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  • Writer's pictureCliff McConville

Cooking a Pasture-Raised Turkey, Pie Update, a Special Thanks

We are now in the midst of our busiest week of the year. Turkey madness. Last year we raised about 350 turkeys for Thanksgiving, and sold out several weeks beforehand. So this year we decided to go for 500 turkeys, rotating two different groups around the farm throughout the fall. We can fit only 125 full grown turkeys into our big 20 foot livestock trailer so it takes four trips into the processor the week before Thanksgiving to drop them off, then four trips back to pickup the processed birds. Turkey madness.

We stopped taking orders two weeks ago, wanting to give ourselves a little cushion in case our final number of turkeys came up short of expectations (its hard to count them when they are on pasture moving around). But now that we have the last group counted we have a couple of dozen extra, so we have called everyone on the waiting list and opened up a limited number of online turkey orders for Tuesday and Wednesday pickups. If you are one of the procrastinators that didn't order before now is your chance.

The farm store will be open normal hours this week, except Thursday we will be open only from 9 AM - 12 PM to accommodate our herd share customers and anyone that forgets to pickup their turkey earlier in the week.


For those wondering how our Holiday Pie Poll turned out, it was pretty much a draw. All the pies were equally popular so we asked Chef Douglas to bake an equal number of the Classic Apple, Maple Pecan, Roasted Pumpkin & Sweet Potato, and French Chocolate. We started selling them on Saturday and some customers were back in the store today buying more!


For the last few years we have distributed turkey cooking tips to all of our customers to remind them that a pasture-raised turkey cooks MUCH FASTER than a conventional confinement raised turkey, likely due to the different fat composition that comes from foraging. See below a full list of tips for cooking a pastured turkey, from Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. We have her Grass Fed Gourmet cookbook in the farm store.

1. Brining and Basting optional. If tradition dictates that you season your meat by brining your bird and basting it as it roasts, by all means, do so. However, many people brine and baste in order to keep the bird from drying out. With a pastured bird, this is not necessary, and basting only wastes energy as you continually open the oven door. Pastured birds are significantly juicier and more flavorful than factory farmed birds. You can spare yourself this extra step as a reward for making the sustainable holiday choice! (By the way, those turkey roasting bags are not necessary either.)

2. Monitor the internal temperature. Somewhere along the line, a lot of folks came to believe that turkeys needed to be roasted until they had an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Yuck. You don’t need to do that. Your turkey need only be cooked to 165 degrees. If the breast is done and the thighs are not, take the bird out of the oven, carve off the legs and thighs, and put them back in to cook while you carve the breast and make your gravy. That entire holiday myth about coming to the table with a perfect whole bird and then engaging in exposition carving is about as realistic as expecting our daughters will grow up to look like Barbie (and who’d want that, anyhow?). Just have fun and enjoy the good food.

3. Cook the stuffing separately. I know a lot of folks like to put the stuffing inside their holiday birds, and if Thanksgiving will be positively ruined if you break tradition, then stuff away. However, for a couple reasons, I recommend cooking your stuffing separately. First, everyone’s stuffing recipe is different. Therefore, the density will not be consistent, which means that cooking times will vary dramatically. If you must stuff your bird, allow for about 12-15 minutes per pound cooking time, but be assiduous about monitoring the internal temperature of the meat and the stuffing. Due to food safety concerns, I happen to think it is safer to cook the stuffing outside the bird. Plus, it is much easier to lift and move both the bird and the stuffing when prepared separately, and to monitor the doneness of each. Rather than putting stuffing in my bird’s cavity, I put in aromatics, like an onion, carrot, garlic and some fresh herbs. When the bird is cooked, I add these aromatics to my stock pot. The aromatics perfume the meat beautifully, and the only seasoning I wind up using on the surface is melted butter, salt and pepper.

4. Do not cover your bird! Covering it will only make the skin rubbery and soggy. Do not put tin foil over the breast. It is an unnecessary waste of aluminum.

5. No need to flip. I used to ascribe to that crazy method of first roasting the bird upside down, then flipping it over to brown the breast. The idea was that the bird would cook more evenly, and the breast wouldn’t dry out. When I did this, the turkey came out fine. But I suffered 2nd degree burns, threw out my back, ruined two sets of potholders and nearly dropped the thing on the floor. Pasture-raised turkeys are naturally juicy. Don’t make yourself crazy with this stunt. Just put it in the oven breast-side up like you would a whole chicken, don’t cover it and don’t over-cook it. Take it out when the breast is 165 degrees (see above). If, despite the disparaging comments above, you still want to show off the whole bird, then bring it into the dining room, allow everyone to ooh and aah, then scuttle back to the kitchen, and proceed as explained above.

6. Be ready for faster cook times. Pasture-raised turkeys will cook faster than factory-farmed birds. Set the oven temp for 325 degrees and figure on 8-10 minutes per pound for an un-stuffed bird, 12-15 minutes per pound if stuffed. Don’t worry — It WILL brown! But remember: oven temperatures and individual birds will always vary. Use an internal meat thermometer to know for sure when the bird is cooked.

7. Use a good-quality roasting pan. If this is your first Thanksgiving and you do not already own a turkey roasting pan and cannot find one to borrow, treat yourself to a really top-quality roaster, especially if you have a sizeable bird. Cheap aluminum pans from the grocery store can easily buckle when you remove the bird from the oven, potentially causing the cook serious burns or myriad other injuries in efforts to catch the falling fowl. Plus, they often end up in the recycling bin, or worse, landfills. If you buy a good quality large roasting pan, and you happen to have a copy of Long Way on a Little and/or The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook (another shameless hint), I guarantee you will have multiple uses for the pan!

8. Pick the meat off the bird before making stock. If you plan to make soup from your turkey leftovers, be sure to remove all the meat from the bones before you boil the carcass for stock. Add the chunks of turkey back to the broth just before serving the soup. This prevents the meat from getting rubbery and stringy. For an extra-nutritious stock, follow the advice offered in Long Way on a Little.

A special thanks to Molly who volunteered to come in Thanksgiving morning and work the store, and to Curt and Mike who offered to handle all the animal chores on Thursday so Anna and I can take a rare day off and enjoy Thanksgiving with family. We are very Thankful for such a hard working team that helps us get all the work done, and grateful to all of our wonderful customers that support the farm and let us carry on with this work that we love.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cliff, Anna, and the Farm Team

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