1. Somehow a lot of folks came to believe that turkeys needed to be roasted until they had an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Yuck. You don’t need to do that. Your turkey need only be cooked to 165 degrees. If the breast is done and the thighs are not, take the bird out of the oven, carve off the legs and thighs, and put them back in to cook while you carve the breast and make your gravy. That entire holiday myth about coming to the table with a perfect whole bird and then engaging in exposition carving is about as realistic as expecting our daughters will grow up to look like Barbie (and who’d want that, anyhow?). Just have fun and enjoy good food.
Buying Quick note: As a general rule, you will want to purchase 2 lbs of whole turkey per adult if you want leftovers or 1.5 lbs of whole turkey if you do not want leftovers.
2. I used to ascribe to that crazy method where you start roasting your bird upside down, then flip it over to brown the breast. The idea was that the bird would cook more evenly, and the breast wouldn’t dry out. When I did this, the turkey came out fine. But I suffered 2nd degree burns, threw out my back, ruined two sets of potholders and nearly dropped the thing on the floor. Pasture-raised turkeys are naturally juicy. Don’t make yourself crazy with this stunt. Just put it in the oven breast-side up like you would a whole chicken, and don’t over-cook it. Take it out when the breast is 165 degrees (see #1, above). If, despite the disparaging comments in item 1, you still want to show off the whole bird, then bring it into the dining room, allow everyone to ooh and aah, then scuttle back to the kitchen, and proceed as explained above.
Pesky Feather Quick note: Having a few feathers on kosher whole poultry is unfortunately normal. So when you get your bird and see a few feathers, don't worry, it's easy to remove them after it's cooked.
3. Pasture-raised turkeys will cook faster than factory-farmed birds. Figure on 12-15 minutes per pound at 325 degrees as you plan your dinner. That said, oven temperatures and individual birds will always vary. Use an internal meat thermometer to know for sure when the bird is cooked. For more help with cooking your turkey, don’t forget to refer to The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook
by Shannon Hayes.
Cooking Quick note: Cook stuffed turkeys for 12-15 minutes per pound or unstuffed turkeys for 10-12 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. The internal temperature should be 165 degrees.
4. If this is your first Thanksgiving turkey and you do not yet own a turkey roasting pan and cannot find one to borrow, treat yourself to a really top-quality roaster, especially if you have a sizeable bird. Cheap aluminum pans from the grocery store can easily buckle when you remove the bird from the oven, potentially causing the cook serious burns or myriad other injuries in efforts to catch the falling fowl. Plus, they often end up in the recycling bin, or worse, landfills.
5. If you plan to make soup from your turkey leftovers, be sure to remove all the meat from the bones before you boil the carcass for stock. Add the chunks of turkey back to the broth just before serving the soup. This prevents the meat from getting rubbery and stringy. For an extra-nutritious stock, follow the advice in Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, and add a tablespoon of vinegar to the water 30 minutes before you begin boiling the carcass or, better still, use the recipe for chicken stock in The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook. The process of adding acid to the stock draws more minerals from the bones and releases them into the liquid.
Adapted from Shannon Hayes’ Pastured Turkey Cooking Tips. Shannon is the host of grassfedcooking.com
and the author of The Farmer and the Grill and The Grassfed Gourmet. She works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York. Her newest book.