Flight Path Farm Style Heritage Turkey
Updated: Nov 12, 2022
This recipe combines the approach from the America’s Test Kitchen heritage roast turkey recipe of separating the legs for more baking, a dry brine, and a "secret" ingredient – dried ground Koji rice – to create a well-seasoned, tender, and flavorful meat. You may find that there are very few drippings in the pan when you roast your turkey. This partly a result of mild water loss from the meat while dry aging, and partly because the salt and koji both help break down tougher connective proteins, so the meat does not contract as much when heated and less moisture is squeezed out. This results in juicier meat (though you'll want to use the neck and giblets, along with purchased chicken or turkey stock, to make gravy). We have updated this recipe for 2022 by adjusting the amount of salt and incorporating suggestions from Serious Eats to get nice crispy skin.
Get a Thermometer
If you don't have a good meat thermometer, go get one. You absolutely want to be cooking based on temperature, not time. Heritage turkeys cook faster than broad breasted turkeys, and dry brined turkeys cook faster than unbrined turkeys. This means that things can move a lot faster than you expect! I've reduced the timings of the original recipe a bit to reflect this, but each turkey and each oven is unique. Cooking times will vary, depending on the size of the turkey, how long it is salted and rested, and your particular oven; use a thermometer as a guide, not the time. Click here to learn how.
Start Three Days In Advance
This recipe requires refrigerating the salted turkey for 3 days in the fridge, the last day uncovered, so plan accordingly. You will also need a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack that fits inside.
Get a Scale While You're At It
If you have a scale that you can set to grams, use that to measure your salt, instead of spoonfuls. .A tablespoon of one kind of large grained salt might be 8 grams, and another kind of fine grained table salt might be 20 grams!
6 tablespoons granular (dried) rice koji, ground to a fine powder [semi-optional -- see notes at end of recipe]
25 grams salt, equivalent to about 3 tablespoons Diamond kosher salt (large grains), or 2 tablespoons Morton’s kosher salt (small grains) [see note at end of recipe for more info on amounts of salt]
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
10 more grams salt, equivalent to about 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Diamond Kosher Salt/2 teaspoons Morton's Kosher Salt
10-12 lb heritage turkey, patted dry
Grind koji in a spice mill or a blender to a fine powder, transfer to a small bowl, and mix with the first 25 grams of salt.
About 3 days before you plan to serve your turkey, remove the turkey from its wrapper. Using your fingers, gently loosen skin covering legs and breasts, separating as much skin from the meat as possible without tearing. Rub koji/salt mixture under skin all over meat and inside cavity, distributing evenly. Put the turkey in a 2.5 gallon resealable bag, a couple of oven bags, or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Return to refrigerator (in a large bowl or roasting pan to catch any liquid which may try to escape).
The day before you cook, remove the turkey again. Mix the baking powder and remaining salt, and rub this all over the skin of the turkey. Place turkey on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Return to refrigerator, uncovered, to dry out the skin.
On the day you plan to cook your turkey, remove it and the wire rack plus baking sheet from the fridge. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 250 degrees. Lightly grease rack and return to baking sheet. Allow the turkey to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before baking - you don't want to be sticking the meat in cold straight from the fridge.
Turkey surgery time! Remove the legs from the breast crown. With turkey breast side up, using a sharp knife, slice through skin between breast and thigh down to joint on both sides. Using your hands, pull each leg quarter back to expose joint between leg and breast. Remove legs by cutting through hip joint and then skin beneath, separating each leg quarter. Then, remove the remaining boney bit from the breast: slice through the membrane and thin layer of muscle connecting breast to backbone. Bend backbone away from breast to break where it meets rib cage; use knife to remove completely. (Reserve this bit of backbone for making stock for gravy.)
Transfer breast to large plate and set aside. Place leg quarters skin side down on wire rack and transfer to oven; roast until thighs register 140 degrees, 35-60 minutes. (The timing is a broad guideline -- use a thermometer to check).
Flip leg quarters skin side up and place breast, skin side down, on wire rack next to leg quarters. Return to oven and roast for another 45 minutes.
Flip breast skin side up and continue to roast until breast registers 150-155 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, another 1-2 hours. (Check temperature sooner rather than later -- things can happen quickly with a heritage turkey). Remove turkey from oven and let rest for 30-60 minutes.
While turkey is resting, increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Either stack the turkey-rack-sheet assembly on second baking sheet to prevent excess smoking, or throw some sliced veggies and a splash of water on the baking sheet so that any fat that renders doesn't smoke the joint up. Return turkey to oven and roast until skin is golden brown and crispy, 5 to 10 minutes.
Rest turkey for 20 minutes, without a foil tent on top (it caused the skin to steam, making it soggy), then carve and serve.
This recipe is using about 0.7% salt by weight for the dry brine - so about 35 grams total. You can adjust the amount of salt up or down, but don't exceed 1% (too salty), or go below 0.5% (the salt has a very important role in helping to dissolve connective proteins in these older turkeys).
Put the koji/salt mixture under the skin, since the starch in the rice may cause the skin to brown too quickly; the baking powder in the salt mixture that goes on the skin helps make it crispy.
You can also skip the koji and apply just the salt for a dry brine; for similar tenderness, if you are omitting the koji, dry brine 3 full days before baking.
Use the neck, giblets, and backbone to make a stock for gravy; this recipe generally does not produce much in the way of drippings (which is a good thing - it means the water stayed in the meat).
You can spatchcock the turkey and it will speed up cooking time, but we still recommend separating the legs entirely and giving them a head start – in an older, more active bird, those legs have some strong connective tissue, and the difference in time to cook the white and dark meat is greater. Also, these birds are sturdier than a supermarket turkey - it can be a lot harder to spatchcock them!
PRO TIP – Save the bones from your turkey after you finish eating it! The bones from pastured poultry are FULL of healthy minerals and fantastic flavor. I have an Instant Pot, and will usually just chuck in the bones along with any scraps of meat, 1 quart of water, a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (which helps get the calcium and other minerals out of the bones and into the broth), veggie scraps, a bay leaf, a couple peppercorns and a generous pinch of salt in, then cook at high pressure for 1-2 hours, until the bones are starting to crumble. Strain and you have a great soup base or a healthy, tasty snack! Here are instructions on how to do it stove top: https://homesteadingfamily.com/how-to-make-chicken-bone-broth/