Before you invest your hard-earned money in a genuine heritage turkey (priced at $10 per pound), you’re going to want to make sure you know how to cook it. The good news is, you don’t have to do any experimenting – that’s already been done for you.
Chef Dan Souza at America’s Test Kitchen ordered a half dozen heritage birds from farms across the country and spent days perfecting the cooking technique that guarantees a moist and flavorful heritage turkey. Here’s how you do it:
Breakdown the turkey by removing the leg quarters (leg and thigh intact). Souza explains that the legs/thighs and breast roast at such mismatched cook times that separating the breast from the leg quarters is imperative. And, as an added bonus, this quick butchering makes it easier to season the bird providing ample routes of entry.
After seasoning, Souza suggests letting the turkey rest overnight in the fridge, a step he promises, “leads to better-seasoned, more tender meat, as well as drier skin that readily crisps and browns.”
Set the breast aside for the moment and place the leg quarters, skin side down on a baking sheet lined with a greased wire rack in a 250°F oven to give them a head start. We recommend using a Pro-Series miniature needle probe to monitor the internal temperature of the leg quarters as they cook. When they hit 140°F, flip them over and add the breast.
Start the breast skin side down for one hour at 250°F with the leg quarters. Flip the breast after an hour and continue to roast until the internal temperature registers 155°F and the thigh registers 175°F. Using the DOT alarm thermometer monitor the temp of the breast, and when the alarm sounds spot check the thigh with a Super-Fast Thermapen.
Remove the turkey when the ideal temperatures have been reached and let the bird rest for at least 30 minutes, or as Souza suggests up to 60 minutes. Then, in a move only worthy of a heritage turkey, Souza revs up the oven temp to 500°F, stacks the turkey assembly on a clean backing sheet (to avoid excess smoking), and returns the turkey to the oven until the skin is golden brown and crispy, 10-15 minutes.
Let the turkey rest for an additional 20 minutes, carve and serve. Souza gives us an easy recipe for gravy, although admittedly he says, “now that I’ve tasted heritage turkey, I wasn’t s certain it needed gravy at all.”
Souza, D. Cook’s illustrated. How to Cook Heritage Turkey. Nov. & Dec. (p.6-7).