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Thankful for Healthy Turkeys

  • November 14th, 2011

It’s that time of year again when we begin to think about cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato souffle, baked corn, collard greens, sauerkraut, oyster dressing and TURKEY. Unfortunately, so many folks get caught up on which color meat to eat from the turkey that they forget to consider the quality of the bird! One of the most important aspects of the Thanksgiving turkey is the TASTE. There are a variety of heritage breeds out there that are known for their deliciousness! There are a variety of factors that influence the flavor of the turkey including the age of the animal, how it was raised and what it was fed. When turkeys are foraging for insects and grubs in the grass, they tend to have a deeper, richer flavor.

If you were planning to order a Butterball from the grocery store, think again. This year, consider a pasture-raised turkey from your local farmer. It’s widely known that turkeys are a good source of protein, selenium, vitamins B3 and B6, phosphorus and zinc. If you’re new to pastured-raised turkeys, you may not be aware that studies have shown they are able to produce conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) from the grass they eat. This fat is known to aid in weight loss, balance blood sugar levels, fight cancer due to its antioxidant properties and enhances the immune system. In addition, pasture-raised turkeys are higher in Omega-3s, vitamin A, vitamin E and folic acid than their Butterball counterparts. This makes pasture raised turkey an excellent choice for your Thanksgiving meal!

In addition, there are benefits to pastured turkeys because of what’s NOT in them. Most commercial turkeys contain antibiotics, hormones, arsenic (small amounts can be found in the pesticides that wind up in many of the commercial feeds) and chlorine (birds are soaked in high levels of chlorine to kill pathogens). These practices, combined with the health benefits of pastured turkeys, make the quest for them worth it.

So perhaps you’re sold on a pastured turkey for Thanksgiving but aren’t sure how to procure one. Fortunately, there are a variety of healthy, local sources out there waiting for your order! For the past two years, I have purchased my pastured turkeys from Lynne Ferguson of Ferguson Family Farms. She’s dedicated to providing a quality product from an animal that is happy and healthy. Lynne knows that you are what you eat! If you’re not in the Baltmore/DC area, check out your local farmers market or search for poultry farmers in your area on-line through Eat Wild.


Ferguson Family Farm's turkeys at the Greenbelt Farmers Market. Photo by Karl Gary.


Because the texture and flavor of a pastured turkey is different than your standard supermarket bird, I’m sharing a few tips from Bechard Family Farms on how to cook a pastured turkey. The key to a moist turkey is perfecting the brine and not overcooking it. My family generally incorporates water, brown sugar and kosher sea salt in the brine, but I recently found this delicious recipe from The Pioneer Woman that I had to share! My husband, Joe has had a great deal of luck the last couple of years using the rotisserie attachment on the grill. After basting it with olive oil, butter, sea salt and pepper, he and my mom throw the bird on the rotisserie for 3 to 4 hours or until the internal temperature reached about 160 degrees.


Turkey Brine from The Pioneer Woman


While perusing Rita Calvert’s, The Grassfed Gourmet Fires It Up!, I discovered The Whole Holiday Bird on the Grill: Brined Heritage Turkey with Chunky Cherry Glaze. Yum! This recipe appears on Homestead Gardens blog so that you can enjoy it now if you don’t have the book (which I highly recommend).

Also, just because the turkey meat is gone, it doesn’t mean that the joy of the Thanksgiving meal is over. If you usually toss the carcass, think again. A mineral rich bone stock with your leftover organs and turkey carcass is just what the doctor ordered. The stock makes a nutrient-dense base for your favorite soup, grain and bean recipes. I use this recipe each fall to make my stock for the winter. It’s nutritious and adds a rich flavor to my favorite recipes.

If you explore centering your Thanksgiving meal around a feathered friend from the pasture, I do hope that you’ll post a comment about your experience here. Happy Turkey Day!

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