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Heritage Turkeys: What You Need to Know (And Don't Delay; These Tasty Birds Are Going Fast)

Epicurious has a scrumptious recipe for Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb and Cider Gravy.
Epicurious has a scrumptious recipe for Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb and Cider Gravy.
Photo Courtesy Epicurious

Let's face it, you've more than likely had your fair share of Butterball turkeys. With Thanksgiving around the corner, we thought we'd introduce you to some special birds that offer a wonderful alternative to Butterballs and their ilk: Heritage turkeys. These birds have exactly what their name says: heritage. They are all-American turkeys that have been procreating since the early 20th century. Heritage turkeys set themselves apart from other run-of-the-mill gobblers in three different ways:

1. They breed naturally 2. They live active lives outdoors (think turkeys playing tag in big open fields) and breed naturally 3. They plump up for human consumption at a slow rate -- it takes about 28 weeks on average.

All of these characteristics are what the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy uses to define Heritage breeds. Additionally, they are raised in a humane manner. They generally eat a vegetarian diet, are raised without any antibiotics or hormones, and, when processed for sale, do not have any preservatives added to them.

Their stellar resume translates into something very important for turkey consumers: happy birds, which makes for good meat, which makes for a good Thanksgiving dinner, which makes for happy families.

Taste-wise, Heritage birds are said to be much more flavorful then their large-breasted, mass-produced counterparts. Their white meat-to-dark meat ratio is about equal, and their dark meat tastes a lot like wild game.

While there are many more Heritage varieties today than there were in the late 20th century, thanks to an effort by several organizations to restore breeding populations, these birds still aren't easy to come by. This fact, along with its coveted flavor profile, means that Heritage turkeys cost a pretty penny. The most inexpensive birds cost $6 per pound, a steep hike from the usual $1-$2 per pound for those ubiquitous Butterballs. You get what you pay for, they say.

 

This is what a Heritage turkey looks like -- perhaps Benjamin Franklin was right.
This is what a Heritage turkey looks like -- perhaps Benjamin Franklin was right.
Photo courtesy biologybiozine

Here's your guide to purchasing a Heritage Turkey. Keep in mind that these birds do not come in large numbers, so if you have chosen to go the Heritage route order today.

Central Market 3815 Westheimer Rd. Houston, TX 77027 Offerings: Joyce Farms Heritage Black Turkeys, in two ranges - 7-14 pounds and 14-20 pounds Price: $5.99/pound To purchase: Call the Holiday Hotline: (713) 386-1785

Tejas Heritage Farm Booth at Urban Harvest Eastside at 3000 Richmond Houston, TX 77246 on Saturday, November 23 Offerings: 13-18 pound Tejas Heritage Farm Turkeys Price: $10/pound To purchase: Make your way to Urban Harvest - Eastside this Saturday, as early as possible. A farm spokesperson said their is a good chance that a number of frozen birds will be available at Urban Harvest.

D'artagnan Offerings: Fresh Free-Range Heritage Turkeys Price: $137.99/small turkey (8-11 pounds), $195.99/ large bird (12-15 pounds) To purchase: Visit http://bit.ly/1ac2fG8

Taylors Market Offerings: Mary's Free Range Heritage Turkeys, in five weight ranges Price: Starts at $63.95 for a 7-8.9 pound turkey To purchase: Visit http://bit.ly/1auebSZ

Joyce Farms Offerings: Fresh and frozen Heritage Black Turkeys and Heritage Bird Sampler Packs Price: Varies To purchase: Visit http://www.joyce-farms.com

Heritage Foods USA Offerings: Heritage Turkeys in 4 weight ranges Price: Starts at $85.00 for an 8-10 pound turkey To purchase: Visit http://bit.ly/1ac3JAn

If you procure a prized Heritage, Saveur offers some great tips on cooking methods. The New York Times has a great recipe for beginners, Mary's Free Range Turkeys offers an herb-y Heritage Turkey recipe, and Epicurious has a scrumptious recipe for Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb and Cider Gravy.


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