 legs! 4 wings!

          1. re: Candy
            s
            Sony Bob Oct 3, 2005 08:07 PM

            Hey Candy
            If you like wings, have you ever tried a receipe for turkey gravy made ahead of time using wings for the turkey ingredient. Suposed to discard the wings after making the gravy but WOW, are they good!!
            Bob

            1. re: Sony Bob
              k
              Karl S. Oct 4, 2005 03:19 PM

              Actually, you should get turkey parts to roast with some vegetables the weekend before Thanksgiving (or even now, if you like) to deglaze the drippings for making gravy (just freeze until ready to use on the day). Trying to make gravy from the pan drippings of T-Day itself before dinner is an unnecessary exercise in frustration (however, save that pan, put it in a big plastic bag and put it out in the cold outside -- if you're up North and it's cold like it usually is -- and then deglaze it after dinner before cleanup, to add to the gravy for the leftovers).

              1. re: Karl S.
                t
                toodie jane Oct 5, 2005 03:09 AM

                great tip Carl, about putting the pan drippings outside to quickly cool down so you can easily skim the fat. Too bad it won't work here in Calif--we are having our warmest weather of the year around Thanksgiving, so I gave up oven cooking 15 years ago when it was 90 degrees outside! Now we do a indirect baking method in a Weber kettle and it is wooonnnderful! >sniff< but NO gravy, so I'll try your "wang thang" this year for the gravy lovers! thanks!

                1. re: toodie jane
                  s
                  Sony Bob Oct 5, 2005 11:36 AM

                  Hey Jane - I'll post a receipe for made ahead turkey gravy on the Home Cooking Board. After making the gravy, the wings are probably the very best pickins' you ever had!! I'm hoping other hounds will give up their receipes also.
                  Bob

          2. re: Morton the Mousse
            c
            Carb Lover Oct 3, 2005 07:12 PM

            Cool, I was leaning towards trying a Diestel this year and will place an order w/ my local market soon. Linked Diestel's website below. When I was looking into Diestel and Heritage birds last year, Heritage were about twice as much per pound as the Diestel ($2/lb).

            Link: http://www.diestelturkey.com/

          3. t
            theSauce Oct 3, 2005 06:04 PM

            I always find Heritage or free range turkeys are overpowered with gamy taste. Even after brining the turkey it is still a bit too strong for my taste. I like lamb, bison, and antelope, but gamy turkey just doesn’t sit well with me… Perhaps someone can suggest a brand that’s not so gamy?

            4 Replies
            1. re: theSauce
              p
              pitu Oct 3, 2005 09:41 PM

              I've never had a gamey turkey -- Eberly and Cloonshee are the ones we've had.

              1. re: theSauce
                s
                Scagnetti Oct 4, 2005 09:03 AM

                I don't think you're supposed to brine Heritage turkeys. There was a discussion last year on this topic.

                1. re: Scagnetti
                  j
                  jen kalb Oct 4, 2005 10:11 PM

                  nevertheless it works just fine...

                2. re: theSauce
                  s
                  Shep Oct 4, 2005 11:10 AM

                  The first wild turkey I ever tasted was great, moist and succulent and not at all gamey. The second one was pretty bad, almost inedible for a city boy. The difference was that the good one had been hung outdoors in a cool shed for three days, while the second one was prepared the same day it was shot.

                3. s
                  Sony Bob Oct 3, 2005 06:23 PM

                  I'll probably get curcified for this but, ya' know, I think it's more important how well the bird is cooked as opposed to what kind it is. As long as it's completely done but juicy with a nice brown skin it's going to be a success. Finish it off with gravy and sage dressing and you can't miss. I'll even go so far as to say that dispite all the warnings and as long as the directions are strictly adhered to, the "ol turkey in a brown paper bag is hard to beat.
                  Bob

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sony Bob
                    c
                    coll Oct 3, 2005 07:18 PM

                    I agree, I've bought turkeys from local farms, fresh slaughtered, and also from the grocery store, semi frozen, and it's hard to tell the difference, expecially on such a gluttonous day as Thanksgiving. After spending $75 on a 25 turkey a couple of years, I went to the local supermarket and asked the butcher if he could order me a 25 lb plus guy. No problem. Cooked it and everyone raved, no one noticed the difference except me, since it only cost about $20. Maybe because we like white meat more? Whatever, money is tight this year and I will be doing the same. Plus it's nice that it's pre-brined, one less job for me! (It's only once a year so I don't worry about the health issues, not the healthiest holiday to begin with!)

                  2. j
                    jen kalb Oct 3, 2005 06:31 PM

                    I agree with the poster who said what matters most is how the bird is cooked - if you brine and dont overcook any freshkilled bird it will be very good. For us, the acid test is whether the white meat is palatable to the dark meat lovers and with brining and careful cooking technique (we turn the bird several times) - especially, not overcooking - it will be, in general ok. If I was price sensitive this is the way I would go.

                    Last year was our first experience with a heritage bird and I just ordered our turkey for this year. We thought it was better and more flavorful than the mass market bird, definitely with more dark meat. For a family of dark meat eaters like us, and taking into account the importance of rebuilding the stock of the more flavorful breeds (the price will eventually come down) it was definitely the right choice. Is there as much difference as with pork? No.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jen kalb
                      c
                      chesaepeake72000 Oct 4, 2005 02:56 PM

                      For the past few years our family of dark meat eaters have been happily chowing on very expensive domestic "wild" turkeys. I guess this would be ultimate in "heritage" birds (and oxymorons, too), but there are a few places in the U.S. that raise wild turkeys. They are not gamey at all, but they are very lean and tricky to cook. We take the very non-kosher approach and also get a slab of wild boar bacon to baste the breast and keep it moist.

                      The turkeys still have distinctly light meat (rather than white) and dark meat, and oddly us dark meat lovers tend to like the light meat in these birds better than the darker meat from the thighs and legs. What makes these birds so expensive are the shipping costs -- like 50-60 bucks, but once a year they are very well worth it. Also, they get no larger than 15 pounds and sometimes even that large are hard to get. But they're good.

                    2. m
                      malibumike Oct 4, 2005 10:46 AM

                      I usually get 2 of the "free" turkey(thanksgiving time) around 22 lbs from Ralphs or the like if you spend say $75 on other items and put one in the freezer. I have pulled it out up to a year later and if you brine it and cook it properly you can not tell the difference from the outrageously overpriced yuppie turkeys, always moist and flavorfull. You should be able to get a good turkey and a prime rib roast for much under $100, don't get ripped off!

                      1. m
                        mark Oct 4, 2005 10:53 AM

                        i've tried heritage turkeys a couple of times, and didn't find them worth the price. they have a little more flavor (especially the dark meat), but it's not a big difference, especially when paired with all the other foods that are heaped on the same plate (they did make very nice day-after sandwiches). they generally provide less breast meat, which is what many in my family want, and are more demanding as far as cooking to prevent drying. a few relatives even complained about the stronger flavor since it's not the turkey they're used to. i've gone back to the cheap ones; brining them makes all the difference.

                        1. t
                          Tugboat Oct 4, 2005 12:45 PM

                          I think finding a local option and cooking it correctly are more important.

                          So many birds (no matter if they are mail order heritage or frozen supermarket types) are ruined in the oven.

                          1. h
                            heidipie Oct 5, 2005 05:45 AM

                            Last year everyone definitely said mine tasted like no turkey they'd had before. The whole thing tasted like dark meat though it had a more unctuous texture than a regular turkey leg. Strong in flavor. It was a Mary's heritage turkey, unbrined per Mary's instructions. I'd definitely do it again if we were feeding the same crowd, but this year I'm having teenage guests with very conservative palates so I'll probably opt for a Mary's non-heritage bird.

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