How To Cook A Pastured Turkey

Heather Dessinger

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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:

pastured turkey brine
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4.67 from 6 votes

Basic Brine

Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Calories 0kcal
Author Mommypotamus


  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1 gal filtered water
  • 1 cup raw sugar (substitute honey)
  • 1 bunch fresh sage (optional)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme (optional)
  • 3 tbsp black pepper (optional)


  • Bring all ingredients to a boil; remove from heat and refrigerate.
  • 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.


Calories: 0kcal | Carbohydrates: 0g | Protein: 0g | Fat: 0g | Saturated Fat: 0g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 0mg | Sodium: 0mg | Potassium: 0mg | Fiber: 0g | Sugar: 0g | Vitamin A: 0IU | Vitamin C: 0mg | Calcium: 0mg | Iron: 0mg

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 place 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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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world. 

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47 thoughts on “How To Cook A Pastured Turkey”

    • 5 stars
      We have been using this recipe for our pastured Thanksgiving bird for YEARS! Love it. We find we like an 18 hour brine the best, and I always omit the sugar/honey. So good!

  1. 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!

      • 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.)

      • 5 stars
        I come back to this post every year as others have said. We’ve been following your outline for years Heather! Thank you!

        In case others are reading back YES, you absolutely do need to refrigerate poultry while brining it. The whole thing. We have had temperature high in the mid thirties so I placed the bottom of the bucket in a tote bin full of ice with another bag of ice across the opening of the bucket and cover the whole thing in thick folded layers of cardboard. I kept it in the shade on my deck. This all was to be on the safe side in case the temperature spiked closer to that 40* mark we must avoid with raw poultry. Get creative with cardboard boxes, garbage bags and bags of ice which you can buy at gas stations or grocery stores. It’s worth the effort and small to no cost not to spoil/waste a pastured turkey!

    • 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…

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

    • 5 stars
      Use coconut sugar, or any sweetener you appreciate. Experiment with your favorite herbs, and you can create your own personal signature turkey. There are limitless variations of any brine recipe or herbed butter recipe. My problem is getting my daughters to use recipes. They create something fabulous, and then we can’t replicate it.

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. 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?

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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…

  16. 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.

  17. You instructions are the most concise I have seen and thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge. My problem is my hubby hates garlic. He used to eat it and I have told him we need to bring it back into our meals. Having never used brine or made turkey this way, which sounds delicious, can I cut the garlic to maybe 2 cloves and/or substitute another spice do you think? Do you have any recommendations? I just don’t relish eating all the left overs myself. Thank you.

  18. Our 17.9 lb pastured turkey was perfect, people were saying it was the best they ever had, cooked about 1hr earlier, glad I checked thank you for this

  19. If melted and blended do you think the herbed butter would work as an injectible? We don’t have an oven unfortunately so we are deep frying our turkey.

  20. This is maybe a stupid question. But what has been preventing me from brining our Thanksgiving turkey is nowhere to wash the expensive food grade plastic bucket. It’s not like a cheap $5 plastic bucket from Home Depot that you could repurpose. We live in an area where the outdoor taps come and get shut down around mid October so that the system doesn’t freeze and burst pipes. The bucket isn’t going to fit in the kitchen sink. Would you wash it in a bathtub? But then you would also have to really clean the bathtub thoroughly from having the container that held raw turkey washed out in it. Seems like a ton of extra work after already having spent days prepping and making a huge home made meal! Any suggestions?

    • Nancy – If you don’t object to using plastic, there’s an easy solution! My husband always puts a clean plastic trash bag (like the kitchen trash can size ones) inside the bucket (make sure the bag doesn’t have any holes in it), then places the turkey in the bag and pours the brine in. You can tie the top of the bag if you want. We usually put the bucket outside on the deck if it’s cold enough outside, and you can put a lid on the bucket if you have critters around. When you’re done brining, just pull the turkey out, dump the brine, and throw the plastic bag away! We try not to use a ton of disposable plastic, but figure once a year isn’t that bad. 🙂

  21. 5 stars
    Heather, I have used the strategies and general methods you put forth here going on 10 years. It’s always wonderful and I get good reviews, thank you.

    I’ve unofficially become the lead procurer and briner of turkeys for our big extended family gathering. This year I’m looking to break my PR with a 28 lb turkey. The farmer who acquired it for me from her neighbor farmer also had to lend me a pan. It is larger than my toddler. The birds weren’t supposed to be this big this early. He got them a little earlier than usual this year and he tried to grab a smaller one.

    We live near the Canadian boarder with a harvest season far ahead of the rest of the US so we begin with Canadian thanksgiving and keep the party going to American thanksgiving. So we roast this bird Saturday.

    We do no dairy for multiple family member’s restrictions so I solidify the EVOO in the fridge and apply as you describe here. I never measure the seasonings and sometimes miss a few or throw in others. I’ve always managed to find a way to brine the whole bird submerged but that may be impossible this time. We’ll see.

    Wish me luck, coach. Thank you for the training that has brought me to this, my championship playoffs.

    • WOW, 28 pounds! Wishing you so much luck . . . and also wishing I could be there for Canadian Thanksgiving. My family celebrated with dear friends near Ottawa a few years ago and made so many wonderful memories.

  22. This is so clever, the turkey
    This year is going to be tender and moist thank you YOU
    Thanks for always sharing
    Amazing recipes with all of us
    God bless you and your beautiful family always
    Thank You Edda