Welcome to Pastured Turkey 101! Pastured turkeys are truly exceptional eating experience. These turkeys were able to run around freely, so the meat has different characteristics. Here’s a guide to thawing, brining, and cooking your pastured Thanksgiving bird!
According to the USDA, the only way to safely defrost your Thanksgiving turkey is in the refrigerator. Frozen turkeys should not be thawed on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement or on the kitchen counter.
Plan ahead, especially if you’re brining your turkey. You’ll also want to place your frozen turkey in a roasting pan or double-bagged trash bag, to allow for any liquid or blood that might leak from your turkey during thawing. Allow approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F. Here’s a handy chart for thawing a whole turkey:
- 12 to 16 pounds ………. 2 to 3 days
- 16 to 20 pounds ………. 3 to 4 days
- 20 to 24 pounds ………. 4 to 5 days
Brining helps poultry retain the maximum amount of moisture, and begins the cooking process. Store-bought turkeys are often pre-brined in a solution, so this recipe should be used on fresh/pastured birds only. This recipe is for a 16-18 lb. bird, but you can simply add more water if your bird is bigger, or halve the recipe if your bird is smaller. A good brine takes at least 12 hours (ideally 24), so make sure and plan accordingly! You’ll want to purchase/find: brining bags, or 3 trash bags, or a clean 5-gallon bucket. You’ll also need to remove the innards of your turkey before brining.
For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt (do not use table salt, or the resulting turkey will become too salty)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water
For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
4 sprigs rosemary
6 leaves sage
Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature. (Feel free to make ahead of time and store in the fridge.)
12-24 hours before you’re cooking the bird, combine the brine, aromatics, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket (or bag.) Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed. Cover/seal, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.
After 12-24 hours, remove the bird from brine. Rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.
After you’ve brined your turkey, the next step is roasting! Of course there are lots of ways to coat the bird before roasting, but you’ll want to pat it dry with paper towels first. For a basic herb butter rub, combine softened butter with fresh rosemary, thyme, minced garlic, and a little salt. rub all over bird. Tuck slices of grapefruit or orange into/around skin of bird. (This helps retain moisture after the skin crisps off.) Alternatively, use canola oil.
Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. After 1 hour more, cover loosely with foil. Cook until thermometer reads 165 degrees in the thigh. (Roasting times and temperatures will vary. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting.)
Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.