Do you know how to cook homegrown poultry? By “homegrown” I mean anything which wasn’t raised in a modern, high volume facility. Chickens raised in large commercial facilities are typically ready for butchering at 6-10 weeks, depending on whether they are desired for fryers or broilers. Turkeys are ready for butcher between 12 and 14 weeks of age.
Homegrown poultry takes much longer to reach butchering age.
Our own chickens are ready for butchering at 5 months of age. Turkey’s, raised on our place, are ready at 5 to 6 months of age; ducks at 5 months. A more naturally raised bird won’t reach full, butcher size, sometimes for 24 weeks. During this time the bird is eating, foraging for unique and special foods, and exercising. This builds muscle and, the extra time allows the birds to develop more flavor. This meat is really different from poultry one might purchase in the grocery store. In order to enjoy it, one needs to know how to cook homegrown poultry.
Homegrown Poultry is Really Different from Store Bought
- It is much more firm. This is largely due to the presence of muscle and connective fiber.
- It takes longer to cook. This is key.
- It is more flavorful. When we have served our own turkey meat to guests, it always gets rave reviews. Yet, did you know that commercially raised turkey is so young when butchered, that processors inject flavoring and gluten into the meat? I’d swear they inject it with salt. When I taste store bought turkey, I taste salt. Homegrown poultry has time to develop natural flavor. Even the bones are different, being more mature. We use them in production of soup stock, which is out of this world.
So, how does one cook homegrown poultry?
It’s not hard. It’s just different.
- Cook homegrown poultry longer. Just plan on more time. For a 3 lb bird under the age of a year, we count on 2 hours at 350 F. Conceivably it could be ready a bit sooner. But then, it’s also possible that it might take an extra half hour. With most younger birds, our family prefers to bake them in an open pan in order to get crisp skin. Leftovers may be picked from the bones for stir fry, or the entire carcass further slow cooked (covered) to separate bones from meat and to produce stock for stew or soup.
- Trust neither “the clock” nor your nose. A bird may smell ready an hour before it really is. Some birds just take longer than others. One can’t always predict how long it will take.
- The best test for knowing if a bird is cooked is to pull on a leg. If it separates from the rest of the bird easily, it’s done. If one struggles to separate it from the body, it needs more time.
- Really old birds are even more firm. I might just say “they’re tough.” Yet, even a really old bird can be tenderized. The best way to do this is to crock-pot it or slowly steam or boil it over a low heat. Tenderness may take more than a day to achieve, but be patient, you’ll get there. If using much liquid, add some onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and let the flavors meld with the meat. Once you know how to cook homegrown poultry, even really old birds are a prize.
Really old birds are super rich in flavor!
Once you try homegrown poultry you’ll be hooked! When one knows how to cook it right, homegrown is superior in both flavor and texture!