Give this heritage bird a try this holiday season.

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 Martha. Our founder 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 birds. We don't agree, but if you're not already a fan, KellyBronze may be the heritage breed turkey well worth the price.

The Bronze Turkey Breed

The Bronze turkey, named for its dark feathers, originally came from Mexico. A few Bronze turkeys were imported to England from the Americas about 500 years ago, explains Paul Kelly, the managing director of turkey producers KellyBronze.

Exactly 50 years ago, the Kelly family started raising Bronze turkeys, which had become all but extinct in the U.K. Carefully bred and raised free range to be a better-tasting bird, the KellyBronze became a cult favorite in the U.K. in the '70s and '80s. Everyone sang its praises, including celebrity chefs Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, and Gordon Ramsey.

KellyBronze Turkeys in the U.S.

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 raised on farms across the East Coast.

KellyBronze Turkey
Credit: Paul Kelly

The Flavor of a KellyBronze Turkey

Fans say the KellyBronze is the best tasting bird available. "It's a chain of events that produces the perfect turkey," says Kelly. "Conventional turkeys are about 12 weeks when harvested and KellyBronze is six months. Maturity has the single biggest impact on flavor."

Dry Plucking

The KellyBronze is the only turkey in America to be plucked dry by hand without the use of water and then dry-aged. "How the bird is handled postmortem is just as important as the methods of raising the birds," says Kelly.

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 the 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," says Kelly.

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 also results in particularly rich, succulent meat. "Because of the maturity and carcass structure, the stock and gravy produced from a KellyBronze will blow your mind," says Kelly.

The Taste

A KellyBronze turkey will not taste the same as a conventional turkey, and it also won't look exactly like one. "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 to 70 years ago," Kelly explains. "It is an artisan turkey that puts eating quality over aesthetics."

How to Order a KellyBronze Turkey

So, 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 to Cook a KellyBronze Turkey

Throw away all your preconceived ideas of cooking a turkey. "The KellyBronze will cook much quicker than any other turkey because of the breed and maturity," says Kelly. "No basting or brining or stuffing is necessary." The breed and maturity, along with the methods of rearing and dry-aging, means it does not need any of those "moisture enhancements."

  1. Kelly 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.
  2. Season it only with salt and pepper.
  3. After 1 hour, turn the turkey breast side up (and then again a 1/2 hour before the recommended cooking time).
  4. Check the bird every 10 minutes, and when it reaches temperature, let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving.
  5. Allow cooking times ranging from 1 1/2 hours for an 8 to 10 pound bird to 2 1/2 hours for a 20-pound bird.


Be the first to comment!