Before anyone tries to roast or cook our heritage birds* or their Thanksgiving turkey in the same way they would a store-bought bird, let me give a few words of caution. These birds are substantially older than the store-bought poultry, and also because they are pastured and/or free range, their muscles get quite a bit more exercise than those factory birds. Of course, this also makes the meat chock full of essential nutrients, but also requires care in choosing a cooking method. Now, don’t get the idea that for all this healthy food, you must resign yourself to “tough meat”! These birds actually end up being more juicy and more flavorful than anything store-bought, which, as we all know, can turn out dry no matter how often you baste or how much butter you sneak under the skin. The trick is in how you roast it.
“Low and slow” has been our key to success. Here is the very basic method I use to roast our birds:
- Place thawed bird on a rack in a roasting pan and salt exterior generously.
- Roast uncovered in oven, or toaster oven if you have one large enough, at 300 degrees F for 30 minutes per pound or more.
- Poultry is done when skin is very browned and crispy looking and browned drippings are visible in the bottom of the roasting pan.
- Turn off the oven and let sit in the oven 15-30 minutes.
- Serve with the drippings as a sauce – this is pastured poultry, and has good omega-3 fats in there! In my opinion, there is no other spice or sauce needed for flavor. Though of course, to each cook his own!
NOTE: These birds handle “overcooking” much better than “undercooking”. Recently, I overcooked the birds by an hour (maybe even an hour and a half), and the only noticeable difference was that the dark meat was only a tad bit tougher than usual. The one time I undercooked it (that is, it still reached 165 degrees on the meat thermometer, but did not have that really browned skin or drippings), it was completely lackluster. If you aren’t completely addicted to the chicken and almost unable to stop eating it, something went awry!
Other Cooking Methods
Rotisserie: YES, YES, YES!!! Truly, I believe this is the absolute best way to get the most flavor, the tenderest meat, and the crispiest skin from a heritage bird, hands down.
Crockpot: I have only tried a heritage bird (and an old one at that) in a crockpot once, and it turned out fairly tough. Did it have to do with the age of the rooster, or the cooking method? I don’t know – yet. Now, cooking it in something acidic like tomato sauce or some vinegar-y concoction might have helped with that a bit.
Once again I tried a heritage bird, a bit younger than the last rooster, in the crockpot (on Low for 7 hours). It was delicious and tender! In all honesty, I love my chicken skins too much to have them all come out soggy from the slow cooker, but it’s a great option to keep the house cool in the summer, or to have easy to chew meat for little ones!
Smoking: I think this could be delicious – again, low and slow is the key. I haven’t personally done it, but I have heard of others who have with delicious results.
Turbo Ovens and Air Fryers: Any sort of high temperature or “quick cooking” method I am very leery of. I’m not entirely sure how an air-fryer works, so I can’t comment on that.
The last word…
Have you tried one of our heritage birds or turkeys? How did you cook it, and what was the result? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear your experiences!
*Heritage birds are not the same as our usual Cornish cross breed that we raise. To learn more about the difference, see this post on a little of the fascinating history of meat chickens in America.