How to Find and Cook an Organic Turkey

As Barbra Kingsolver writes so charmingly in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, turkey farming is a brutal business—unless you can find an organic, preferably small-farm, source. My mother raises turkeys every year on her farm, and the birds are surprisingly sociable, friendly, and enjoyable to watch. It almost makes me feel bad about eating them. But then I think of the crispy wings and rich gravy and I’m over it. (If anyone thinks organic foods are “smaller” than nonorganic foods, you haven’t seen my mother’s 28-pound turkeys. They barely fit into my oven!)

I’m fortunate to have a local, organic source for Thanksgiving turkeys. But if you are looking for one, there are a number of great places to start. Your local farmer’s market is the best first stop. Then check your supermarket. If the farmer’s market doesn’t carry them, simply asking if they do might lead them to carry organic turkeys next year. If that fails, there are a few organic mail-order sources. Two of my favorites are Diamondorganics.com and Heritagefoodsusa.com. Make sure to order early, so there is enough time to thaw and cook the bird.

Once you have the turkey, there are all sorts of fancy recipes calling for brining, stuffing, grilling, or deep-frying. I always lean towards simplicity. I can’t taste the difference between a brined turkey and a nonbrined one, so I don’t even bother with that annoying process (especially with a 28-pounder!). I just put the turkey (breast side up) in a large roasting pan and stick it in the oven. Really. That’s it.

The general rule is 20 minutes in the oven per pound, but I always seem to find it goes quicker than that—maybe ovens cook differently than they did when the first Joy of Cooking, my first source, came out. So allow 10 to 15 minutes a pound, with at least a half hour at the end for the turkey to “rest” outside of the oven while you make the gravy (in the pan, preferably). A good meat thermometer helps, but you can also tell it’s done when the juices run clear and the leg is a little loose. I start the oven at 375 or 400 degrees and then lower it after an hour or so to 350 or 325—depending on how fast the bird seems to be cooking. The only time I cover it is if the skin seems to be getting too crispy too soon.  If the turkey seems done but it’s too early to take it out of the oven to rest, just turn the heat down to 250. Turkey gets dry when it’s overcooked.

You don’t need to baste. I gave up basting years ago. It’s too much work, and I think it makes the skin soggy.

That’s it! Well, except for the carving, which you can get all fancy about, but frankly, people just want what they want, and as long as it tastes good, it doesn’t matter if it’s not sliced like a picture in a magazine. Just make sure the turkey is well rested before you carve it up.

But I’m warning you…I get a wing!

Next week: Making gravy from scratch! (It’s so freaking easy and delicious.)

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12 Responses to How to Find and Cook an Organic Turkey

  1. Michelle says:

    I agree about organic birds being larger than you would think. I regularly get organic chickens that are 4.5-5.5 lbs each from my CSA. I brine not so much for taste, but for the juiciness of the bird. I brine my turkey in a clean ice chest filled with brine and lots of ice. Works great!

  2. Maya says:

    I dream of having an oven large enough to roast a turkey. And I call the other wing!

  3. Patty says:

    We raise our own organic turkeys and my daughter-in-law picked out a 29 pound one to cook for her first Thanksgiving at her house. They are delicious!! I have just heard of cooking the turkey upside down for a juicier breast. I’m going to try it this year. Wish me luck ;o)

  4. Emily says:

    Out of curiosity, what temperature are we talkin here? Thanks! And good luck everybody. :)

  5. Maya says:

    I have occasionally roasted a chicken upside down (um, by accident, I’m ashamed to say). It does get nice and juicy but the skin doesn’t get good and crispy.

  6. Tina says:

    The past couple of years we got an organic turkey from a local farm. But, we moved this year and I haven’t been able to track down a comparable place in our new town yet. So, it’s off to the grocery store to buy one this time around, hopefully organic, or at least an “all natural” one. But, yes, our organic turkeys were always huge. Each year I’d ask for a “small” one, the farmer would tell me ahead of time that it would probably be about 15 lbs, and each time it ended up being well over 20 lbs! And, yes, the farmer would insist that was still one of the smallest ones he had! And boy was it ever tasty! I just hope that what I’m able to get this year is at least half as good.

  7. Ev says:

    Know someone who always started roasting her turkey breast side down, turning it over the last hour to crisp up the skin. The best and juiciest !!

  8. Donna in Delaware says:

    That’s how I do my turkey also, start breast side down, then up, to crisp the skin in the last half hour. I don’t always roast it that way. Sometimes I brine it and then rub butter under the skin, cover and roast and at the last hour take off the top and let it brown. Delish!!!!

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  11. Laura says:

    We pick up our organic turkey at the farm the day after they are dressed, they always cook faster than pre-frozen or even the organic turkey you get at Whole Foods, there must be an explanation for this, at least 5 people I spoke to that buy from the same farm said the same thing. Many have over cooked them. So I calculate 9 minutes per pound and then start taking it’s temp. The larger birds 20-29lbs are most likely toms, 14-20lbs the hens.

  12. I haven’t found a local turkey farmer (yet!) but we at least have options (Costco & Whole Foods) in Austin for buying organic birds. Thankfully.

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