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Oct 26, 2009 12:51 PM

Seek simple, reliable heritage turkey recipe

I seriously overcooked last year's local, heritage turkey. Searching online for heritage turkey recipes produces recipes all over the map.

Our bird this year will be about 1820 lbs, I'm told. Want to roast it simply, with a stuffing.

Anyone got anything?

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  1. Roasting a turkey is roasting a turkey. How quickly it cooks has too many variables, including the ratio of the size of the bird to the size of your oven, for there to be a "foolproof" recipe. Just use a reliable thermometer, start checking it sooner than you think you need to, don't pay any attention to all the recommendations that say cook it to 180, and don't forget to take it out and let it rest. Seriously. I used to think the "let it rest" stuff was bunk, but it makes a surprisingly significant difference.

    Every year there are dozens of posts here asking for advice on cooking a turkey. You might want to do a search on "heritage" and see what people reported back on their results.

    This site has some good info.

    They say the *final* temp after resting of the turkey should be about 165, but point out that the temperature rises 5-10 degrees after you take it out of the oven. Counting backwards, then, you shoul take it out of the oven somewhere between 155 and 160. I think not accounting for the final temperature rise during resting is to blame for a lot of overcooked turkeys! Otherwise, use whatever stuffing and other seasonings you like, although like cassoulady, I wouldn't go for a highly seasoned recipe.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      >>Roasting a turkey is roasting a turkey<<

      I wonder about that. I did a little reading and heritage birds live longer which gives them a different marbling. They also tend to be more free ranging, so they will have stronger musculature.

      I'm wondering if there isn't something to be learned from wild turkey or pheasant recipes? What that would be, I don't know. But I am curious.

      ...not to mention the accommodation for a one-ton bird. Musta been a real terror in the barnyard.

      1. re: BernalKC

        I've cooked heritage turkeys the last two years. While the taste and texture of the turkey is different, they still need to be roasted to the same internal temperature to be "done." It's not, for example, like grass-fed beef, which needs to be cooked differently than grain-fed and shouldn't be cooked as well done. At least, not in my experience.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          You know, that's a really good point about "the taste and texture" being different.
          It bears repeating.
          Lots of people interested in local, humane, heritage, whatever food, are buying (shall we call them) non-Butterball turkeys for the first time.
          These birds are different and not everyone is going to like that.

          The turkeys are expensive and they've never cooked one before.
          Then they serve it to Uncle Henry and Aunt Mabel or their mother-in-law, who wonder what's "wrong" with the turkey. Bad enough that the cranberry sauce didn't have those tidy ridges from the can, and now this!!!
          There is nothing wrong with that turkey. It's simply not what people are expecting because it's not what they are used to.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Ruth, what you say about roasting to the same internal temperature is true, but if a heritage turkey cooks faster than a Butterball, I still need to know how long before dinner to put that puppy in the oven.

              1. re: chicgail

                My experience is that they don't cook appreciably faster. Maybe they're done a little faster because they're proportioned differently so they don't have, for example, a huge breast that's very thick.

            1. re: BernalKC

              "...not to mention the accommodation for a one-ton bird. Musta been a real terror in the barnyard."

              LOL!!! I didn't REALLY mean 1820 lbs. Substantially less than that.

          2. Keep it simple. Butter salt pepper. USe a thermometer. I think the appeal of the heritage bird is the flavor, so you dont to mask it with too much other stuff.

            1. After 40+ years of cooking turkeys, I am of the firm opinion that stuffing it complicates the process. In order to get the stuffing uniformly (and safely) heated through, the meat is overcooked and dried out. Stuffings are very dense and it takes a long time for the heat to penetrate. Simple science.

              In my family, we sometimes put only a small amount of dressing in the cavity to soak up drippings, and then mix that into the rest of the dressing, which we bake in a casserole while the turkey "rests," and the remainder of the meal is finished off. We get the flavor from the cooked turkey without drying out the bird.
              It is much easier to control the "doneness" of an unstuffed bird without drying it out.

              1 Reply
              1. re: MakingSense

                I completely agree. Cooking the dressing separately as a casserole is much safer and gives you much more control over cooking the bird properly, faster, with much less chance of drying out the white meat. In fact, we don't put any dressing in the bird and use the dressing / casserole as a vegetarian main course.

                None of this really relates to heritage birds per se.

                One bit of advice that seems especially pertinent is: use a good thermometer. With long roasting times, uncertain temperature control in my cheap-o oven, and here with the different characteristics of a heritage bird, roasting charts are only good for rough approximations of cooking time. You really have to have a good thermometer to get it right.

              2. My rule of thumb is 20 minutes per pound at 350F. ; stuffed or unstuffed. Mine always comes out perfect....

                1 Reply
                1. re: Cherylptw

                  ...and just because this conversation has moved around a bit, Cheryl; you -are- talking about your experience with heritage turkeys here?

                2. What do you all think about brining a heritage turkey? I brined my Butterball(-style) bird for the past few years and was glad I did. This year I'll be cooking a heritage bird for the first time. I like the "keep it simple, butter salt pepper" advice, but should I brine?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: lvsnyder

                    I've never had a brined turkey I enjoyed eating. Maybe there's a brining technique which doesn't result in a salty, processed-tasting bird, but I haven't encountered the results.

                    1. re: lvsnyder

                      I would brine a heritage turkey. The purpose of brining is to keep the meat moist after cooking, apart from what people think about adding flavors.
                      Butterball-syle birds are already "brined" when you buy them. Check the wrappings or labels. If they say that "something" has been "added" and give a percentage or "by weight," then you don't have to go to the trouble.
                      It's highly unlikely that a heritage bird would have anything "added."
                      Since brining became trendy a few years ago, there are a ridiculous number of recipes out there, ranging from great to downright awful. Some use far too much salt and you can end up with an oversalted bird and drippings that are unuseable, even if you rinse the bird well before cooking.
                      Do some research before you select a recipe for a good brine. Don't leave the turkey in the solution too long or the meat will start to lose texture. If you have to brine ahead, remove the bird from the brine, rinse it well, and store it, covered, in the fridge until you're ready to cook it.
                      If done well, it's good. Badly? An over-salted, mushy turkey.