As a pasture-based farm, everything we do revolves around the grass and moving our animals from field to field. This system of farming is as old as the fields themselves, and when done well, give our animals and our land the space to thrive.
The last two seasons we have raised a small number of heritage breed Bourbon Red and Royal Palm turkeys. You may have seen them around our garden or the farm cottage, pecking at the fall berries and bugs they find as they roam.
Nothing says Thanksgiving more than that signature golden brown roasted turkey, but if you have chosen to roast a pasture-raised bird there are some things you need to know to get the most from your roast.
Pasture-raised turkeys roam around outside and eat primarily grass and insects, so their food and activity level — both of which affect flavor — differ from those of their grain-fed cousins raised in confinement. Heritage breeds are old-timey birds, developed before factory-farming, that thrive in a free environment. They are built to roam, unlike their confined cousins, the factory farm birds who so heavy of breast and short of leg that they can’t thrive out in the open.
But back to roasting! Our birds are fresh at pick up, and so must be refrigerated once you get home. Some folks choose to bring their bird, but we wanted to share an old fashioned no brine, slow roast method that allows you to taste the natural flavor and juiciness of the bird. This is an old-time recipe for an old-timey, heritage breed turkey.
A room temperature turkey will roast more evenly, so early in the morning remove the turkey from the refrigerator, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry (about an hour before putting it in the oven).
Before putting in the oven, place a good handful of fresh herbs, like rosemary, thyme, and sage, in the body cavity. Rub softened butter, salt, and pepper to the outside skin. (Another alternative is use good olive oil in place of the butter.)
Placed the bird breast down in a roasting pan on a bed of onions, celery and carrots in about a 1/2 to 1/4 inch of chicken broth. The veggies will help keep the bird moist and contribute to a great tasting gravy.
The basic reason most turkeys are dried out and tough is because they are overcooked. The USDA used to recommend cooking a turkey to 180 degrees, to assure all bacteria was killed. That also cooked out the flavor and moisture.
The USDA now says it’s safe to cook a turkey to 165 degrees. Remembering that meat keeps cooking when you take it out of the oven, cook your bird to 160, remove from the oven, and cover tightly with foil to rest. Your internal temp will keep cooking and top about around 165. Use that rest time to make gravy or reheat your sides.
Cooking times are a guide, it is the cooking temperatures that matter, so get a good digital thermometer. You want to roast a pastured bird (this goes for chickens as well) at a lower temperature, so start at 325 and after an hour lower the temperature of the oven to 300. About 30 minutes before the turkey is expected to be done, check the bird’s internal temperature. Pastured-birds can cook more quickly than expected.
10-13 lb. – 1 ½ to 2 ¼ hr.
14-23 lb. – 2 to 3 hr.
24-27 lb. – 3 to 3 ¾ hr.
Baste your turkey twice, when you lower your oven temperature to 300, and again at about the 30 minute mark when you check the internal temperature. Resist the urge to poke the turkey with a fork to check juices. That wastes precious juices that need to stay in the breast meat.
Last year we had great reviews from our customers who roasted their first pastured heritage turkeys. For-armed with a little old time cooking knowledge its not hard to roast the perfect thanksgiving turkey!
Tag us on your turkey “beauty” shot if you are roasting a pastured Cherry Grove Farm bird this year! #cgfpasturedgoodness @cherrygrovefarm