A whole roasted turkey is the star on most holiday tables, making an appearance only one or twice a year, fussed over, primped and prepped to make for a show-stopping center piece. As with most other things these days, when it comes to buying a turkey, the available options can be rather overwhelming. Frozen, fresh, free-range, cage-free, kosher, natural, organic, pre-seasoned, self-basting — the list goes on and can lead to a very stressful supermarket situation.
But the best way to guarantee a delicious turkey is to turn away from the most popular breed: the Broad-Breasted White, which accounts for 99 percent of all turkeys raised in the United States. These birds are selectively bred to grow unnaturally rapidly, with disproportionately large breasts to satisfy the country’s demands for white meat over dark.
The better option is to turn to Heritage Foods USA and buy a heritage bird instead. These old-fashioned breeds of turkeys live outdoors, mate naturally (unlike most farmed turkeys these days), live longer, aren’t loaded full of chemicals to keep them alive — heritage turkey producers tend to be models for humane and responsible farming. The birds also happen to be incredibly delicious, a little gamier and much more similar to the turkeys that the Pilgrims would have enjoyed. The Standard Bronze is the biggest heritage turkey breed in America and is considered by many to be the perfect bird — flavorful, healthy, and robust.
American farming icon Frank Reese is a master poultry farmer in Kansas who runs Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch. His birds have been praised by Alice Waters (“These birds are without a doubt the tastiest birds you can possibly serve.”) and Mario Batali (“I’ve served these birds for my Thanksgiving every year for the past 13 years and always will.”) and featured on Martha Stewart’s show.
Reese’s flock of Bronze turkeys can be traced back to 10 eggs that were given as a wedding present in 1917. The birds that hatched were handed down to the bride’s son, Norman Kardosh, who later became Reese’s mentor — and the eggs themselves came from a flock whose lineage could be traced to the legendary Boston Livestock Show of 1843.
These turkeys, sold by Heritage Foods USA, are 100 percent antibiotic-free and free-range. The farm-to-table online butcher, based in Brooklyn, is dedicated to supporting family farmers raising livestock on pasture with old-school genetics. Heritage Foods ships to all 50 states, and they supply some of America’s best restaurants.
A 12- to 14-pound bird will cost you $139 plus shipping, but is worth every penny. An 8- to 10-pound bird is $99 plus shipping and a 20-22 pounder is $219 plus shipping, and Heritage Foods offers a range of other sizes as well.
While buying heritage meat might command a premium price, you’ll appreciate the difference — birds like Frank Reese’s are better for the environment, more humanely raised, and most importantly more delicious than your average supermarket bird. If you need more encouragement to buy your centerpiece meats from a specialist supplier, consider these 19 reasons to stop buying supermarket meats.