National Buying Guide to Heritage Turkeys

By Analiese Paik

The Slate or Blue Slate variety was formally recognized in 1874 by the American Poultry Association and is growing in popularity among pasture-based growers according to the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste. Photo c/o Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste

Welcome to our first national buying guide to Heritage turkeys. These are the turkey breeds that generations before us ate prior to the rapid rise and ubiquity of Broad Breasted Whites. Bred with the singular goal of producing a bird with more white meat that matures as quickly as possible, Broad Breasted Whites don’t taste like much when grown in confinement on commercial farms. Still, they have become so popular that other breeds of turkeys nearly became extinct.

About 10 years ago, a concerted effort was made to save endangered Heritage breed turkeys by Slow Food USA. Then began the hard work of convincing consumers to buy them from the few farmers that agreed to raise them. Heritage turkeys  – American Bronze, Black/Norfolk Black/Black Spanish, Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Midget White, Narragansett, Royal Palm, and Slate/Blue Slate – now have a place of honor on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste and increasingly, on our Thanksgiving tables.

The Black, or Black Spanish, turkey was selectively bred for its color in Europe from Mexican turkeys carried home with explorers in the 1500's according to Slow Food USA. Photo c/o Slow Food USA

Heritage turkeys bear a close resemblance to their wild ancestors, so expect long and lean-looking birds with a lot of dark meat. Raised on pasture on small sustainable farms, these turkeys breed naturally, have the genetics to withstand the outdoors, actually fly and are allowed to roam freely and forage. Heritage turkeys are considerably more expensive than broad-breasted whites because they take almost twice as long to mature.

The once-yearly splurge is worth it when guests tell you it’s the most flavorful turkey they’ve ever tasted. They also make for great dinner conversation! Be sure to visit Slow Food USA’s website to learn more about Heritage turkeys

If you live in Connecticut, also refer to our state-specific guide here.

Turkeys freeze very well, and many are only available frozen, giving you complete flexibility in when to defrost and cook them. I recommend cooking your turkey low and slow at 325 degrees, and taking it out of the oven when it reaches 150 degrees. Heritage birds cook surprisingly quickly, so if you’re used to cooking an industrial bird, keep a close eye on it.

Order your turkeys early since demand for Heritage turkeys is very strong and many farms sell out early through pre-orders from regular customers.

Heritage Turkey Buying Guide

  1. Local Harvest – This is one of the only sources for buying organic, Heritage turkeys grown close to home and is probably the most comprehensive national guide to farms. Some farms will ship your order, others require a visit to the farm to pick it up. Click here to begin your search.
  2. Heritage Foods USA – Certified Humanely Raised on pasture, Frank Reese’s turkeys are the gold standard (literally) for heritage turkeys. Turkeys are available in 7 different sizes starting at 8-10 pounds, and ending at 20-22 pounds. Fresh turkeys are delivered exclusively via FedEx Overnight on Tuesday November, 26 at a shipping cost of $45-$50, depending upon the weight of the turkey.
  3. BN Ranch – Bill Niman’s pasture-raised turkeys are available for purchase online directly from his California ranch and at select retail locations including Fleischer’s Grass-Fed and Organic Meats in Brooklyn and Kingston, NY and Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport, CT. Click here for a complete list of retailers.
  4. Mary’s Free Range Turkey – If you live west of the Mississippi, you may well find a retailer carrying one of Mary’s pasture-raised Heritage turkeys.Watch the video below to learn more about Heritage turkeys and how they’re raised at Mary’s ranch.  Click here to search for a retailer near you.

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