Thanksgiving is all about family, gratitude, traditions and, of course, a big bird.
There are lot of ways to cook that bird; be it roasting, smoking, frying, grilling, stuffed with duck, done like beer can chicken and many more. (I mean… have you seen the bacon wrapped turkey that’s making it’s rounds on Pinterest?)
But, just like there are many ways to cook your Thanksgiving centerpiece, there are also many ways to source it.
By way of the grocery store is probably the most common. The issue is that many conventionally raised turkeys are often injected with excessive oil, sodium, and artificial flavorings. Not to mention, the bird’s living conditions may make you lose your appetite.
Labels like “organic” and “free range” might make you feel good, but they are actually pretty vague. Even though a bird has an organic diet, it may never see grass or sunshine. Free Range often means the bird has the option to go outside, but it doesn’t mean that 1. She does and 2. that the “outside” is made of grass. If you can find the word “pastured” when searching for your bird, that is the best option you could get.
Thanks to the amazing flavor I have found in my pasture raised chickens versus conventional chickens, I knew that I wanted to prepare a pasture raised turkey. So, I reached out to a farmer that raises beef and poultry in my county to give it a test run before hosting Thanksgiving this year. (And, because it’s my first time hosting…!)
Turns out, the flavor in the pasture raised bird is spectacular. The meat is super juicy and tender and as a bonus, pastured meat doesn’t take as long to cook!
Plus, I cannot think of a better way to “give thanks” than doing something sustainable for the environment, that supports my local community, and is good for my body.
Sound like a good way to celebrate to you too? Check out my tips on how to cook a pasture raised turkey aka Thanksgiving centerpiece.
So, a pasture raised turkey sounds fabulous, but where the heck do I get one?
I found out about the farm where our bird came from on eatwild.com. Eat Wild is an awesome tool for finding farms that feature pasture raised, grass fed meat and dairy products in your state. They also have listings for farms in Canada and other international locations.
Keep in mind that many farms that raise turkeys probably do advanced ordering for the Holidays. A pasture raised turkey isn’t something you should wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to go look for. In fact, if you want one, I would recommend getting your order in ASAP.
When picking your bird up from the farmer, remember that farmer’s can’t guarantee the weight, but they can get close. If the bird is a little smaller than you had hoped, make extra sides. And, if it’s a little bigger… Two Words: LEFT OVERS.
Let’s be real, everyone likes a day after Thanksgiving sandwich.
Note: When trying to figure out how big of a bird you need for the big day, our dear friend, Martha Stewart, recommends 1 1/2 pounds per person.
You’ll want to make sure you have the right tools before you begin cooking. You will need a large, sturdy roasting pan with a rack and handles as well as a good meat thermometer. I would suggest spending a little more cash for a high quality pan. It will be something that will last the ages if you invest in it right.
More than likely, the turkey you purchased from a farmer will come frozen for sanitation purposes. Be sure to give the bird enough time to defrost safely. It takes one day for every four pounds of bird to defrost on a baking sheet in the refrigerator.
Example: A sixteen pound turkey will take four days to defrost in the fridge.
Once defrosted, remove the neck and giblets (but keep them for gravy!), carefully rinse the turkey and then dry both the exterior and interior with paper towels.
Many people swear by brining when preparing a turkey believing that it will keep the meat moist and juicy. This is true; however, everywhere I read said that pasture raised turkey meat is already significantly juicier and flavorful in comparison to conventional birds.
So, brining isn’t really necessary. But, that is up to you.
I choose not to brine my pasture raised turkeys because I love the really authentic flavor that comes to the bird naturally. This may be the most ambiguous way to define the flavor, but pasture raised turkey just tastes more like turkey. PS- This is a good thing.
Instead of brining, I rubbed salt and pepper on the outside and inside of the bird. Then, loosened the turkey’s skin and carefully stuffed herbed butter between the meat and skin.
- ½ stick of butter (4 tablespoons), room temperature
- 2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- Combine all ingredients well in a small bowl. Mix until smooth.
Finally, I placed aromatics from the garden like carrots, celery, onions, herbs, and garlic in the cavity as well as on the bottom of the roasting pan with about two cups of chicken broth.
Because pasture raised turkeys are leaner than conventional, they cook faster. A pasture raised turkey will need about 12-15 minutes per pound to cook.
I like to cook my turkeys at a higher temperature (450 degrees), uncovered in the beginning for about thirty minutes and then bring the oven to a lower temperature (350 degrees) and cover the roasting pan with foil for the remainder of the cooking process.
All ovens are different so be sure to check on your birds progress by reading it’s temperature in the thickest part of the thigh. USDA recommends that poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees before consumption. For the best taste and texture, do not let your turkey get much higher than 165 degrees.
Last, but certainly not least, one of the biggest mistakes any cook can do is not let meat rest after it’s taken away from it’s heat source.
Turkey should rest for about thirty minutes before you begin carving to lock in flavor and juicy goodness. Yum!
You spent good money (expect somewhere between $3-8 a pound) on your excellent Thanksgiving turkey so be sure to not let any of it go to waste.
Thanksgiving turkey leftovers make great sandwiches, soups, casseroles, and more. But, don’t forget about the bones. They make great stock that can be frozen easily and used in any recipe that calls for chicken stock!
Enjoy Thanksgiving with your family, friends, and delicious pasture raised turkey!
Here are a couple of leftover turkey ideas for you…
Here are a few bonus side dishes you might consider with your perfectly cooked pastured raised turkey…
- Homemade root vegetable chips (a fun snack for the grazers)
- Very simple asparagus and peppers (super easy, good for you, flavorful)
- Stove Top™ stuffing (this is my friend Brittany of Pistachio Project’s recipe…skip the box!)
- Crazy creamy, uber cheesy potatoes (kids and adults will gobble them up)
- Savory jalapeño cheese buns (different and super fun!)
- Sweet potato coconut curry soup (decadent soup perfect with turkey)