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Roasting a Heritage Turkey


tim
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Hi,

Hi,

My local farmer has a bourbon red turkey wandering around his farm and will go on a corn diet in advance of a visit some Amish friends on November 21, just in time for my Thanksgiving dinner. This bird will definitely have more developed muscles and less fat than my usual turkey.

I am looking for recommendation for brining, cooking temperatures, finished temperature and other techniques. I will definately brine (wet or dry), place a mix of butter poached herbs, lemon peel and garlic mixed with seasonings and butter under the skin and begin roasting the bird breast down.

Are there any recommendations on wet brining or on dry brining an heritage turkey? The dry brine would be the mix described above placed 2 days in advance. I suspect the added moisture of wet brining would be preferred.

I will roast upside down with caul fat to self baste the bird before finishing breast up.

I would also appreciate ideas on oven temperatures. I usually roast a turkey at 400-425 degrees on convection, but do not know if a lower temp is beneficial with a heritage turkey. I suspect that the lower fat level may dictate a lower roasting temp without using convection.

Finally, I would like recommendations for the final internal temperature for a heritage turkey. I usually shoot for 165 in the breast and 175 in the thigh. Would a higher temp yield a more tender turkey?

I understand that great gravy can make a dry turkey palatable and there will be plenty.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Tim

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Are there any recommendations on wet brining or on dry brining an heritage turkey? The dry brine would be the mix described above placed 2 days in advance. I suspect the added moisture of wet brining would be preferred.

I would absolutely not wet brine such a bird. The amount of brining it would take to get penetration into a big bird would essentially cure the meat on the outside. It will also be oversaturated, with diluted turkey flavors, difficult to brown properly, and very likely too salty.

A dry salt rub, partially covered, for 12 hours or so works really nicely on a high quality bird.

Finally, I would like recommendations for the final internal temperature for a heritage turkey. I usually shoot for 165 in the breast and 175 in the thigh. Would a higher temp yield a more tender turkey?

No! I'd go 15 degrees lower. I pull the bird when the temperature between the breast and thigh hits 155. It then rests, lightly tented for up to 45 minutes. You get at least a 5 degree rise during this time. I like to see the thigh cook to 160, the breast to 150, or even a bit less.

I haven't used your method of starting the bird breast down, but it probably helps keep the breast meat cooler than the thigh meat. Which is probably the most important thing to do. Another option is barding the breast for a good portion of the cooking time, either with strips of fat, bacon, or foil.

I wouldn't worry about the meat being too tough. This kind of turkey is generally more toothsome when you bite into it (sorry ... i hate that word, but don't know a better one). But it's not chewy or tough. If it is indeed lower in fat than a factory bird (and I wouldn't assume it is) then it will dry out more easily, and needs to be more carefully guarded against overcooking.

I understand that great gravy can make a dry turkey palatable and there will be plenty.

If you cook this bird nicely, it will be delicious and juicy on its own. You'll have gravy because you like it, not because the bird needs to be hidden!

Notes from the underbelly

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I would absolutely not wet brine such a bird. The amount of brining it would take to get penetration into a big bird would essentially cure the meat on the outside. It will also be oversaturated, with diluted turkey flavors, difficult to brown properly, and very likely too salty.

Paul,

I do appreciate your thoughts. The bird will not be big, maybe 12 pounds. Are there different factors at play in brining a heritage turkey? I have brined turkeys for years without ever having any problem that you have mentioned. We usually air dry a wet brined turkey over night to dry the skin.

Thanks again,

Tim

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I've roasted Heritage Turkeys the last two years and have wet brined them both times, with great success. I'm scheduled to get a Narraganset this year and plan on wet brining it as well. I did not find either too salty and I am someone who is not overly fond of salty foods.

I will say, I brine two days before Thanksgiving, removing the bird the night before and just letting it sit in the fridge over night, so it's only sitting in the brine for 1 day total. Not sure how much of a difference this will make, but it works for me.

As for cooking, I start the bird at 425 for about 30minutes and then drop back the temp to 350 for the remainder. If necessary, I'll cover the breast with foil. I cook until the temp in the thigh is 165 and I don't even bother taking the temp of the breast as 1) I figure if the thigh is done, the breast is done and 2) I don't like poking too many holes in my turkey.

As for starting the thing upside down then flipping it? Too much work in my opinion.

My only advice to you is: don't overthink this. If you've cooked a commercial turkey with success, you should be fine with Heritage as the breasts tend to be smaller and they cook more evenly. In my opinion, they're actually easier to cook, because you've got a greater dark to white meat ratio, so there is less opportunity to overcook the breast meat.

Good Luck and thanks for supporting your local farmer.

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I've cooked heritage turkeys for the last four years, and treated them no differently than regular turkeys. They usually sit in a brine (that's not salty enough to necessitate rinsing) for about two days and then, like Florida, I pretty much roast as normal. The only difference is that they will take less time than you expect to roast, no doubt because of the much smaller breast.

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I really appreciate all of your help,

My wife is somewhat concerned because this same farmer grows free range chickens that are huge and overly toothsome, so to speak. I have been begging him for some poussin but he isn't willing to raise the price enough to justify the $2.50 processing fee. In any case, I'm not sure how much corn this turkey is getting; that would raise the fat content.

Years ago, we had wild turkeys every fall and only had problems if they were really old or not properly bled. You are correct, I am overthinking the process.

Nevertheless, I will brine for 4 hours, season under the skin, air dry over night, roast breast down, use caul fat, and love the bird.

Thanks again,

Tim

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One thing that is really helpful for chicken or turkey to to either remove the knob at the bottom of the leg, or cut through the skin, meat and tendons just above the knob. Makes the leg look sort of like a lollipop when cooked, and I know that when I get chickens that have had some exercise, makes the leg just like the thigh -- nice and plump!

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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The bird will not be big, maybe 12 pounds. Are there different factors at play in brining a heritage turkey? I have brined turkeys for years without ever having any problem that you have mentioned. We usually air dry a wet brined turkey over night to dry the skin.

Air drying overnight will make a big difference, but I still think that with a good quality bird (or a good quality anything) you can get better results without brining.

Brine adds water weight to the meat, and also partially denatures the proteins, slightly tenderizing the meat and making it less likely to dry out from overcooking. The trouble is that added water weight is a bad thing for good meat; it dilutes flavor. What superficially seems like juiciness is largely wateryness. Those abundant juices will not taste as convincingly like turkey. They will, of course, taste salty ... an effect which is easy to overdo, unless you and your guests have grown accustomed to salty foods.

Brine's ability to tenderize the meat, and to encourage it to hold onto its natural juices, makes it tempting. However, if you look at the rate of brine penetration, in days per inch, you'll see that to do anything more than a superficial job on a 12 lb turkey would require many days. The price you pay in lost freshness, in my mind, would not be worth it.

Besides, most of what you're getting is insurance against overcooking. I think it's much better to just cook it right.

None of this is to suggest that you can't get excellent results with brining. I just believe that you can get better results without, especially if you're dealing with an excellent quality bird to begin with.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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Hey Tim,

Like Florida and Hest88 I brine my birds (I have done with Wild Turkeys I've gotten) for years and they come out delicious and extremely flavorful.

Doc

-Doc

"Everything I eat has been proved by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison, and everything I don't eat has been proved to be indispensable for life. But I go marching on." ~George Bernard Shaw

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Hi Tim,

I hope after you get the bird cooked you will report back on your feast. It sounds wonderful. I've had the opportunity recently to reserve a heritage turkey, but I'm not roasting the bird this year, so turned it down. I want to try Snowangel's suggestion for the leg. That sounds like a wonderful trick.

gayle28607

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I've cooked heritage turkeys for the last four years, and treated them no differently than regular turkeys. They usually sit in a brine (that's not salty enough to necessitate rinsing) for about two days and then, like Florida, I pretty much roast as normal. The only difference is that they will take less time than you expect to roast, no doubt because of the much smaller breast.

So how much salt do you use in your brine for a heritage turkey?

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I concur w/ the wet brining of the bird, I have never had any difficulty w/ saltiness nor "curing." Agree w/ the air drying the skin in fridge for a day for a crips skin after roasting.

Regarding the smaller breast of the bird, a solution (no pun intended) is to spatchcock the bird. I use it frequently w/ chickens and it provides for a more evenly cooked bird. Basically to spatchcock (some call it Country style)cut out the back bones, place the turkey on a jelly roll pan and lay the turkey flat. Break the wishbones by pressing heavily on the neck end of the bird then push the thighs up as high as you can over the breast. Placing the thighs over the breast evens the cooking time so there is no divergence in temp's as it roasts. In addition, more of the skin is exposed to the heat of the oven, so it crisps up nice. Works like a charm. Let me know how it turns out for you if you should try this method. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tom Gengo

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Tom,

Spatchcocking also makes it very easy to stuff aromatics, seasoning, herbs and fats under the skin. Entering at the four corners allows for full coverage of the wings, legs, thighs and breasts. It does help to re-pin the breast flap and thigh skin before roasting.

Tim

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REgarding the salt concentration, it is based on the volume of the subject de'brine and the time for brining. My standard mix (for chickens) is 1 cup of sweetener (honey, sugar, etc.)and 1/2 cup of KOSHER salt to 6 cups liquid (water, apple cider, pineapple juice, sour or sweet orange juice, etc.) for a 6 hour brining (whole chickens) or 2-3 hours for boneless breasts. As such, with a turkey I use the same quanitities of salt/sweetener to 8 cups with a 12-18 hour refrigerated brining period & use a total of 16 cups of liquid. AS mentioned above, I then lay the turkey on a jelly roll pan for 24 hours in the refrigerator to dry the skin so it crisps in the oven. For spices in my brine I will use 1/4 cup of black peppercorns, 2 halved garlic heads, 1 Tbsp each of cloves & allspice with 6 or so bay leaves roughly broken and 1/2 cup of molasses. For an asian flavor, add 2 Tbsps cardamom pods and 1 crushed 2-4" piece of ginger or 1/2 cup of crystallized ginger to orange or pineapple juice. Using juices, etc. a 50/50 dilution with water is usually sufficient strength for the flavor desired.

Tom Gengo

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REgarding the salt concentration, it is based on the volume of the subject de'brine and the time for brining. My standard mix (for chickens) is 1 cup of sweetener (honey, sugar, etc.)and 1/2 cup of KOSHER salt to 6 cups liquid (water, apple cider, pineapple juice, sour or sweet orange juice, etc.) for a 6 hour brining (whole chickens) or 2-3 hours for boneless breasts. As such, with a turkey I use the same quanitities of salt/sweetener to 8 cups with a 12-18 hour refrigerated brining period & use a total of 16 cups of liquid. AS mentioned above, I then lay the turkey on a jelly roll pan for 24 hours in the refrigerator to dry the skin so it crisps in the oven. For spices in my brine I will use 1/4 cup of black peppercorns, 2 halved garlic heads, 1 Tbsp each of cloves & allspice with 6 or so bay leaves roughly broken and 1/2 cup of molasses. For an asian flavor, add 2 Tbsps cardamom pods and 1 crushed 2-4" piece of ginger or 1/2 cup of crystallized ginger to orange or pineapple juice. Using juices, etc. a 50/50 dilution with water is usually sufficient strength for the flavor desired.

When you are drying the skin is the turkey laid out uncovered in the frig?

Gayle

gayle28607

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REgarding the salt concentration, it is based on the volume of the subject de'brine and the time for brining. My standard mix (for chickens) is 1 cup of sweetener (honey, sugar, etc.)and 1/2 cup of KOSHER salt to 6 cups liquid (water, apple cider, pineapple juice, sour or sweet orange juice, etc.) for a 6 hour brining (whole chickens) or 2-3 hours for boneless breasts. As such, with a turkey I use the same quanitities of salt/sweetener to 8 cups with a 12-18 hour refrigerated brining period & use a total of 16 cups of liquid. AS mentioned above, I then lay the turkey on a jelly roll pan for 24 hours in the refrigerator to dry the skin so it crisps in the oven. For spices in my brine I will use 1/4 cup of black peppercorns, 2 halved garlic heads, 1 Tbsp each of cloves & allspice with 6 or so bay leaves roughly broken and 1/2 cup of molasses. For an asian flavor, add 2 Tbsps cardamom pods and 1 crushed 2-4" piece of ginger or 1/2 cup of crystallized ginger to orange or pineapple juice. Using juices, etc. a 50/50 dilution with water is usually sufficient strength for the flavor desired.

When you are drying the skin is the turkey laid out uncovered in the frig?

Gayle

Yes, Gayle.

Tom Gengo

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Thanks; I was imagining unwanted "refrigerator air" smell possibly penetrating it. Not to imply my frig stinks, but I always cover anything that goes in there, just in case. Thanks for the assurance that this should work. I couldn't imagine it getting dry with a cover, though.

gayle28607

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