What Is a KellyBronze Turkey and Should You Buy One for Your Thanksgiving Dinner?
Once raised for food, heritage turkeys (like the Narragansett, Black Spanish, White Holland, and Bourbon Red) have all but disappeared since the advent of modern industrial agriculture. Now they are only bred on a small scale for discerning consumers like our founder, Martha Stewart. Martha has long been an advocate of heritage turkeys, pointing out that by choosing one, you are helping to protect the cultural legacy of the old breeds and to keep genetic diversity for the future. But are you also enjoying a more delicious turkey? Maybe. Heritage turkeys have the reputation for being tougher and harder to cook, tasting gamier, having more dark meat, and being much more expensive than conventional turkeys. We don't agree, but if you're not already a fan, KellyBronze may be the one heritage breed turkey well worth the price.
The Bronze turkey originally came from Mexico and was named for its dark feathers. The Kelly family popularized the breed which had almost become extinct, raising them free-range in the 70s and 80s. Bred and raised to be a better-tasting bird, the KellyBronze became a cult favorite in the U.K. where everyone sang its praises including celebrity chefs Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, and Gordon Ramsey. In 2014, the Kelly family bought a farm in Virginia to begin producing the birds for the U.S. market; in 2017 they received a license to sell them. Today the birds are produced on farms across the East Coast.
What Is a KellyBronze Turkey?
In 1526 an enterprising trader called William Strickland imported six wild turkeys into England from the Americas explains Paul Kelly, Managing Director of KellyBronze. These were the original Bronze turkey and direct descendants of the KellyBronze that are bred today, but he adds, "KellyBronze is a brand and not just a breed. It is a unique breed grown wild in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, fed on a fresh mash of corn and soy milled on the farm. It is grown to full maturity before being hand plucked and hung."
Are They Really Better Tasting?
Fans say the KellyBronze is the best tasting bird available. According to Kelly, "It's a chain of events that produces the perfect turkey. Conventional turkeys are about 12 weeks when harvested and KellyBronze is six months. Maturity has the single biggest impact on flavor." Also, the KellyBronze is the only turkey in America to be plucked dry by hand without the use of water and then dry-aged. Kelly adds, "How the bird is handled postmortem is just as important as the methods of raising the birds. The traditional method of dry plucking and dry aging of the bird is critical to the eating quality, just as it is with beef. Dry plucking and hanging in a fridge at specific tried and tested temperatures for up to 14 days is our main point of difference. In England, we call this method New York dressed but it disappeared in the U.S. in favor of the much cheaper and faster method of wet processing."
The dry plucking and hanging, along with the development of intramuscular fat from a bird allowed to reach full maturity, allows a much shorter cooking time and core temperatures well below that of conventional water-processed turkeys in the U.S. The fat on the mature bird means particularly rich and succulent meat. Kelly says, "Because of the maturity and carcass structure, the stock and gravy produced from a KellyBronze will blow your mind."
A KellyBronze turkey will not taste the same as a conventional turkey, and it also won't look the same. "The dry hand plucking means a few feather stubs will be left in the skin which is the sole reason the bronze turkey disappeared from the marketplace 60-70 years ago," Kelly explains. "It is an artisan turkey that puts eating quality over aesthetics." Where can you find KellyBronze turkeys? They can be ordered online, for fresh delivery the week before Thanksgiving, or purchased directly from a farm or shop on the East Coast.
How Do You Cook One?
Throw away all your preconceived ideas of cooking a turkey. Kelly says, "The KellyBronze will cook much quicker than any other turkey because of the breed and maturity. No basting or brining or stuffing." The breed and maturity along with the methods of rearing and dry-aging means it does not need any of these "moisture enhancements." He recommends allowing the bird to come to room temperature, then roasting it breast side down in a pan at 350 degrees in a convection oven or 375 degrees in a regular oven with two pints of water and vegetables, seasoning it only with salt and pepper. After an hour, he turns the turkey breast side up and a half-hour before the recommended cooking time, he checks the bird every 10 minutes and when it reaches temperature, he lets it rest for 30 minutes to an hour before serving. Cooking times range from 1 1/2 hours for an 8-10 pound bird to 2 1/2 hours for a 20-pound bird.