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Roast Heritage Turkey

Published November 2014

Why This Recipe Works

Heritage turkeys lead a much longer and more active life than their supermarket brethren, leading to dark meat that is well exercised and collagen-rich. Plus they have a shallower breast. Before roasting, we season under the skin and let the turkey parts sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to improve flavor and tenderness and boost crisping of the skin. We break down the bird in order to separate the dark and white meat so that we can give the dark meat a head start in a low oven to begin tenderizing. We add the breast partway through and flip the pieces to ensure even cooking. After letting them rest for 30 to 60 minutes, we return them to a 500-degree oven to quickly crisp the skin.

Ingredients

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1 (10- to 12-pound) heritage breed turkey, neck removed
Kosher salt

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Instructions

Serves 8 to 10

This recipe requires refrigerating the salted turkey for 24 to 48 hours before cooking. If you’re making our Gravy for Roast Heritage Turkey (see related content), reserve the turkey backbone and neck. We prefer Mary’s Free-Range Heritage Turkey.

1. Place wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and lightly grease rack. With turkey breast side up, using sharp knife, slice through skin between breast and thigh down to joint on both sides. Using your hands, pull each leg quarter back to expose joint between leg and breast. Remove legs by cutting through hip joint and then skin. Slice through membrane connecting breast to backbone. Bend backbone away from breast to break where it meets rib cage; use knife to remove completely.

2. Using your fingers, gently loosen skin covering legs and breasts. Rub 1 1/2 teaspoons salt evenly inside cavity of turkey breast, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt under skin of each breast, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt under skin of each leg. Tuck wings underneath breast. Place turkey legs and breast, skin side up, on prepared wire rack. Refrigerate turkey parts, uncovered, for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.

3. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Transfer breast to large plate and set aside while leg quarters start roasting. Flip leg quarters skin side down and transfer to oven; roast until thighs register 140 degrees, 45 to 75 minutes.

4. Flip leg quarters skin side up and place breast, skin side down, on wire rack next to leg quarters. Return to oven and roast for 1 hour.

5. Flip breast skin side up and continue to roast until breast registers 155 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 1 1/4 to 2 1/4 hours longer. Remove turkey from oven and let rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 60 minutes.

6. While turkey is resting, increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Stack turkey assembly on second baking sheet to prevent excess smoking. Return turkey to oven and roast until skin is golden brown and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes.

7. Transfer turkey to carving board and let rest for 20 minutes. Carve turkey and serve.

Old-Fashioned Bird, New Prepping and Cooking Method

Since a heritage turkey’s well-exercised legs require more time in the oven and its shallow breast is prone to overcooking, we separate the white and dark meat so that we can customize the cooking. We give the dark meat a head start before adding the breast, and we flip the meat partway through to ensure even cooking.

1. Using sharp knife, slice through skin between breast and thigh down to joint on both sides.

2. Pull leg quarter back to expose joint, then cut through hip joint and skin. Repeat on other side.

3. Slice through membrane connecting breast to backbone. Bend backbone, breaking where it meets rib cage. Use knife to remove.

4. Cook leg quarters skin side down in 250-degree oven until meat registers 140 degrees.

5. Turn leg quarters skin side up. Place breast on rack, skin side down, and cook for 1 hour.

6. Turn breast skin side up and cook until it registers 155 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.