How to Cook Your Heritage Turkey

We're delivering 80-something turkeys to customers across the state in the next few days. If you're one of them (customers, not turkeys) here are some tips on how to prepare that beautiful bird.

Cooking your hertiage bird is a bit different than cooking that old Butterball. First of all, don't overcook it, as one chef said last year on NPR: The bird has already been killed once, don't kill it again.

After the jump, you'll find some of our favorite recipes for your Thanksgiving turkey.

A Few Heritage Turkey Recipes

Roast Heritage Turkey
This recipe is from Chef Leonard Spampinato of Aromas Fine Catering. These are his roasting guidelines: 6 to 16 pounds, 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Over 16 pounds, 12 to 15 minutes per pound. Do not cover the birds with foil, he cautions, or they will steam, not roast.

For the turkey:
1 12- to 15-pound turkey
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 large sprigs fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
3 large sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Stems from 1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

For the pan sauce:
4 to 5 tablespoons cornstarch
5 cups chicken stock

1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Rinse the turkey and pat dry. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Allow butter to cool to room temperature.
2. While the butter is cooling, season the turkey. Rub the minced garlic over the entire turkey, including the underside. Brush butter over the entire bird. Then season with thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Place the bay leaf and parsley stems inside the cavity. Put the turkey in a roasting pan and place in the preheated oven to roast for 30 minutes.
3. After 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Roast the bird for 3 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours (see roasting guidelines above), or until a thermometer registers 165 degrees*. Be sure to place the thermometer into a thigh and avoid touching the bone.
4. Transfer the turkey to a platter and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving. While the turkey is resting, prepare the sauce.
5. Preparing the pan sauce: Dissolve the cornstarch in one cup of cold chicken stock. Pour the fat and juices from the roasting pan into a container. Let the juices settle to the bottom and skim the fat from the top. Place the roasting pan on top of the stove over medium heat.
6. Add the juices back to the pan along with the remaining 4 cups of chicken stock (about 1/4 cup for every pound of turkey).
7. Bring the liquid to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the browned drippings on the bottom. Thicken the sauce by whisking in the cornstarch-stock mixture. When the sauce returns to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
8. Adjust the seasonings and strain through a sieve. The sauce is now ready to serve. Carve the turkey and pass the sauce.

Roasted Heritage Turkey
By Sandra Kay Miller
She says, "Besides the fact that most old fashion Heritage turkeys are also raised the old fashioned way – with plenty of grass and sunshine – they need to be cooked quite differently than their modern, factory-farmed counterparts. This tried and true recipe (which serves 10-12 people) will make the best of your Heritage bird this year. "

15-pound fresh heritage turkey at room temperature
Kosher or sea salt & fresh ground pepper
4 cups giblet broth (see recipe below)
Rosemary Maple Butter (see recipe below)
Oiled parchment paper

1. Rub turkey inside and out with salt and pepper.
2. Loosen the skin around the breast with your fingers and insert Rosemary Maple Butter between the meat and the skin as well as on the inside of the bird's cavity.
3. Set bird in deep roasting pan. Use a wire rack to lift the bird off the bottom of the pan.
4. Add the giblet broth to the bottom of the pan. Using a sheet of oiled parchment paper, tent the roasting pan with the oiled parchment paper. Any type of cooking oil can be used. Brush it on both sides with a pastry brush. The parchment paper is easily affixed to the roasting pan with a strip of foil on each end or you can use clean, oiled wooden clothespins.
5. Remove parchment paper and the last 30 minutes of cooking to develop a crispy, golden skin.
6. Pre-heat oven to 425F-450F. Roast the bird until the thigh temperature reaches 140F-150F*.
7. Let the bird rest 10-15 minutes before carving to let the juices settle.

A word about basting
Quick roasting at high temperatures means the oven temperature needs to be maintained and frequent basting defeats that purpose. By adding butter under the skin, the bird is self-basted. Baste the bird when you remove the parchment tent. If there is not enough liquid for basting, add either more water or wine.

Giblet Broth
2 cups white wine (a deep, oaky chardonnay lends a wonder taste)
2 cups water
Giblets & neck
Bay leaf

Simmer everything in a small saucepan for 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf and neck. Giblets can be discarded if they aren't your type of thing or they can be finely chopped and added to the broth.

Rosemary Maple Butter
1/2 pound butter
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary
Bring butter to room temperature and whip all ingredients together.

Simple Heritage Roast Turkey
This one is from the November 7, 2007 New York Times and the one we used last year. It was delicious.

Time: 2 to 3 1/2 hours, depending on size of turkey

1 12-to 18-pound heritage turkey such as a Bronze or Bourbon Red, thawed, with giblets and neck removed
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper
4 tablespoons butter, cut into four pieces
1 medium onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, cut in two or three pieces each
1 medium apple, halved
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups turkey broth, water or a mixture of half water and half apple juice.

1. At least four hours before roasting, rub turkey inside and out with salt and pepper; refrigerate. Remove from refrigerator 45 minutes before roasting. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Set turkey in roasting pan fitted with a V-shaped rack. Slip your fingers under skin to loosen it. Rub butter over breasts. Stuff vegetables, apple and thyme into cavity. Tuck wingtips under bird.
3. Pour broth or water into pan, around bird. Put turkey in oven and roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325, baste turkey with pan juices, cover with a foil tent and return to oven. Cook for another 30 minutes. Remove foil, baste again and place foil back on turkey. Cook for 30 more minutes. Remove foil.
4. When turkey has roasted for a total of two hours, insert a meat thermometer straight down into fleshiest part of thigh, where it meets drumstick. Check a second spot, then remove thermometer. (Do not let thermometer touch bone.) Thigh meat should reach no more than 165 degrees*. Juices should run clear. (If bird is larger than 14 pounds, keep foil on longer and begin checking meat temperature at two and half hours.) To assure perfectly cooked white and dark meat, you may remove bird when meat thermometer shows thigh temperature at 155, then remove legs and roast them separately for another 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size of bird.
5. When bird has reached desired temperature, remove from oven and let rest for at least 30 minutes, covered in foil and with a damp towel on top of foil, to retain heat and allow juices to return to meat. Remove foil and towel and serve.
Yield: 8 to 12 servings.

*Note: The Department of Agriculture recommends an internal temperature of 180 to 185 degrees, tested in the thigh, while many cooking experts say 165 degrees is safe and results in a moister bird.

And … one side dish idea I couldn't help but to add:

Cheesy Bread in a Pumpkin
Thanks to Ruth Reichl, editor of the now shuttered Gourmet magazine. This dish is such a divine way to serve a pumpkin. See it here at Streaming Gourmet. I heard Reichel describe it on Fresh Air and had to have it.

Serves 2-4

1 7-inch piece of baguette
1 3 1/2 lb pumpkin
3/4 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cups Gruyère cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 450˚F (You may choose to reduce the part of the way through the pumpkin baking time, but I’ll get to that later).

2. Cut the baguette into one-inch slices and cut those into cubes. Lay them on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven until golden brown, about 7 minutes.

3. Mix the half-and-half, broth and nutmeg together.

4. Cut the top off of the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. Place a layer of bread on the bottom. Layer about 1/3 of the cheese on top of the bread and pour about 1/3 of the chicken broth mixture on top. Repeat with two more layers. Place the top back on the pumpkin and brush the outside of the pumpkin with olive oil.

5. IMPORTANT: Place the pumpkin in a baking pan (to catch possible cheese drippings that leak out the bottom) sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and place in the oven. Bake for about an hour, maybe 1 1/4 hours. The pumpkin should get charred a little bit. Don’t worry. But if you think it’s overcharring, reduce the heat to 350˚F and just keep on baking until time is up.

6. Do a few extra scrapes of nutmeg on the grater to garnish and serve immediately.


  1. Good to see my recipe is still making the rounds in the blogosphere. I've started adding fresh shallots to the butter, too. Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Courtney and Jacob: Lou Ann & I didn't wait for today, Thanksgiving, to roast our Heritage Turkey. As soon as we returned from picking the turkey up we immediate prepared and cooked it. We took a taste test after the turkey 'rested' for approximately 20 minutes. And it was a long twenty minutes. My first taste impression was "low sodium" content and that's a good thing for me. And just knowing how it was raised made it taste that much better. Thank you! Lou Ann & Dave Gay

  3. Thanks so much for the delivery of our bird out in Missoula. It was a much-appreciated addition to a dinner that we strive to make as local and sustainable as possible. And even if we weren't going for that, we are DEFINITELY getting one of your birds every year if you'll let us. We've never tasted a turkey so good! We used a combo of all three of your recipes (one for the rosemary-maple butter to put on, one for the gravy, and the last one for general cooking/stuffing of the bird). It got rave reviews from all of our guests. We so appreciate all of your hard work. Thanks for letting us be a part of this!

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Used the first technique, but brined it overnight. By far the best turkey we've ever had. It was a twelve pound midget white that a farmer friend gave us. This cooking method turned out a perfect bird. YUM! Thank you for sharing.


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