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Nov 14, 2011 10:05 AM

Cooking a Heritage Turkey

Does anyone have a good roasting recipe for a heritage turkey? This will be my first time roasting a turkey. I have a 17 lb bird reserved at Central Market and I really didn't want one that big but my other choice was a 10 lb bird and I don't think that would've been enough for supper that evening plus leftovers.

I plan on brining the bird. Is this a big no no with heritage birds or a must? If I should do it, does anyone have a good brining recipe they could recommend?

I also need to find a roasting pan that this bird will fit in so suggestions for which one of those to buy would be great! Plus I'll have an excuse to make prime rib once I get a roaster.


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  1. All Clad roasting pans are expensive but worth it. The one I have came with a non stick rack insert that's pretty handy, and I think the pan will probably outlive me. Also, the heritage vs. non heritage question with respect to brining is the same- definitely brine it. I don't have a recipe immediately at hand, but Cook's Illustrated would be the first place I'd check. They get so analytical with all variables of their recipes that they're a great go-to for classic items like thanksgiving turkey.

    I will say, however, that I've never had any oven roasted turkey that topped deep-fried.

    1. Have you ever tasted a heritage bird? I am not trying to rain on your parade, but if you haven't I hope you won't be disappointed. It is stronger in flavor and usually chewier/tougher than a modern one. Just want you to be aware because they usually cost twice as much and have a few friends who did it once and will never do it again.

      Because of the toughness, I would recommend a brine with some acidity in it like orange or lemon flavor to break down the meat a little and some sugar or maple syrup to give it good taste and browning ability.

      1. I have had a heritage turkey, not brined and roasted, and it was the best turkey I ever ate--having one again this year. Consider it a dark meat turkey with a hint of duck/goose--and without the oversized white breasts. There's enough fat in it and I certainly wouldn't water it down with brine, but that's MHO. Edited addition to post. Just read Saveur article on cooking heritage turkey, the people that breed them say don't brine, there's enough fat and flavor already.

        1 Reply
        1. re: escondido123

          +1 It's my fourth year doing one. My guests say it's the best turkey they've ever eaten. Maybe because it actually tastes like something! (FWIW, I always brine but am leaning towards salting this year)
          The most important thing is not to overcook it. Spatchcock, cover, or do the upside-down thing for the first while of cooking. Obviously they're not saline injected like supermarket birds which makes them less forgiving of overcooking.

        2. I also am trying a Heritage bird for the first time this year. I've been doing a little reading about cooking them and it is interesting to hear how polarized people are on them. Some saying that they didn't like them and others loving them. My favorite description of a heritage bird has been "it is like a ballerina bird, small flat breasts with big thighs and legs".

          So I hope I love it, but I want to support the cause regardless.

          For a pan, I use my All Clad roaster and have done up to a 24 lb turkey in that which just barely fit. Though honestly I don't know if you really need to spend that much on a the pan if you don't roast a lot already. The thicker pan helps when I roast vegetables and other smaller meats but not as much for a turkey which is up on a rack anyway. So you have some flexibility there I think

          I'm planning on doing a dry brine (salting the skin a day ahead and then rinsing, drying, and roasting. But I haven't done it yet, so don't know. I'll be curious to see what others post for suggestions.

          1. While I buy & cook free-range birds every year, I've yet to do a whole free-range heritage-breed bird. However, I HAVE cooked free-range heritage-breed turkey parts (drum/thigh quarters), & all I can say is -DON'T OVERCOOK. You may be able to get away with a little over-doneness with regular turkeys, but free-range heritage birds will not forgive kitchen mistakes.

            I'm not a briner, but with a whole heritage bird I might consider it.