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Ask a Poultry Farmer

Advice from a man with sixty years of experience with chickens, turkeys and waterfowl. With community blogger Dale Wheelock.

Ask a Poultry Farmer: How to cook a backyard turkey

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By Dale Wheelock
Monday, November 14, 2016

We've sold naturally raised Thanksgiving turkeys for more than 30 years. While we use the standard instructions to cook a turkey there are also a few tricks and tips for turkeys raised in small flocks. We'll use the term “backyard turkeys” to refer to turkeys that aren't purchased from a grocery store.

First, it's always important to thaw the turkey safely. Start planning in advance if it's frozen. If it's fresh, you should buy it only a couple days in advance.

Generally, this means you're in contact with the farmer or producer about when the turkey will be processed and have planned pick-up to accommodate your cooking schedule.

Once you're ready to cook the bird, backyard turkeys cook about half an hour faster than store-bought birds. Keep an eye on the temperature and check the turkey 45 minutes before it's supposed to be done. An overdone turkey is a dry turkey.

Before the turkey goes into the oven, cut along the thighs (between the thighs and the body) so the thighs cook at the same rate as the turkey breast. Thighs typically take longer, and you don't want the breast to dry out.

If you don't stuff the bird it will cook faster.

Our family always cooks our Thanksgiving turkey the day before we plan to eat it. We carve it, then reheat it in a Nesco roaster with water. It stays moist and you don't have to wait for the turkey to finish cooking.

We have customers who brine, smoke or otherwise get creative with their turkeys. These are some basics to help you get started.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

—Dale, aka Turkeyman


Dale Wheelock has been raising chickens, turkeys and waterfowl since he was a farm kid in the 1950s. He owns and operates the Wheelock Family Farm in Walworth County with his wife, Barb, and has been an agriculture leader in the community for decades. Read more about poultry farming at askapoultryfarmer.blogspot.com. Dale is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management. Have a question for Dale? Send him an email at askapoultryfarmer@gmail.com.


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