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Holben Valley Farm’s turkeys are free range, pasture fedThanksgiving Turkeys

We’ve pulled together tips you should know for buying and cooking your turkey! Thanks to Mother Earth News.

You’ll also find many more tips and tricks for cooking pastured birds in the books mentioned below.

1. Hank Will, a Kansas turkey farmer and Editor-in-Chief of Grit magazine, recommends buying a bird processed one to four days before you receive it. Keep the bird in a cooler on ice for at least 24 hours. Shannon Hayes, who raises pastured turkeys in upstate New York, says this aging time in a “cold chill tank” is necessary for enzymes to break down the meat and make it tender. Aging turkeys is also a great way to deepen flavors. For instructions on aging a turkey in your refrigerator, visit How to Roast a Heritage Turkey.

2. Many people will be surprised to hear that pastured birds cook faster than industrial birds, but this point is crucial. “Since they tend to be leaner, cooking them hot and quick is a sure bet, in the range of at least 425 to 475 degrees Fahrenheit,” Will says. “Some folks cook small heritage turkeys at about 650 degrees in a wood-fired oven for 35 minutes.”

3. If you must employ slow cooking, Will says to push as much herbed butter or olive oil as you can under the skin, which creates a self-basting bird. Also keep an inch or two of liquid beneath the bird.

4. Because white meat cooks faster than dark meat, many people cover the breast as turkeys cook. William Rubel, author of the now out-of-print The Magic of Fire, says this step is not necessary with heritage birds, because the breast is not oversized. “The closer the balance between white and dark meat, the easier it is to roast the whole bird to perfection,” he says. If you’d like to cover the entire bird to prevent it from browning too quickly, Rubel prefers to use oiled parchment paper rather than aluminum foil, because this technique prevents the steaming that happens underneath foil.

5. Always use internal muscle temperature (taken in the breast) as your guide to doneness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says a turkey is safely cooked when it reaches 165 degrees. Will says this will surely destroy your bird, however, and recommends cooking to a temperature of 140 to 145 degrees. Rubel agrees that 140 degrees is best if you don’t want to dry out the meat. If the breast is done, but the thighs are not, Hayes says you should simply cut off the legs and put them back in the oven while you make your gravy.

6. Because smoking turkeys requires low-and-slow instead of fast-and-hot cooking, Danny Williamson of online pastured turkey retailer Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch recommends keeping a pan of water (or beer or cider) in the smoker to keep the turkey juicy.

7. Hayes’ favorite way to cook pastured birds is on the spit. Learn more about spit-roasting in her book The Farmer and the Grill and in Rubel’s The Magic of Fire.

8. The New York Times editor Sam Sifton, author of Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well, and grass-fed cooking expert Deborah Krasner agree that brines improve even free-ranging birds. But Will and Hayes say pastured turkeys need no such treatment. “Pastured birds are significantly juicier and more flavorful than factory-farmed birds,” says Hayes. Consider trying a pastured bird sans brine the first time.

9. Krasner coats turkeys with a spice paste and pairs them with rich sauces. Find her recipe for Roast Turkey With Ancho Paste and Maple-Coffee Sauce in Good Meat. Will says pushing fat under the skin is especially useful with older birds, as these can be tough and can benefit from the basting.

10. You’ll pay good money for a pastured Thanksgiving turkey, so try to use the whole thing. Turkey carcasses yield delicious stock, which freezes well and can substitute for chicken stock in any recipe.

11. If you need ideas for using fat, feet, giblets, gizzards, hearts, kidneys, livers and necks, Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook Odd Bits has them in spades.

12. Will saves well-formed tail feathers of pastured turkeys for use in holiday decorations. Breast and neck feathers find their way into his fishing flies and jigs.

13. Will and Hayes both prefer to cook stuffing separately. They fill the turkey cavity with aromatics — onion, carrot, garlic and herbs for Hayes; orange juice and herbs for Will.

Read more pastured turkey cooking tips from Mother Earth News.

Did you order your Holben Valley Farm Thanksgiving Day turkey yet?

Holben Valley Farm’s turkeys are free range, pasture fed

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