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.

What are Heritage Breed Turkeys?

A Heritage Breed Turkey is a naturally mating bird with a slower growth rate (taking 26-30 weeks to mature) that spends most of its longer life outdoors. By contrast, industrial turkeys live in cages, are bred to grow quickly(14 to 18 weeks to mature) and can reproduce only through artificial insemination. In addition to growing slower, a heritage turkey is also more active, which results in less fat. The flavor a heritage bird is worlds away from the dry, tasteless turkeys most people in the US have grown up eating on Thanksgiving.

The turkeys we eat today came from Central America, and were brought to Europe and domesticated there. Pilgrims re-imported these turkeys back to the United States around 1620. Once back in USA they were crossed with North American wild turkeys. The descendants of these turkeys are what has become standard breed heritage turkeys as originally certified by the American Poultry Association in 1873.

Heritage birds have a rich, full flavor and have darker meat. They’re closer to wild birds than white-meat turkeys bred for obesity and early maturity, known as Broad Breasted Whites. Unlike broad-breasted turkeys, Heritage birds live long enough to develop a layer of fat beneath the skin, which imparts a rich flavor to the meat. They also have larger thighs and legs because they still run and fly which produces especially dark, juicy meat. The aroma of the bird when cooking is distinctly different and more appealing than the industrial bird. The flavor of a heritage breed turkey is also not marred by the salt water that is the industry standard to add to the bird. Salt water is a big part of what is purchased if the industrial turkey has been ‘enhanced’ by the manufacturer. For frozen turkeys, 8% to 20% of the bird’s weight could be a sodium-water solution. This means you’re paying for saltwater; a 20 lb “moisture enhanced” turkey equals only 16 lbs of meat (4 lbs is nothing but water). It also means that a 4-oz serving from that same turkey could add as much as 540 mg or 23% of the daily recommended amount of sodium to your diet (2300 mg).

Nowadays there are only around 25,000 Heritage Turkeys produced annually, compared to 270,000,000 industrial (broad-breasted) birds. This has increased from the end of the 20th century when the broad-breasted white had become so popular that heritage breeds were almost extinct. In 1997, The America Livestock Breed Conservancy considered heritage turkeys the most critically endangered of all domestic animals, finding fewer than 1,500 breeding birds in the United States. Along with Slow Food USA, the Heritage Turkey Foundation, and small-scale farmers, The Livestock Conservancy hit the media with advocacy. By 2003 the numbers had grown 200% and by 2006 the Conservancy reported that more than 8,800 breeding birds existed in the United States.

Some common Heritage Breeds are the Jersey Buff, the Narragansett, the Bourbon Red, the Chocolate, the Bronze, the Royal Palm, the Blue Slate and the Midget White. Unlike their industrial counterpart, these turkeys also grow feathers in an array of striking patterns and can range from white, black and white, brown, bronze and black.

The turkeys we are offering in 2022 are the Chocolate, the Royal Palm, and the Midget White. We hope you enjoy them as the centerpiece of a delicious holiday meal! Happy Thanksgiving!

Baby piglets have arrived!

One of our American Guinea Hog sows gave birth to 7 new piglets in early October. Everyone is happy and healthy.

We will be offering several “feeder pigs” for sale once they are weaned for those looking for pets or to raise out at their own farm.

We will also take reservations for custom whole hog orders for 2023.

In the meantime they will be growing up around the woods and pastures getting fat and happy!