The Hell's a Heritage Turkey?

Or, how to eat like a real pilgrim on Bird Day

By The Editors

The Hell's a Heritage Turkey? Should I Care?
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17 November 2015

“Don’t mess with tradition.”

True for Thanksgivings everywhere.

But we think you may want to re-evaluate Thanksgiving’s main event: the turkey.

Here’s one of America’s worst kept secrets: more often than not, those hulking avian beasts look better than they taste. But it doesn’t have to be so.

If we’re really talking about tradition, we’re talking about heritage turkeys. Yep, there’s a whole world of heirloom turkey breeds out there — and if you wanna go that route this year (you still have a little time), it pays to know what you’re getting into.

The hell’s a heritage turkey?

Birds with pedigree, basically. Just like heirloom apples or tomatoes, heritage turkeys refer to specific breeds that were common on American tables as far back as colonial times, before the age of factory farming and industrialization. Keep in mind, terms like “organic” and “free-range” are often associated with “heritage,” but not synonymous. Heritage turkeys are actually long-forgotten breeds and naturally mated (versus artificially inseminated).

Why should I care about a thing like that?

Conventional birds are just that: conventional. Cross-bred to eradicate “undesirable” traits and cater to shoppers who prefer, say, white meat. So, basically, you’re flipping the bird to genetically engineered birds.

Heritage turkeys roam free. They’re not pumped full of antibiotics. Usually pasture-raised with a long outdoor lifespan. They also mature at much slower rate. And while they may not look like a perfect Thanksgiving platter, heritage birds are more flavorful. More moist. Tender and rich. With (gasp!), equal parts dark meat and white.

Okay, I’m listening. Say I wanted to acquire one of these “heritage turkeys,” how do I do that?

Easiest way is to buy farm direct. Check your local farmers’ markets. Or butcher shops. Resources like Heritage Foods USA can point you in the right direction. And hey, if all them birds are sold out, there’s always next year.

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