Family, food and holidays are so intertwined in our memories that they are nearly synonymous. Just like most American households for 30 some years our family has celebrated our traditions of Thanksgiving with a feast.
Holding hands around the table to pray and say thanks, signing the traditional tablecloth (which I usually don’t get embroidered until the last couple of days before the next Thanksgiving), playing board games, the annual skeet shoot and the college football game are big parts of our turkey day memories.
Yet, nothing says Thanksgiving more than the centerpiece roasted turkey. This year was extra special as we prepared our first Rain Crow pasture raised turkey.
In preparing for the feasting day I made the dreary trek to the local grocery store earlier in the week. Our local grocery was running a special that for a certain amount of groceries bought you received a free turkey. It made me think about our food system and how in the world the factory farms raise turkeys for less than fifty cents a pound?
Cheap food but with high cost and consequences to the birds, our health, flavor, and respect for the things of this world. But, that is a topic for another time and I intend to write about how to cook the perfect pasture raised turkey.
Pasture-raised: Pasture-raised turkeys roam around outside and eat primarily grass, so their food and activity level — both of which affect flavor — differ from those of their grain-fed cousins raised in confinement. These birds tend to be heritage breeds made to be outside where the factory farm birds are so heavy of breast and short of leg that they can’t thrive out in the open.
Our birds are frozen for delivery and food safety. So it must first be thawed slowly in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. This is where I normally brine the turkey but I wanted to taste the natural flavor and juiciness of just the bird this year, so I did not brine.
A room temperature turkey will roast more evenly, so early in the morning I removed the turkey from the refrigerator (about an hour before putting it in the oven).
Next I prepped the turkey by placing some of the herbs I grow in the body cavity. My daughter picked fresh rosemary, thyme and sage from our greenhouse to use. I then added softened butter along with salt and pepper to the outside skin.
I simply placed the bird breast up in the roasting pan with some chicken broth, onions, celery and carrots. These will help keep the bird moist and allow me to baste during the cooking process. It will also contribute to some great tasting gravy.
The basic reason most turkeys are dried out and tough is because they are overcooked. In the past, the USDA recommended cooking a turkey to 180 degrees, to assure all bacteria was killed. Problem was, so was all the flavor and moisture.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a change in the “Single Minimum Internal Temperature Established for Cooked Poultry” in 2006 and the USDA says it’s safe to cook a turkey to 165 degrees.
I prefer to cook to 160, remove from the oven and cover with foil while I prepare the gravy with the drippings from the pan and it continues to cook to the full 165.
These cooking times are merely a guide. Instead I use a good digital thermometer and test the temperature. I also prefer to use a lower temperature to roast the bird. I start at 325 and after an hour lower the temperature of the oven to 300.
10-13 lb. – 1 ½ to 2 ¼ hr.
14-23 lb. – 2 to 3 hr.
24-27 lb. – 3 to 3 ¾ hr.
28-30 lb. – 3 ½ to 4 ½ hr.
I must tell you that my family is a critical group when it comes to food. It is hard to WOW them. Everyone agreed that this was our best turkey ever!
Simple good food and a wonderful memory. Food you can feel good about eating.