Any way you buy it, Thanksgiving turkey made juicy, tender with brine

Updated 11/8/2017 9:51 AM
  • A heritage turkey.

    A heritage turkey.

  • Black turkeys on the farm

    Black turkeys on the farm

This coming Thanksgiving we wanted to roast an out-of-the-ordinary turkey; for something truly unique and outstanding.

It could be pure hype since I wasn't there, but it seems that black-feathered, heirloom turkeys are, in fact, the same turkey breed likely served at the first meal we now celebrate as Thanksgiving. That's the turkey I wanted.

For our previous two Thanksgivings, we roasted certified-organic, free-range turkeys. Were those turkeys any better than a supermarket turkey and were they worth the extra price?

Yes and no. Those turkeys delivered a big turkey flavor. But the meat, especially the white meat, was not tender; and neither had been over-roasted. Some might say they weren't worth the price.

I'm going to guess: organic, free-range turkeys grow-up in a very different way from how standard, more mass-produced turkeys are raised. Those turkeys are usually raised in close-confinement and brought to market at a comparatively young age (about 10 weeks).

Not the standard: free-range, heritage turkeys take nearly twice as long to get to market-weight and all that outdoor recreation strengthens their muscles making them, well, tougher.

Butterball brines its turkeys. Butterball's website states: "We pre-brine our turkeys, so they're tender and juicy."

That's why, over the years, I suggest not even trying to brine a Butterball turkey. The same goes for kosher turkeys because they're soaked in a saltwater solution, like a brine.

What does brining do? A properly mixed brine (the right ratio of salt to water) works through osmosis and denatures a turkey's proteins; it's like unwinding a spring. This process makes for tender results. A turkey will also exit a brine weighing about 10-percent more than when it went in. For example, a 10-pound turkey will weigh about 11 pounds after brining.

Obviously, that's added water weight. Some of that water will evaporate during the roasting; however, some water will remain and thereby increase the turkey's retained moisture.

Is the price charged for a not-your-usual turkey worth it? My heritage turkey cost $99 (it weighed 10 pounds on arrival), and there's a $25 delivery charge. The bird arrived with the dry ice still inside the Styrofoam cooler in which it shipped. The cost all works out to $12.50 a pound; delivered.

Compare that to Thanksgiving turkeys that go "on sale" for 99-cents a pound, meant to bring customers into the store knowing that they'll be buying additional not-so-inexpensive Thanksgiving items along with that heavily discounted, loss-leader turkey.

My take: turkey farmers that raise heritage turkeys that take twice as long to mature, deserve to make a fair living from their efforts.

We bought our heritage turkey from Joyce Farms in North Carolina. There are other vendors around the country, simply search heritage turkeys.

We'll brine our heritage turkey before it heads to the oven to guarantee the white meat's tender. I feel confident that our turkey will be excellent in all ways (at that price, it better be) and will let you know how it turned out after Thanksgiving.

Joyce Farms shares a recipe for making their Heritage Black Turkey "perfect," which includes a unique brine for a 16-pound turkey. For more information, visit Here's Joyce Farms' brine recipe.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at don@

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.