Factory-farmed turkeys. Yikes! What a mess. If you missed my earlier post, I interviewed a former turkey farmer who supplied a Big Ag company. I think the single best insight from this interview was when George “Buddy” Black said,
So what can you do? If you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, but want to serve up a more sustainable, healthier turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner, here’s a game plan:
- Shop organic: Organic certification assures that the birds receive organic feed, have access to the outdoors, and are raised without antibiotics or growth-enhancers like Roxarsone and Topmax.
- Shop local: Smaller, local farms usually employ more sustainable practices that can be better for your turkey and the environment. Even if these farms aren’t certified organic (since getting certified can be costly), it’s probably a better choice. Over the past 5 years of my food journey, I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to get to know your farmer and where you food comes from!
- Find a “heritage” turkey: What’s a heritage turkey? Heritage turkeys are what turkeys were before Big Ag started industrializing production with big, broad-breasted birds that are anything but natural. In fact, did you know that industrial turkeys can’t reproduce naturally, they can barely walk, and their narrow gene pool makes them very susceptible to disease? In contrast, heritage turkeys are from strong genetic stock, and they’re raised outdoors with plenty of grass and sunshine. If you’re interested, the Naragansett and Bourbon Red varieties are two great heritage turkey options. For my Thanksgiving this year we’re serving a Bourbon Red turkey from a local farm called Little Bend Heritage Farm (sorry, they’re already sold out of turkeys for 2014).
- Ditch the pre-basted turkey: To help you out I did some research and called the Butterball hotline to see if they have any non pre-basted options. Unfortunately what I learned wasn’t great news. First, all of their turkeys are pre-basted. For their regular (not “all-natural“) turkeys that means they’re injected with water, salt, spices, sodium phosphate, and modified food starch. As I discussed in my post about rotisserie chickens, the overuse of phosphates in our food is being linked to some serious health conditions. So I’d avoid these turkeys at all costs. Butterball’s so-called “all natural” turkeys skip the sodium phosphate and modified food starch additives, but they’re still industrialized birds, and they’ve been injected with water, salt, and spices. I realize we’re all in different circumstances and places on our real food journey, but if at all possible, I’d try to avoid these highly commercialized birds.
Finding a better bird, however, can be a bit of a challenge, especiallywith just a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. But if you’re interested here’s what I’d suggest:
- Check your local co-op. Usually co-ops do a wonderful job of finding local, more sustainable options for all types of food. If you don’t know where your closest co-op is, use this food co-op finder website.
- Whole Foods also stocks heritage, local, and organic turkeys. So if you have a Whole Foods nearby, it might be worth the trip.
- Many grocery stores are stocking healthier turkeys so ask the butcher if they stock any local, organic, or heritage birds.
- Finally, LocalHarvest.org is a website that helps connect people with local farms. Here’s a link to their turkey page. You can type in your city and zip code, and it will help you find local farmers. Again, these local farms may be sold out for this year since demand for higher quality turkeys is growing, but it never hurts to ask. And you can always save the information for next year. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint!
So now that you’ve decided on what turkey you’re going to buy, how are you going to cook it up? Well, to help you answer that question I thought I’d share with you my favorite, Maple Herb Roasted Turkey recipe. I’ve used it with both heritage and organic turkeys, and it’s absolutely perfect! I hope you give it a try! Or perhaps use it to customize your own recipe? I’ve also shared my favorite gravy recipe. As you’ll see it doesn’t require a last-minute panic to make it right when the bird comes out of the oven. Check it out and give it a try!
- 15-pound fresh or frozen turkey at room temperature
- Sea salt & fresh ground pepper
- 4 cups basting broth (see below)
- Herb Maple Butter (see below)
- Optional: Oiled foil/parchment paper (see kitchen resources section)
- 2 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock
- 2 cups water
- Giblets & neck
- Bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons sherry (optional)
- ½ pound butter (we recommend grass-fed butter)
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons fresh minced rosemary (fresh adds a lot more flavor, but if using dried, use a bit more)
- 1 teaspoon marjoram (if you prefer you can omit and up the rosemary by another teaspoon)
- 2 small Granny Smith apples, divided
- 1 medium onion, quartered
- 2-3 fresh sprigs of rosemary, sage, and marjoram (you can substitute dried spices if you don’t have fresh)
- Combine all the basting broth ingredients and simmer in a small saucepan for 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf, neck, and giblets. If you're into giblets, they can be chopped finely and added to the broth or reserved for your gravy.
- Bring butter to room temperature and combine all the ingredients.
- Defrost the turkey completely.
- Remove the giblets and neck and make basting broth.
- Preheat the oven to 420F.
- Rub the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper.
- Loosen the skin around the breast with your hand and use your fingers to spread the Herb Maple Butter between the meat and the skin as well as on the inside of the bird's cavity.
- Fill cavity with cut up apples, onions, and sprigs of rosemary, sage, and marjoram.
- Set a wire roasting rack in your pan.
- Pour the basting broth into the bottom of the pan.
- Place the bird breast side up on the wire rack to lift the bird off the bottom of the pan.
- Tent the roasting pan loosely with foil or a foil/parchment paper combination. If using the combination foil/parchment paper brush with a high smoking-point oil on the parchment paper side (I use organic, pressed, unrefined, virgin coconut oil).
- Roast the bird for 30 minutes at 420F.
- Lower the temperature to 350F and cook for approximately 13 minutes per pound.
- Check and baste the turkey with juices periodically. Add water to the pan if it becomes dry.
- Remove the foil tent when turkey has about 30 minutes left to cook, or keep it in place if it is already well browned.
- There are lots of different opinions on when turkey is done. USDA Food safety standards say: “A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.” I cook my turkey to about 160F, and then the turkey’s temperature will climb to 165F while it rests after I take it out of the oven. You pick the temperature strategy that feels best for you and your family.
- I use an instant read thermometer to gauge my turkey’s doneness. As far as I’m concerned, this is an indispensable tool!
- When your turkey is done, take it out of the oven and let it rest for 15-20 minutes minutes before carving.
Make sure you calibrate your thermometer before using it. Even the best thermometers can be off by several degrees. Here's a link that shares instructions on how to calibrate a thermometer at different altitudes.
- 3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces (we recommend grass-fed)
- 3 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour
- 3 cups turkey or chicken stock
- ½ teaspoon sage
- ¼ teaspoon marjoram
- ¼ teaspoon thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish (optional)
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sprinkle with the flour.
- Let bubble for 30 seconds, then slowly whisk in the stock until smooth.
- Bring to a simmer, then add the poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.
- Cook for 2-3 minutes, until thickened.
- Pour the gravy over carved turkey, stuffing or mashed potatoes. Garnish with parsley.
This was adapted from a recipe by Rachel Ray
To avoid the last minute panic I make this gravy ahead of time (usually in the morning while the bird is in the oven). I make it using only 2 cups of stock. Then when the turkey comes out of the oven, I drain the pan drippings through a fine strainer and let it sit. After removing the fat from the top of the drippings, I take what’s remaining to finish off making the gravy. There should be at least a cup if you’ve been watching your turkey’s basting broth, but if not, add enough chicken broth or water until you have a cup. Gently warm the gravy you made earlier and slowly incorporate this final cup of drippings from your turkey. Viola! The job of gravy without that last minute rush.
Any questions about finding a better turkey or these recipes? Just ask them in the comments section below. What kind of turkey are you planning on making? Do you have a tip to share on finding a better turkey or how to cook it up? Share it all below. And don’t feel guilty if you can’t get exactly where you want to be overnight. It’s taken me five years to get where I am today. To help you out, during the coming week I’ll be sharing more recipes for how to improve your Thanksgiving meal one step at a time! I’m convinced that together we can help each other make simple changes toward a happier healthier lifestyle.
Kitchen Resources that can help you rock turkey day!:
- Roasting pan with wire rack: I wish I had this one, but the one I have is okay for now.
- Martha Stewart’s Parchment Paper / Foil is great for tenting your turkey or other foods you’re roasting. Maximum temperature is 420F so just make sure your follow that guideline.
- Instant read thermometer: I love my Thermapen splash proof, instant read thermometer! There are lots of others that work great too—just make sure you calibrate your thermometer so you cook your food to the appropriate temperature.
- Oven thermometer: While I’d love to think all our ovens were calibrated correctly, it just isn’t so. Use this simple oven thermometer or this infrared thermometer to double-check your oven is truly cooking at the right termperature.
- A whisk that’s built for sauces is a big help when you want to get that gravy just right!
- More information about Organic, Heritage, and Sustainable turkeys: “When Talking Turkey, Does It Matter?“
- Locate a food co-op near you with this Coop Directory Service
- Locate a local turkey farmer near you using LocalHarvest.
- Here’s more information about heritage turkeys from the Heritage Turkey Foundation