Are Pastured Birds harder to cook (and more importantly keep tender) than conventionally raised birds? We vote no - as long as you are mindful of a couple of things: time and temp. The mantra we use around here for all of our grass-fed & pastured meats is "low and slow". According to the USDA guidelines, turkey (and chicken!) is done at 165 degrees internal temp. Here are a few tricks of the trade to keep it tender and juicy:
1.) Use a meat thermometer! Ours is a small, digital Taylor and it ran me 3.00 at the store. When folks buy our boxes of grass-fed beef for the first time, we actually pass these out with purchase because that thermometer can save you a lot of money in lost, chewy meat. Your bird will continue to cook in the roaster after you remove it from the heat. I pull my bird out at 160 and let it rise to 165. You can wait to pull it at 165, but take the roaster lid off right away when you do and that will slow the cooking process.
2.) Breast Side Down – those breasts with their delicate white meat are the first to give up their moisture. We cook our birds breast side down to make sure that they are safely covered in the drippings in the pan, taking up moisture as they cook.
3.) Keep the stuffing separate – I know, I know. This is one of those things that people have VERY strong feelings about. There are folks firmly rooted in the “Grandma’s stuffing – inside the bird – was the best stuffing I ever had” camp and there will be no changing now. There are also people who have approached me asking about the safety of cooking stuffing inside the bird with regard to possible bacteria etc…Here’s my advice to everyone, in all the stuffing villages: make your stuffing on the side. I’m not in the business of disparaging Grandma’s recipe, or making claims about food safety (okay, well, I kind of tend to do that – but not right now), I AM in the business of making sure that you enjoy that bird to its fullest and stuffing on the side is the way to do that. Why?? Dehydrated bread absorbs moisture from the bird, so your juicy stuffing actually creates a less juicy turkey. Instead, we stuff our bird with the moisture giving treats that then get mixed into the stuffing afterward! I use apple, onion, and celery (rolled around in a bowl with thyme, sage and a little olive oil) in large pieces, and stuff the bird with that. It imparts good flavor to the bird, as well as lots of moisture!
4.) Basting the turkey can dry it out – If the crispy skin is a favorite treat, try waiting until the bird is almost done temp wise, and then removing the cover, turning up the heat and them keeping a close eye on it, for the last few minutes of cooking. Braising it with butter while doing this will help crisp up the skin for you without turning it into a dry experience.
So, there you have it! Our tricks for a super tender, delicious pastured bird. There is no need to be intimidated, and no reason to make the same mistakes that have already been made (by me, I mean I’ve learned these things the hard way). You can enjoy a tasty meal and all of the compliments that go along with serving it up!