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A Guide to Heritage Turkeys

Where to buy and how to cook old-school holiday birds

If you want to put a heritage turkey on the holiday dinner table this year, check your wallet first — these premium birds generally cost around $6 per pound, far more than frozen kind you find in the supermarket. Reserve your bird early, as supplies are limited for these still-rare birds. 

See also: Tasty heritage turkeys.

To find a farm near you, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy maintains a list of heritage turkey producers, along with other resources and information.

The website LocalHarvest maps the nation’s small-scale family farms, farmstands, farmers’ markets, and other sources of sustainably produced meat and produce, including heritage turkeys. 

If you can’t find a nearby producer, Brooklyn-based Heritage Foods USA ships pasture-raised meats from dozens of farms to both home cooks and top-shelf restaurateurs nationwide. Order online and check out recipes from a variety of top chefs, including Dan Barber of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barn in Pocantino Hills, New York, both famed for their creative use of locally raised ingredients. 

Preparing the Perfect Heritage Turkey

Barber’s advice to home cooks: Don’t brine first, since you’re cooking a more flavorful pasture-raised turkey. “If it’s raised right, you don’t want to mask it,” he says. He coats his Thanksgiving bird in butter, salt, and pepper, then roasts it in a very low oven (270 F to 280 F), basting frequently. That’s it. (Keep in mind that the USDA recommends setting your oven no lower than 325 F, for food-safety reasons.)

Farmer and food writer Sandra Kay Miller, who raises heritage turkeys at her farm in Newburg, Pennsylvania, also counsels against brining, but her recipe for a 15-pound heritage turkey uses steady high heat of 425 F. To keep the bird’s leaner, smaller breast from drying out during roasting, she works plenty of maple-flavored butter under the skin and covers it with of oiled parchment paper.

Rub turkey inside and out with sea salt and pepper. Loosen breast skin with fingers and insert rosemary maple butter (recipe below) between the meat and the skin and on the inside of the bird's cavity.

Set bird on a wire rack in a deep roasting pan. Add about 4 cups of giblet broth. Tent pan with parchment paper coated on both sides with cooking oil and affixed to the pan with a strip of foil on each end (or use clean, oiled wooden clothespins). 

Preheat oven at 425 F. Roast until thigh temperature reaches 150 F. (The U.S.D.A. recommends 165 F.) Remove parchment for the last 30 minutes of cooking to develop a crisp golden skin. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving. 

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