Trying to figure out how to cook a pasture raised turkey you just purchased from your local farmer?
Some folks are hesitant to try their hand at cooking a pasture raised turkey because they think it takes a whole new set of skills. Well, we’re here to tell you that even the simplest of cooks can achieve a deliciously perfect pasture raised Thanksgiving turkey! There are a few things to know before you get to cooking, but turkeys that are raised and processed properly are full of flavor, moisture, and forgiveness!
Here are a few things to be aware of before you cook your pasture raised turkey:
1. There are many different breeds of turkeys. Most farms (including us) raise broad breasted white or broad breasted bronze turkeys. These are the breeds the industry uses, but when raised on fresh pasture vs. in confinement the results are exquisitely different. When you purchase a pasture raised broad breasted turkey, you can expect the same large breasted bird you would find in a grocery store. However, when cooked, the difference in flavor and moisture will astound you (thanks to all the grass, bugs, sunshine, and lack of stress!) However, some farms choose to raise heritage breed birds which are also wonderful and full of flavor and moisture. When purchasing your local pastured turkey, ask your farmer if you will be receiving a broad breasted or heritage variety. If it is a heritage bird the farmer should have some specific cooking tips for you for that particular breed. If it is a broad breasted breed, these few tips will suffice.
2. Pastured turkeys cook faster than non-pastured turkeys. This is due to the fact that pastured turkeys tend to be leaner since they spend their lives running around, chasing bugs, and eating a varied diet. At a temperature of 325F (low and slow is better), plan on 8-10 minutes per pound as opposed to the recommended 12-15 minutes for non-pastured). For best results, use an instant read thermometer in a thick part of the bird (like the thigh) and pull it out when it reaches 160F. Let it sit for 20-30 minutes where it will continue to cook and reach the recommended 165F.
3. To brine or not to brine? Many folks love to brine and if that is what you want to do, go for it! But if you don’t want to go through the hassle, no problem! Pasture raised birds are significantly more flavorful and juicy than non-pastured birds so brining is really not necessary.
4. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE crispy turkey skin. Just last year I discovered a great way to ensure brown, crispy skin on my turkey.
Step 1: If you have space in your refrigerator, take the turkey out of the bag 24 hours before you plan to cook it and place it on a large plate or rimmed baking sheet. Dry with paper towels and put back in the fridge uncovered (make sure it isn’t touching anything else). This process of air drying will get a lot of the moisture out of the skin which is the enemy of crispy skin.
Step 2: The day you plan to cook it, take it out and allow it to come to room temperature.
Step 3: Just before putting it in the oven, rub olive oil or butter (olive oil will result in crispier skin as butter is 20% water) and whatever herbs and seasonings you’re using all over the turkey.
Step 4: Roast uncovered – covering with foil or in a roasting bag will trap moisture and prevent that skin from crisping up.
If you don’t have space in your refrigerator for this process, you can still attempt to get that crispy skin! Just pat the turkey dry, loosen up the skin from the meat, and let it sit out on the counter for several hours before roasting. Then rub on your oil and seasonings before putting in the oven.
5. If you’re feeling adventurous, you may want to try the method of spatchcocking your turkey. With different turkey sizes, oven temps, and cooking times, it is inevitable that occasionally you run into the problem of the breast meat cooking faster than the legs and thighs. If you don’t spatchcock and this does happen to you, you can simple remove the turkey from the oven, cut the legs off and put them back in the oven while you allow the breast to rest and then carve. Spatchcocking is the method of removing the backbone and flattening the turkey so that everything cooks evenly, guaranteed. Here is a quick video on how to spatchcock a turkey. Also note that if you do decide to spatchcock your turkey, it will cook even faster!
And that’s all you need to know about how to cook a pasture raised turkey! Whether you get it from us or another local farmer, we are certain you and your family will enjoy every bite and will feel deep satisfaction knowing exactly where your food came from and that you fed yourselves a nutrient dense, ecologically enhancing Thanksgiving meal!
Matt, Rachel, Jackson and Virginia Palma
Restoration Acres Farm
“Food that Restores”