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How To Cook A Pastured Turkey

Affiliate Disclosure | in Recipes | by | with 41 Comments

Christmas Turkey Prepared For Dinner

These instructions for roasting a juicy

. . . .  perfectly seasoned turkey were given to me by one of my favorite farmers, Robert Hutchins of Rehoboth Ranch. Robert would like you to know that he does not take credit for the method or recipes listed. He’s simply been compiling and tweaking advice from others through the years.

Cooking A Pasture-Raised Turkey

Most store bought turkeys are injected with vegetable oil, water, salt, emulsifiers, sodium phosphate, and artificial flavorings. Pasture raised free range turkey, on the other hand, has not been basted or injected. You may want to consider preparing your turkey in a brine like most chefs. Brine is a saltwater and seasoning solution that allows moisture to penetrate the meat.

Even a slightly overcooked turkey will be moist and juicy when prepared in brine. Brine also expedites cooking time, since water is a better conductor of heat than meat. Brine can be made from your favorite herbs and seasonings. Here is a basic recipe to get you started:

Basic Brine Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1 gallon filtered water
  • 1 cup raw sugar or honey (optional)
  • 1 bunch fresh sage (optional)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper (optional)

Basic Brine Instructions:

  1. Bring all ingredients to a boil; remove from heat and refrigerate.
  2. Place thawed turkey in a deep roasting pan that is large enough to allow most of the turkey to be submerged in the brine, or use a commercially available brining bag (available in Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table stores or on their websites). We use a 5 gallon food grade plastic bucket. If you use just the pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (or put in an ice chest if your refrigerator is full). Turn the turkey in brine every few hours if it is not fully submerged. Keep turkey in brine for 12-24 hours.

 Preparing the Turkey for Cooking

When it is time to cook the turkey, lift it out of the brine, rinse with cold water and dry with paper towels. Slide a small rubber spatula between the skin and the meat to separate them. Insert half of the herbed butter mixture (recipe below) under the skin and spread evenly. Rub the remaining butter mixture on the outside of the skin. If you wish, fill the body cavity with stuffing. Truss the bird loosely with butchers twine, season with salt and pepper, and pace in roasting pan. Add 1 cup stock and roast until internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees. The turkey should be loosely covered with foil for part of the cooking time to help retain moisture. The foil should be removed for the last 45 minutes or so of cooking so the skin can be beautifully browned and crisp by the time the turkey is done. Be sure to baste the turkey often with juices from the bottom of the pan.

Herbed  Butter

  • 8 tablespoons softened unsalted real butter
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chopped sage
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallots (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives (optional)

Roasting Times @ 350F

Begin to check for doneness 30 minutes before suggested cooking time.

8-12 lbs         2.5-3.5 hours

12-16 lbs       3-4 hours

16-20 lbs      4-5 hours

*Pastured birds often cook a little faster than conventional turkeys, so monitor closely with a meat thermometer. Thickest part of the thigh should reach 165F. 

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41 Responses to How To Cook A Pastured Turkey

  1. Abbey Robinson via FB says:

    I need more salt…and a way to soak this bird. Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. Jenni Wiehoff-Hulet via FB says:


  3. Sarah Lenard Lancaster via FB says:

    Hmmm, I’m going back and forth about those fauxtatoes. I might have to try that at another meal.

  4. Melissa says:

    Thank you for sharing these instructions! I hope this isn’t a silly question, but if I were to use a food grade 5 gallon bucket, would the whole thing need to be refrigerated during the 12-24 hours needed to complete the brining? We don’t have the room in the fridge, or a large enough cooler. It will be in the upper 40s this week outside. But perhaps if it’s submerged in the water totally, it won’t need to be refrigerated at all? Thanks for any help!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Melissa! I don’t know, but my farmer mentioned a farmer/blogger he likes that has a lot of info. She might be able to help! Her website it

      • Carissa says:

        When it’s been nice and cold outside, we’ve just left our brining turkey out on the back porch. MUCH easier than trying to get it into a refrigerator! We used a cooler for this. I filled the cooler with ice and let it sit for a couple of hours to get the cooler nice and cold and then filled it with the brine and turkey. Worked great! (As long as you don’t have any smart little raccoons around. If you do, I’d wrap the cooler in a bungee cord.)

    • Leah says:

      When I have done a brine, I just did it in an ice chest and used ice as part of the brine slurry to keep it nice and cold. And then you don’t risk raccoons snacking on your thanksgiving turkey…

  5. Kristine Dessinger via FB says:

    Cool! I need to read your posts. Lol

  6. Mindy @ Too Many Jars in My Kitchen! says:

    I followed these instructions for my Thanksgiving turkey and it turned out beautifully. Thanks for such great directions. The herbed butter gave the turkey a really delicious flavor!

  7. Jennifer says:

    I used this recipe last night and it was perfect! thanks so much for all the useful info. great post!

  8. Alta says:

    I didn’t know you were local to me! I’ve been buying turkeys from Rehoboth Ranch for several years now! Brining does make them delicious. Love the herbed butter!

  9. Leah G says:

    We brine our turkeys,,,,MmmmMMmmm.. It has everything from Samuel Adams & Cider to rosemary in it. we use a 5 gallon water cooler with ice and broth to keep it cool for 3 days. I’ve salivating thinking about it. Hope youre having fun at the conference. so jealous.

  10. Jennifer Tarr says:

    I too was at the Wise Traditions Conference! Wish I knew you were there. I’ve been following your blog for a while now. I love your blogs! Maybe we will meet next year.

  11. Tasty Eats at Home » Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Made Easy says:

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  13. Millie Coccia says:

    Can you use a turkey bag?

  14. Happy Thanksgiving! | Life at the Pig says:

    […] with stuff like many grocery store turkeys, we followed the advice of the almighty internets, and brined the turkey for 24 hours. This made for moist, flavorful meat. From now on, we are […]

  15. Jessica N says:

    Tried this for Thanksgiving this year and was fantastic!! Perfect meal 😉 Thanks so much for the post!!!

  16. Loriel @ Healthy Roots, Happy Soul says:

    Hi, I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving. I just wanted to let you know that I used this recipe for cooking my first ever turkey (straight from the farm of course) and it turned out ah-may-zing!!! Everyone couldn’t believe the flavor it produced. My aunt said it was the best turkey she ever had.

    Thank you for the recipe! I can not wait til next year to do it again.

  17. Stacey says:

    Oh. my. word! BEST turkey I have ever eaten, much less made myself! So moist and flavorful! My kids are even begging to eat cold turkey from the fridge, which is completely uncharacteristic for them. Kudos on the awesome recipe. Winner, winner turkey dinner! hehe :) Thank you!

  18. A Real Food Thanksgiving | says:

    […] How to Cook a Pasture Raised Turkey from Mommypotamus […]

  19. Amy says:

    Could you use coconut sugar for the brine? Okay, and forgive my ignorance (I’ve only brined once in my lifetime)…but does the bird aborb the sugar in the brining? Thanks so much for this post!

  20. Kirstyn says:

    THANK you for this! We just bought our first heritage pastured turkey this year and I have NO idea how to cook a turkey, never mind one that behaves totally differently! Usually we just skip the turkey because butterball ones have no flavor and are so dry, plus sketchy quality. Looking forward to this year’s attempt!

  21. Natalie says:

    This recipe looks awesome! I would normally follow it word for word, but we’re having friends over this year and their daughter has a dairy allergy. I’m looking for advice on what other fats I could use. I normally don’t cook with olive oil at high temperatures but maybe I’ll just overlook it this time. How does a mixture of Olive oil and Avocado oil sound? I would appreciate any tips!

  22. Bobby Lee says:

    Does anyone have suggestions for grilling a pastured turkey?

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  25. Laurie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! This was my second Paleo Thanksgiving and this year I wanted to make a full meal for my family (my non-paleo hubby and partly paleo son). This was absolutely delicious. Since it’s just the three of us I just got a turkey roast instead of the full bird. I followed the recipe leaving out the shallots and chives. I also made your grain-free stuffing! My hubby loved both! He ate it again for dinner tonight! This is an accomplishment as he doesn’t like a lot of the Paleo dishes I make and enjoy myself. I will definitely be making both recipes again, but before next Thanksgiving for sure!

  26. Naturally Loriel / Recipe: Homemade Garlic Bread says:

    […] why not make it into a spread?! I got the inspiration for the herb butter from Mommypotamus’s pastured turkey recipe which required mixing all the herbs and spices in butter then spreading it under the skin of the […]

  27. Kim says:

    I have also done chickens this way and they always turn out awesome. I have a question though… it better to use “convection” setting on my oven ( which lowers the temperature and time) or “conventional” without the air flow. Just wondering what people have used. Success with both?

  28. Marci says:

    We raise pastured birds and have done so for about 15 years. Ours usually take a bit longer to cook. The meat is more dense because they get lots of exercise. I am not trying to be a know it all, but maybe we need to re-look at what we do. Most of our customer’s experience has been the same as ours.

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  30. Alicia says:

    Sorry if someone already asked this question… but what oil would be best to use instead of butter? We are not eating dairy at the moment.

  31. Jared McOmber says:

    Man… All the stuff you post on FB and here on your site is so great! I always look forward to what you have to share. Thanks for what you do! Can’t wait to try this out…

  32. Sandee says:

    Is there an alternative product i can use to cover turkey. I NEVER use aluminium foil for anything.

  33. Jenny says:

    Thanks for your detailed instructions Heather, although I’ve heard of brining, this is the first time i’ve come across some explanations in depth. I too hope to improve on the hit and miss turkey next time round, its so disappointing when the breast meat turns out dry, I’m lucky in that unlike the rest of the family I always choose a leg! The leg meat seems to always cook well.

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