The big day is almost here! I’ve been working with the best producers in California to bring my favorite heritage, organic, and free-range turkeys to our markets. But just as important as selecting a great sustainably-raised turkey is cooking it to perfection. So here’s a quick guide to help make the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving meal unforgettable. Keep reading for tips, recipes, and a printable .pdf guide to keep on hand in the kitchen.
If you haven’t reserved your turkey yet, we still have a wonderful selection available from BN Ranch, Diestel, and Mary’s available for pre-order here.
Bill Niman‘s BN Ranch heritage turkeys are the closest you can come to what the Pilgrims ate at Thanksgiving. Their vegetarian diet is free of growth promotants, antibiotics, and corn, which produces rich, flavorful dark meat. The turkeys are truly free-range, and are able to graze and forage on their own. Their body composition is different than conventional turkeys, so they require a different approach to cooking to ensure that their larger legs and smaller breasts cook evenly.
Tips for Roasting Heritage Turkeys:
- We do NOT recommend that Heritage turkeys be brined. This ensures better texture, and maintains the naturally intense flavor of these special birds.
- Let the turkey come to room temperature before roasting.
- Heritage birds typically have a humped breast bone, and the bird will be somewhat leaner than a conventional turkey, with darker meat. Because of their unique breast-to-leg ratio, the breast will reach doneness long before the legs and thighs. There are two ways to address this: Either roast the bird whole until the breasts are done, and then finish cooking the legs separately, or remove and braise just the legs and roast the rest of the turkey whole.
- Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes prior to slicing. This ensures evenly juicy meat.
Recipe for Whole Roast Heritage Turkey:
Courtesy of Chef Dan Barber of Stone Barns and Blue Hill, NY
BN Ranch Heritage Turkey
Salt and Pepper
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
- Let turkey come to room temperature. Carefully separate skin from the breast meat and rub softened butter on to breast. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
- Set the turkey, breast side up, on the rack of a large roasting pan. Tie the legs together with kitchen string. Roast for 20 minutes.
- Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cover turkey loosely with tin foil. Roast until the thermometer inserted into the inner thigh registers 150 degrees (2 to 3 hours, depending on turkey size).
- Transfer turkey to cutting board. Let stand for at least 45 minutes to cool down. Remove legs and thighs, careful to not take too much skin with you.
- Place thighs, skin side, on a roasting pan and continue cooking 40-45 minutes or until juices run clear. Separately slice breast and thigh and plate while still warm.
Recipe for Traditional Broad-Breasted Turkey:
After removing neck and giblets from the body cavity, rinse the bird with cold water. Pat cavities and body dry with a paper towel. Rub body and neck cavities with salt if desired, and stuff loosely. Truss neck cavity with metal skewer and truss legs. To remove the truss just lift the ring and pull it up and over the end of the drumstick. To secure the truss, hold the drumsticks together, lift the ring and pull it over the drumsticks.
Spread exterior of turkey with a blend of your favorite herbs and spices or with a paste made of the following ingredients:
4 Tbsp oil (melted butter or olive oil)
4 tsp. salt, or to taste
2 tsp. paprika
- Heat oven to 325º F. Place bird in open pan, breast side up. Pour two 8 ounce cups of water in bottom of pan. Place in oven. If roasting turkey unstuffed then decrease roasting time by approximately 30 minutes. There is no need to turn the bird while roasting as it will brown to a rich, golden color. However, a piece of foil should be placed loosely over the breast for the last hour of roasting.
- Take the temperature by inserting a meat thermometer in the thigh joint, where the leg connects to the breast; the turkey is done when it reads 155-160°. When done, the thickest part of the drumstick will feel soft. Remove from oven. Let stand 15 minutes before carving.
Weight Approximate Time to Start
(lbs) Roasting Time Checking Temperature
6-10 lbs. approx. 2 hrs. 1 ½ hrs.
10-12 lbs 3 – 3 ¼ hrs. 2 ½ hrs.
12-14 lbs. 3 ¼ – 3 ½ hrs. 2 ½ hrs.
14-16 lbs. 3 ½ – 3 ¾ hrs. 2 ¾ hrs.
16-18 lbs. 3 ¾ – 4 hrs. 3 hrs.
18-20 lbs. 4 – 4 ½ hrs. 3 ¼ hrs.
20-22 lbs. 4 ½ – 5 hrs. 3 ¾ hrs.
22-24 lbs. 5 – 5 ½ hrs. 4 hrs.
24-26 lbs. 5 ½ – 5 ¾ hrs. 4 ¾ hrs.
If you have any questions or need additional tips, you can always call us or stop in and talk to a butcher, and we’ll be happy to help. Happy Thanksgiving!