HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


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.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.

            1. I did a heritage breed turkey this thanksgiving (for the second time) and it turned out wonderfully. We did not brine as that seemed to be the concensus of the resources we checked. We did salt and pepper the skin and cool air dry it for several hours before bringing to room temp (ish) and roasting. What was strange (and we think this happened last year too) is that it cooked very quickly! A 17.5 pound turkey was done (165 breast, 180 thigh) in less than 3 hours! (and it was very lightly stuffed.) Has anyone else had this experience? The meat was tender, delicious and juicy and, in fact, their was a thin layer of fat that separated from the skin and was on the breast (very easy to remove.) This was a Red Bourbon Turkey for what it is worth. I'll do it again, but just wondering if anyone else experienced the rapid cooking!

              5 Replies
              1. re: Bigley9

                My turkey turned out fantastic!!! Everyone said it was the best most moist turkey they've ever had. I brined the bird using a beer brine.

                I believe it was a gallon of beer (I used a blonde because it's less hoppy) and a gallon of water, 2 cups kosher salt, 1 cup sugar, 2 celery stalks, 2 carrots, 3 onions chopped some garlic and 2 lemons quartered. The beer is simmered with the salt, sugar, veggies and lemons for 10 minutes and then the gallon of water or ice is added. Let it cool off and then I stuck it in an ice chest with the turkey and ziplocs full of ice. The next day I put a bag of ice in a trashbag and placed it over the turkey to keep it cool and also flipped the bird. It was in the brine from Wednesday night until Friday morning early.

                Before cooking I removed the bird from the brine. I rinsed it off and dried the moisture off of it and let it come to room temperature for 2 hours. I stuffed the cavity with 2 stalks celery, 2 carrots, a halved onion, some fresh tyme sprigs and a few sprigs sage and 2-3 cloves garlic. I tied the wings next to the body and trussed the legs.

                I popped it in the oven set at 350 degrees at 8:30 am and pulled it out when the temp. was 155 around 11:15 am. I did not baste it and it turned out beautiful. I should have taken a picture. 30 minutes later the internal temperature hit 165 and then started to go down. I waited a good hour to an hour and a half before I started cutting the meat off. As I sliced into the drumstick to get it off, so much liquid came off of that bird it was crazy.

                This was the first time I cooked a turkey and I'm proud!

                For gravy I took the drippings and some turkey stock I made out of the turkey necks that were in the bird (2 cups total). Yes, I had 2 necks so somewhere someone was missing a neck. I sauteed 2 shallots in the drippings and then added the stock, whisked in 3 Tbsp flour and 1/4 cup madeira wine. I let that cook down until it was at the right consistency I wanted. It was tasty. I got the recipe from the NY Times based on a Steven Raichlen recipe.

                1. re: AustinAg

                  You should be proud! Congratulations! and yours cooked quickly too (17 lbs, 2 3/4 hours)- I wonder why that is?

                  1. re: Bigley9

                    Thanks!! I've heard they cook quicker because they are more proportional. I don't know how true that is. Maybe someone else knows the answer.

                    My family didn't understand why I shelled out so much for a turkey though lol. Maybe they understand now after eating it.

                      1. re: AustinAg

                        This will be my third year with a heritage turkey and they definitely cook faster!! I think. When you buy one, they should tell you. My 15-20 lb ones never take more than 3 hours.

                        It messed up our first thanksgiving actually haha. We were set to eat at 3, and it cooked in half the time my turkeys usually do. I had to call everyone in our family at 12 and tell them to come over right away!

                        I brine mine every year with Pioneer Woman's bring recipe (Orange, Rosemary, peppercorns, brown sugar...). It's always great.

                        This year I read about letting it dry in the fridge for a day and then using clarified butter instead of regular to achieve a super crispy skin (all to reduce water content that impedes it). Going to test it!