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Oct 3, 2005 03:37 PM

Heritage turkeys--worth it?

  • n

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!

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  1. 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. 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

        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

          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

            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!!

            1. re: Sony Bob

              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.

                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

                  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.

          2. re: Morton the Mousse

            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).


          3. 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

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

              1. re: theSauce

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

                1. re: Scagnetti

                  nevertheless it works just fine...

                2. re: theSauce

                  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. 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.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sony Bob

                    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!)