Pastured Turkey 101

Why pastured turkey?  Birds raised on pasture are, without a doubt, more nutritious because they’re stress free and fed a healthy diet. When an animal eats its natural diet, their muscle meat takes on more vitamins and minerals (along with incredible flavor!) Stress free also means no need for any antibiotics.  This allows CLA’s, Conjugate Linoleic Acid to grow in the meat; this is a fatty acid that breaks down fats and proteins in our bodies, lowering heart disease, cancer rates and our weight!  

Turkeys are also part of the life cycle: replenishing the soil with their poop, which in turn feeds microbial life, which in turn add nutrients to the soil for grass roots to take up.  The grass grows, cows eat it (turkeys, pigs and chickens eat some grass as well), photosynthesis occurs and the grass re-grows.  Grass roots sequester carbon into the soil, which the microbial life also eat.  In short- one big life circle of poop!

So you’ve made the choice to go straight to your farmer and purchase a pastured bird- but what comes next? Prepare it and eat it of course!

Okay, farmer, how do I prepare my bird?

In keeping with tradition, we pack the giblets inside.  Don’t start off your big turkey game with a rookie mistake- pull those suckers out and use ‘em!  Put the neck in a pan with water and bring to a boil.  Simmer while you prepare the bird for the oven.

Rinse the bird, pat dry.  Put butter and herb mixture (rosemary/salt is a favorite) on or under the skin.  Make extra mixture for basting. 

So what's best? Stuffing or no stuffing?

Either is fine. Some people prefer to put aromatics like garlic in the cavity. We say stuff that bird with carbs! (and more butter- Thanksgiving is a butter-heavy holiday).

 Stuffing should be loose to allow it to cook and take up the internal juices.  Stuffing recipes vary a ton, and many families have their own famous recipes.  Most stuffing recipes require that you mix the dried bread croutons and pour some of the ‘neck juices” to moisten.  Put the rest of the neck juice (and the neck itself) in the bottom on the pan- this is a beginning of your gravy.  Add water as needed to the bottom of the pan and baste often.

This is getting complicated. Can you just give me some basic do’s and don’t’s?

You bet:

DO wipe butter or olive oil on the skin of the entire bird to keep it moist.

DO uncover 30 to 45 minutes before taking it out of the oven to brown up the skin.

DO baste often (every 30 minutes if you can).

DON’T overcook (this is easier to do with a pastured bird, as they do not have water injected into them like your typical grocery store bird.)

How long to cook my bird? 

13 minutes per lb at 350 degrees until you hit 165 on internal temperature.  This is the USDA standard.  We cook our birds to 145-150 internally and let them set while we prepare gravy.  Keep in mind that breast meat will cook faster than dark leg meat.  If the leg meat is not done, cut them off and put them in the oven until the meal is ready to be served.

Other cooking options: 

High Temperature Cooking:  Cook the bird between 425 and 475.  Watch the internal temperature.

Low Temperature Cooking:  Cook the bird at low temperature (225)  overnight. Do cover the bird with foil to avoid drying out skin.  Watch the internal temperature.

Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll have a turkey that everyone raves over. Once you have stripped the carcass for Leftover Sandwiches, boil it to make a healthy, hearty stock for soups and recipes!