You buy heritage turkeys because you like knowing that your turkey had a real life. Heritage turkeys were not hybridized to have such big white breasts that they can't walk. They weren't bred for meat output and their ability to survive cramped, dirty, inhumane conditions. Heritage turkeys weren't force-fed hormones to assure rapid growth and a short life. Heritage turkeys tend to have had a longer life and time to run with their flock. They have more dark meat and richer flavor.
What are heritage turkeys?
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy works to save breeds of turkeys that are nearing extinction in an effort to preserve the genetic diversity that once allowed small American farmers to raise animals specific to their environments.
The American Poultry Association lists eight varieties of turkeys. They are Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy also recognizes other naturally mating color varieties such as the Jersey Buff, White Midget, and others. All of these varieties are Heritage Turkeys.
Cooking directions, tips and controversies
Heritage turkey flavor is more complex, but not gamey. With more dark meat, it's a juicer bird.
One of the most important tools in cooking is a meat thermometer. When you pay more for a heritage bird, you certainly don't want to overcook the bird. Here's the controversy: The USDA recommends turkeys be cooked to 160F-180F. Most heritage turkey aficionados will recommend taking the turkey out of the oven a few degrees before the 160 degrees. The temp will rise a few degrees after the bird is removed from the oven.
Stuffing will likely not cook thoroughly in a bird that is not overcooked.
1. Cook in a roasting rack.
2. Season on the inside and stuff with apples (cores are fine if you have them) herb springs and celery with greens attached. These items will be discarded.
3. Let the bird come to room temperature before roasting (about an hour and a half).
4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Scatter rest of apples, celery, giblets, neck and herbs in the pan and add a cup or two of water to the bottom of the pan--depending on size of pan. Tie the legs with cooking twine. Cook the bird at 450 for only the first 20 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 325 degrees.
5. Place a thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh (don't let it touch bone). Place a foil tent over the bird. Protect the wing tips with foil if you wish. The total cooking time may be about 15 minutes per pound. Don't let the pan go dry. Add more water if needed. Decide your thermometer strategy and remove the bird from the oven when desired temp. is reached.
6. Let the bird rest for 20 -30 minutes before you remove from the pan, remove the cavity contents. Strain the liquid, and make gravy while you let the bird rest.
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