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Cooking a Heritage (Heirloom) Turkey

Cooking a Heritage (Heirloom) Turkey
Heritage (or heirloom) turkeys are a little more delicate to cook than the standard commercial bird, but well worth the effort. Here are a few tips to ensure that your heritage turkey stays moist and full of the flavor and character that make these birds increasingly popular.
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Herb Butter Rub
  1. Chopped fresh herb (sage, thyme, rosemary or a combination)
  2. Softened butter
  3. The proportions are 1 cup of butter to 1/4 cup of herbs. Mix these together and put aside.
Brine
  1. 1 gal water
  2. 1 c kosher salt
  3. 2 c golden brown sugar
  4. 1/2 c whole black peppercorns
  5. 1 bunch thyme, fresh
Cooking time & temperature
  1. The birds tend to be smaller in size (usually no more than 15-18 pounds. I prefer a bird around 12-14 pounds. This size cooks in a reasonable amount of time and therefore tends to remain moist and tender after the cooking process.
  2. Cooking time is 10-15 minutes per pound. The internal temperature of the thigh needs to be 150 degrees.
  3. Resist the temptation to stuff the bird, as this requires an even longer cooking time.
  4. The shorter the cooking time the better. I use a slightly higher heat than I would use for a commercial turkey – cooking the bird at 375 degrees for the first 1.5 hours, then reducing to 325 degrees, and basting every 20 minutes from start of cooking.
  5. I truss my turkey, but not very tightly, as I find that it’s better to allow the heat to penetrate the cavity, actually allowing the turkey thighs (the part that takes longest to cook) to cook quicker
Preparation
  1. Brine the turkey overnight. The next day, remove the turkey and allow to sit out for 1-2 hours.
  2. Starting at the area where the thigh meets the breast, separate the skin from the meat and go as high up as you can.
  3. Rub the herb butter over the meat under then skin and use at least 1/2 cup of the butter/herb mixture. You can save the rest to baste the outside of the skin.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the inside cavity of the turkey with salt, pepper and any herbs you would like. Whole herbs on the branch are good.
  5. Rub the skin with some of the herb butter and place in the oven. Reduce heat to 375 degrees.
  6. For the first hour rub the turkey with any additional herb butter.
  7. Reduce oven to 325 degrees after the first 1.5 hours.
  8. Once there are enough butter/juices in the bottom of the pan, baste the turkey with these juices every 20 minutes. I use a good pastry brush (regular or silicone works just fine).
  9. Due to the smaller size, I don’t usually find it necessary to cover the turkey during cooking, but if you find the need to do so (if skin begins to darken too quickly, for example), use oiled paper rather than foil. The oiled paper allows moisture to escape, allowing you to roast rather than steam the bird.
  10. Continue basting and cooking until it is done (see above). A quick test to see if the turkey is cooked, is to check the color of the juices inside the cavity. If they are red or pink, then you need to cook longer. It is however, always best to test with a cooking thermometer.
  11. The turkey is then removed from the oven or BBQ and allowed to rest (loosely covered to keep the heat in and allow for carry-over cooking for at least 20 minutes.
  12. At this time, you can finish the sauce using the pan drippings.
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