Christmas turkey. Every year it’s the same. We spend weeks planning a meal around it; we take hours discussing cooking technique; do you brine it?; what do you stuff it with? But, one thing we’re all forgetting when trying to get the best-tasting turkey is thinking about how it has been reared. Of course, since you’re reading this on Live Frankly, we’re big advocates for organic, truly free-range birds. 

You may have already seen we’ve made our case for free-range and organic chicken.

Not all turkeys are created equal. Well, they may have been. But, they certainly don’t all taste the same. That’s not all down to our cooking skills – it’s because of the huge disparity in how they are farmed.

We’ve discovered that the best-tasting turkey – one that has depth of flavour, is juicy and tender but also has structure – needs to be slow grown for around six months. It also needs to be hung for a good couple of weeks before you buy it.

“That special moment at Christmas dinner, that quiet when you have the first mouthful and everyone thinks ‘wow’ – that’s what we spend many months of every year trying to give people,” says Peter Greig of Piper’s Farm.

That special moment can only be bought from certain farmers and butchers, who are committed to doing things the slow way.

Intensively farmed turkey: what you are really buying into

A staggering 90 per cent of the UK’s 10 million turkeys are now intensively farmed, according to the Soil Association.

This includes turkeys that are kept indoors, pumped with antibiotics to keep disease at bay, and fed a high-protein diet of genetically modified grains grown with the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, so they grow unnaturally quickly.

These birds have been bred to be so heavy they are no longer able to fly or mate naturally. Enough said there, don’t you think?. Beak trimming is also commonplace to stop them from pecking each other in such close confinement. They are typically killed at around half the age of a genuinely free-range or organic turkey. So that’s how you can buy turkeys starting at around £12 in a supermarket.

Industrially farmed turkeys have been bred to be so heavy that they can no longer mate naturally

But, “the supermarket version of ‘free-range’ doesn’t necessarily mean things are much better, as a majority of these birds are still raised in an industrial setting,” says Greig.

“The stocking density is around half that of their battery counterparts, and while they are required to have access to the outdoors, the way they are raised and housed means that most will never venture outside.”

In this system, birds that have the potential to grow to 15kg are only taken to 5kg. That’s because this is a popular size for the Christmas table. They are processed before the bird reaches full maturity.

The result is a bird that has an immature tenderness, which in theory sounds good – who doesn’t want tender meat?

But in practice it can be very challenging for a chef because it’s also full of water that evaporates when cooking and when this happens the texture collapses, creating that dry, tasteless sensation turkey is fast getting a reputation for.

Organic and genuinely free-range turkey

But, turkey didn’t traditionally taste like this – and nor should it. Opting for an organic or genuinely free-range slower-growing breed, such as a Norfolk Black, Bronze or Bourbon Red, that has been grown to full maturity creates a completely different eating experience.

These birds are encouraged to go outside from around six weeks old, and can forage for clover and bugs to supplement their diet, which is much lower in protein.

This means the bird can naturally build up muscle, which can be quite tough and is one of the  reasons hanging for around 10 days is such an essential part of the farm to plate process.

Hanging allows the muscle fibre to break down, creating a more tender bird that still has structure. Importantly, most of the water evaporates during the hanging process, leaving flavoursome meat juices.

“A major important factor is that a slow grown bird develops a hard layer of fat under the skin,” says Stuart Perkins from Castlemead poultry farm in Somerset.

Four questions to ask your butcher to ensure you’re buying top-quality turkey: our guide to getting the best-tasting bird

What breed is it? Opt for a heritage and slower growing breed – a Norfolk Black, Bronze or Bourbon Red are some of the most common

How old was it when it was killed? 24 weeks allows a turkey to reach full maturity

How was it plucked? Only dry-plucked birds can be hung, so this is another assurance of quality

How long was it hung for? Ideally you’re looking for at least 10 days and up to three weeks

“This not only improves the flavour and texture, but  keeps the bird moist in the oven as the fat renders down as you cook it.” The result is a succulent bird that reflects the way it was reared.

As Peter Greig says: “It’s complex, it’s deep, it’s lingering. It’s a taste of Devon”. And the same goes for wherever the turkey was reared.

If you want to make sure you’re getting the best-tasting turkey possible, buy from one of these brilliant farms – that also deliver direct to your door. No excuses now, eh?

6 farms that will deliver the best-tasting turkey to your door

1. The Ethical Butcher

The clue is in the name. This hotshot butcher made a splash in the food world thanks to top-quality meats.

The Ethical Butcher claim to rear ‘probably the best turkey in the country’, which is a bold claim, but we’ve definitely got time for it. Their turkeys live on a biodiverse ecosystem. This gives them extra flavour. They are farmed using regenerative agriculture principles.

With reviews like these, you’ll want to pre-order one of these bad boys now – you can get your chops around a 4kg turkey for 6-8 people from £99.

2. Coombe Farm Organic

Coombe Farm are an award-winning organic meat delivery service. They opt for Bronze turkeys and offer whole turkeys that serve eight people from £89.95. They also offer drumsticks from £8.75.

3. Pipers Farm

The journey of Pipers Farm turkeys begins in late spring when the chicks hatch and live in a brooder for around three weeks to allow them time to grow the feathers needed to protect them outside. At this point, they move to their grassy hillside home until they are 28 weeks old.

A whole turkey that serves 10 people costs £79.75. Pipers Farm are also renowned for their “simplest turkey”. They roll the leg and breast meat separately and stuff with a choice of festive stuffing. It cooks in just one hour, prices start from £38, serving four.

4. Fosse Meadows

Fosse Meadows is a fourth-generation farm and the only accredited Golden Turkey Farmers in Leicestershire. They keep their turkeys in small flocks to promote natural behaviour and feed them an additive-free cereal diet, so the turkeys have good fat marbling through the meat. 

You can buy their turkey directly from Fosse Meadows along with other Christmas dinner essentials.

5. field&flower

Field&flower source their turkeys from a small, family run turkey farm in Devon called Frenchbeer farm. The turkeys are slow-grown for 6 months and are able to roam freely from around 5 weeks. 

A whole Free Range Bronze Turkey serving 8-10 people starts at £84.95. For a more intimate Christmas, their turkey legs serving 2-3 people cost just £7.48.

6. Helen Browning’s

Helen Browning’s are pride themselves on both rearing and sourcing the best organic meat produce, including award-winning Organic Bronze Turkeys from Walters Farm. 

Walters rears its turkeys on the Berkshire Downs. These birds roam outside during the day, are fed high quality organic cereals, and return to spacious straw bedded barns at night.

They dry pluck the turkeys and hand finish them on the farm). They hang the turkeys for at least 7 days.

Whole birds are available from £98.73, as well as turkey crowns from £89.60.

Main image: The Ethical Butcher