How to Cook a Heritage Breed Turkey

A Heritage Breed Turkey is very different from a Butterball both in looks and taste. And they need to be cooked differently too! They generally do best at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time and are safe to eat at a lower internal temperature. These are some guidelines we follow that have worked well and ended up with a great tasting bird. (credit:

Most Importantly: Follow a recipe specifically for heritage turkey. Recipes that are created for standard turkeys will NOT work well. Those recipes are for turkeys that have over-sized breasts and have been injected with a solution of water/salt/flavor. Your Easihorse Turkey has no added water or flavor (they’re flavorful enough!) and less white meat which dramatically affects the way they cook.


-Always bring the bird to room temperature before cooking- Rinse and dry the thawed turkey and let it sit under foil for 1.5 to 2 hours before cooking so it has time to come to room temperature. This will reduce the amount of cook time and ensure a more even cook.

-Gently separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips and massage the turkey (under the skin) with softened unsalted butter. This will make the skin golden and crisp and keep the breast moist. Add a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper to the outside of the bird and inside the cavity.

-Cook on a roasting pan fitted with a grill rack so the turkey is not sitting in the juices.

-Cook any stuffing first and put inside the heritage turkey before roasting. Due to the reduced cooking time, stuffing won’t become fully cooked. Alternatively, try adding a quartered orange, apple and/or pear or place aromatics -such as rosemary, thyme, sage, onions and apples inside the cavity instead of stuffing.

Cooking Suggestions (Sample Recipe is below)

-Place turkey in the oven with feet facing the back wall and the breast facing the door. This exposes the dark meat to the most heat and protects the light meat.

Roast heritage turkeys in a hot oven preheated to 425F- 450F (allowing for a blast of higher temp to brown). Then cook at 350 degrees until an internal thigh temperature of 140F-150F is reached. Don’t let the tip of the thermometer touch the bone. Most heritage turkeys will be cooked through in fewer than 3 hours.

-Bake un-tented for the first 20 minutes or so to crisp up the skin, then tent for the remaining cook time.

-Baste only once, about halfway through cooking (or when you take the turkey out to tent with foil or parchment paper) to avoid heat loss in your oven. The butter rub under the skin should impart enough “moisture” to keep it from drying out.

-Invest in a thermometer with a cord so you don’t have to open the oven to check the internal temperature.

-After the first hour and a half of cooking, check the temperature regularly to avoid overcooking- which can happen quickly! Cook until the internal temperature in the meatiest part of the thigh registers about 150 degrees F, then remove from the oven and allow the bird to rest at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes before carving. The internal temp should raise to the “safe” temp of 155-160 degrees F during that time. Please note: The USDA recommends turkeys be cooked to 160F-180F, but this temperature will dry out a heritage turkey. Heritage birds are much more free of disease and bacteria, unlike commercially raised birds, and do not need extreme temperatures to make them safe for consumption.

Easy Heritage Turkey Recipe

(Kim Severson, The New York Times)


  • 1 8lb to 16 lb Heritage turkey, thawed, with giblets and neck removed
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into four pieces
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 stalks celery, cut in two or three pieces each
  • 1 medium apple, halved
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cups turkey broth, water or a mixture of half water and half apple juice


  1. At least four hours before roasting, rub turkey inside and out with salt and pepper; refrigerate. Remove from refrigerator 45 minutes before roasting. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Set turkey in roasting pan fitted with a V-shaped rack. Slip your fingers under skin to loosen it. Rub butter over breasts. Stuff vegetables, apple and thyme into the cavity. Tuck wing tips under the bird.
  3. Pour broth or water into pan, around bird. Put turkey in oven and roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325, baste turkey with pan juices, cover with a foil tent and return to oven. Cook for another 30 minutes. Remove foil, baste again and place foil back on turkey. Cook for 30 more minutes. Remove foil.
  4. When turkey has roasted for a total of two hours, insert a meat thermometer straight down into fleshiest part of thigh, where it meets drumstick. Check a second spot, then remove thermometer. (Do not let thermometer touch bone.) Thigh meat should reach no more than 165 degrees. Juices should run clear. (If bird is larger than 14 pounds, keep foil on longer and begin checking meat temperature at two and half hours.) To assure perfectly cooked white and dark meat, you may remove bird when meat thermometer shows thigh temperature at 155, then remove legs and roast them separately for another 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size of bird.
  5. When bird has reached desired temperature, remove from oven and let rest for at least 30 minutes, covered in foil and with a damp towel on top of foil, to retain heat and allow juices to return to meat. Remove foil and towel and serve.

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