Heritage Turkey and Mashed Parsnips

Thanksgiving is only a couple weeks away and in the United States this means one thing: turkey. Few other foods seem to dominate a holiday like this bird with a mind-boggling demand of 45+ million turkeys each Thanksgiving). Last week we offered a Primalized update—and upgrade—to the traditional pumpkin pie. This week we thought we’d whip up recipes for both the main event—the bird itself—and a lower carb alternative to its usual mashed potato pairing with a delicious and equally creamy accompaniment: mashed parsnips.

Beginning in the 1960s grocery stores started selling a breed of bigger, plumper turkeys known as Broad-Breasted Whites. This turkey is bred for one main reason: it’s cheap to raise, primarily because it’s genetically modified to grow quickly. Turkey producers can maximize their profits and provide what they think consumers want: birds with more white meat. But the thing is, all that white meat makes a turkey cook and taste different. In fact, it is probably Broad-Breasted Whites (not your mother’s cooking skills) that are to blame for decades of dry, flavorless Thanksgiving turkeys. Even worse than dry meat, the genetic modifications to Broad-Breasted Whites leave them unable to fly or reproduce without artificial insemination.

By far, the Broad-Breasted White is the dominant breed of turkey sold in grocery stores. In the 1990s, it almost put other breeds of turkey into extinction. Luckily, organizations and turkey producers dedicated to preserving culinary heritage and to fighting against industrialized food production have been diligently protecting natural breeds of turkeys that have been around since our forefathers. Collectively, these breeds of turkeys with colorful names like Bourbon Red, Standard Bronze and Narragansett are known as Heritage turkeys. In recent years, as consumers have become more interested in where and how their food is grown, Heritage turkeys are enjoying a surge in popularity.

Heritage turkeys are harder to find and more expensive to buy, ranging from $6.00-$12.00/pound, because they are more expensive to raise, taking up to 30 weeks to grow to close to 30 pounds, while a Broad-Breasted White can reach that weight in just 18 weeks. Why splurge on a Heritage turkey? Heritage turkeys have more fat and more dark meat, which helps keep the meat moist while cooking. The meat has a richer, heavier texture and more intense flavor, rich and robust and slightly game—what a “real” turkey is supposed to taste like.

Heritage turkeys can be bought from some local butchers and from Whole Foods Markets. Heritage Foods and Local Harvest ship directly to consumers, but their prices are higher than most retail stores. Buying a Heritage turkey is like casting a vote for humanely, naturally raised animals and for the farmers who are putting a premium on healthy, safe, natural food.

And, yes, a heritage breed turkey is ideal, but we’re never in favor of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. (This is a holiday after all, and no one wants to disappoint Grandma by serving steak.) Other farms who aren’t necessarily raising heritage breeds are adhering to organic feed and humane-raised standards. Look for information on the turkey packaging and opt for the least/cleanest ingredients and best quality within your budget. If you have access to a local farm or farmers market, check with the farms to see what they have available…you may be surprised at how affordable some of them are!

Note: If you’re cooking a pastured/heritage breed turkey, they are leaner and will benefit from a lower cooking temperature like 325 degrees Fahrenheit, while you can get away with 350 or even 375 degrees with conventional turkeys.

Invest in a meat thermometer that has a steel probe so it is always keeping track of the internal temperature of the meat, even when you walk away.

The amount of ingredients for the herb butter may vary based on the size of your turkey. Feel free to scale the recipe up or down as needed.

Turkey carcasses make delicious stocks and soups! If you choose to make turkey stock or bone broth, pick off all meat from the turkey carcasses prior to making stock to prevent the meat from getting rubbery.

We use parsnips as a side, but you can also use other root vegetables or mix different root vegetables together. For variety, try turnips, rutabagas, celery root, potatoes or sweet potatoes!


  • 1 whole turkey, ours was around 12 lbs.
  • 5 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1.5 Tbsp. chopped rosemary
  • 1.5 Tbsp. chopped thyme
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 4 lbs. parsnips
  • ½ cup coconut milk (you can also use cream or your favorite milk substitute)
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • salt and pepper, to taste


For the turkey: Remove any innards from the turkey and pat it dry on top of a roasting pan with a rack or a large sheet pan with a cooking rack. If you have time, you can dry brine the turkey by sprinkling the turkey skin all over with salt and pepper and allowing the turkey to rest in the pan uncovered overnight in the fridge. This will result in delicious, crispy skin later on. If you choose not to do this, continue right away to the next step.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees for pasture-raised/heritage breed birds and 350 for regular turkeys. In a bowl, whisk the butter, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper together (if you did a dry brine with the salt and pepper already, omit the salt and pepper from the butter). Rub the herb butter all over the outside of the turkey. If you’d like, you can also add a couple pats of butter under the skin on the breasts of the turkey. If you are using a thermometer probe, place it in the thickest part of the breast and set the desired temperature for 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the turkey in the oven on the lowest oven rack for about one hour, then check the skin. If the skin is beginning to brown too much, you can place a foil tent over the breasts but it shouldn’t be necessary. Pastured birds can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes per pound to cook, while regular turkeys can take 15-20 minutes. The best way to ensure the turkey is cooked properly is to use a meat thermometer. If you do not have a thermometer probe, check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast and thigh around the 1.5 hour mark and go from there.

Once the thermometer reaches the desired temperature, remove the turkey from the oven and tent it with foil. Allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes. Carve the turkey and pour any reserved juices on top.

For the parsnips: Peel the parsnips and cut them into rounds. Place them in a pot and fill with 3-4 cups of water, or just enough that the parsnip rounds are covered. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat and cover the pot. Reduce the heat slightly and allow the parsnips to simmer for around 10-15 minutes, or until just tender but not mushy.

Drain the water and pour the parsnips in a food processor along with the coconut milk, butter, salt and pepper. Process until the parsnips reach your desired consistency. Alternatively, you can mash the parsnips using a potato masher. Top the parsnips with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of black pepper.

Nutritional Information

(Note: Turkey nutrition will vary based on size and dark or light meat. See below for nutrition info for 1/8 of the parsnip recipe):

  • Calories: 217
  • Total Carbs: 41 grams
  • Net Carbs: 30 grams
  • Fat: 6 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams

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35 thoughts on “Heritage Turkey and Mashed Parsnips”

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  1. this looks like a great recipe to use. I’m picking up my heritage turkey today- it’s costing me $50 for a 12 lb bird, but I would not do it any other way! This will be my first bird since becoming PB (was vegetarian for 20 yrs until this spring). Am looking forward to sharing my Primal thanksgiving feast with 9 friends!

    1. I’m with you, Marci! I was vegan for 8 years up until I went primal in early October. I’ve lost 12 pounds already – and am REALLY looking forward to that Thanksgiving turkey. 🙂 Enjoy!

  2. “Buying a Heritage turkey is like casting a vote for humanely, naturally raised animals and for the farmers who are putting a premium on healthy, safe, natural food instead of profits.”

    A vote that costs 12-24 times more to cast. Talk about disenfranchisement of the working class. With that said I am extremely grateful our family is in a position financially that we can even concern ourselves with such issues.

    1. this is such an unfortunate dilemma. it is easy to cast this vote if you have the money…

  3. dude… always brine your turkey… looks like a great recipe and as always some great info

    thanks mark

  4. Turkey looks wonderful!

    Parsnips are a great idea! I was planning on doing mashed cauliflower or zucchini (lower carb). I’m a mash lover, so maybe I’ll do a combo or parsnips in addition 🙂

    1. Definitely going to try the parsnips with the coconut milk. Thanks for the recipe Adam!

  5. I agree, always brine your turkey.I have for years. I set it out in a tub or bucket of water/kosher salt/lemon. 6 hrs later the water is disgusting.Leave it overnight at least. The brine pulls all the blood and funk out of the flesh and cavity..leaving the meat clean and seasoned some too! Delicious. We will be having real mashed pots,corn and the like as I am the only paleo/primal one, and I am feeding the family. I will have primal options of course..

  6. It seems the average person is disappointed when trying a heritage bird, due to it not tasting better and being generally tougher, and smaller. Less meat.

    Are these people I’m reading about just getting bad birds or am I supposed to pay more and expect less?

    1. it really depends on the breed of heritage turkey you wind up with. Some are awesome and some are very very close to wild turkeys which means they have little meat and are a lot tougher. The best heritage breeds in order are Midget Whites & Bourbon Reds (blind taste test through Slow Foods) Narragansetts taste like wild birds and I was told to avoid them. I just picked up my pastured broad breasted bronze which is 19 lbs, meaty and delicious! (I have had this kind before and it was awesome although I do not believe it was a heritage breed)

    2. We raise our own heritage turkeys.. never saw much of a difference in the taste between “breeds”.. so most of ours are becoming a mix between heritage bronze, bourbon red, nargansette, oregon grey and palm. None of ours have ever been tough or gamey.. must be how y’all are cooking or handling them after they are slaughtered. After eating our own home raised heritage birds I will never go back to a store bought bird again!

    3. Pasture-raised poultry and meats require different cooking methods. If you cook a pastured turkey at the same temperature as conventional, you’ll get a tough, stringy result. I’ve read the explanation in the past having to do with how the proteins of animals that actually get exercise during their lifetimes respond differently during the cooking process. Brining, marinating, and lower cooking temperatures will make a big difference in tenderness in a pastured bird. This includes chicken and duck too.

      We’ve been getting pastured turkeys for the past five years, and they always turn out tender and delicious. The meat is still though, a different texture than conventional birds, which to me have a kind of mushy texture. A well-raised, well-cooked pastured turkey is in a league of its own.

      As far as how much meat, it’s true pastured turkeys often don’t have those huge breasts like the conventional ones that can’t even walk because their breasts are so heavy. Still though, a larger bird will have more meat-to-bone, (which is also the case with store-bought turkeys.) And, you can always use the bones to make broths and soups. There’s nothing like homemade soup made with pastured turkey bone broth – such a rich, delicious full-bodied flavor, and very nourishing.

  7. what about turnips? i was given a mass amount and am wondering how to make them delicious!

    i have never tasted a heritage breed turkey, but pasture raised chickens do taste way better to me, and i pay 4$/lb for them vs. organic barn-raised birds at 1.99/lb. no toughness at all.

  8. I’m not in charge of the turkey buying, and we are feeding a lot of people so this wouldn’t really be practical. As a guest I just go with the flow… I get my bacon and eggs cooked for me most mornings of the holiday week so I’m not going to complain too much.

    I agree with the last post… the pasture-raised meat I buy at the farmers’ market tastes way better… but you don’t know until you have a taste of the regular stuff. Then you are like, wow, this has NO TASTE… especially with steaks. There is definitely a flavor.

    The turkey pics look great! I’m salivating.


  9. PLEASE, get your terminology right…the Turkey’s are not genetically modified as the moajority of people would understand the term, the variety has been developed over many generations to have desirable characteristics by selectively breeding them. Even your heritage Turkeys are selectively bred – they ARE NOT naturally occurring. Same thing with cows, chickens, sheep, etc. etc. Man has done the same with the tomato. A natural tomato is small green and poisonous. Through countless generations man has selectively bred a big juicy red tomato. Just because something has been manipulated by man, doesn’t make it bad. I would happily eat a free-range Broad-breasted White Turkey but I would never eat a factory farmed bird. If you’re going to tell someone how bad something is for them because of the process used to make it, apply it across the board. You can’t eat your heritage Turkey with one hand whilst eating your genetically modified tomato, potato and pumpkin with the other.

    1. The man has a point. Not sure if the turkey is GMO or not… but pretty much everything in a store is also selectively breed or GMO for sure.

    2. I very well could eat both things with both hands. 😉

      Thanks for sharing this info! Have a great holiday!

    3. It’s true conventional turkeys aren’t genetically-engineered in the sense we understand it in recent years. Their genes aren’t mixed with genes of another species – they are what they are due to selective breeding. However, something to keep in mind is that conventional poultry, (along with beef, pork, lamb, and other livestock) ARE fed GMO grains. You are what you eat, and while it’s true heritage-breed, pastured turkeys are more expensive, if you get to know your farmer you can be assured the selectively-bred turkey, whether a heritage or ‘modern’ breed, on your Thanksgiving table has not been fed GMO corn and soy. The way I see it, if the turkey was fed GMO feed, you’re consuming GMOs.

    4. Not to be snarky right back (actually, yes, that’s exactly what I am doing)… But if we’re to use correct terminology, we should also use correct grammar. We should not use an apostrophe to pluralize words. Turkey, as in the bird, is also not capitalized, unless you are referring to a person named Turkey or the country Turkey. In which case, I read your note as:

      “…the Turkey’s are not genetically modified as the moajority [sic] of people would understand the term…”

      The country of Turkey owns something which you have not disclosed in your message. That thing is not genetically modified. It’s a very perplexing message. So please, before you start casting stones, you might want to shore up your own house first 😉

      Thank you,
      Those of us who are wholly sick of the gross misuse of our friend, the apostrophe.

  10. I was in my local healthy food market today and it was selling Heritage turkeys … for about $140. :O

  11. Call me a softie, but I almost cried reading about the poor turkeys. I am currently not in a financial position where I can just buy grass-fed all the time. I hope I can find some heritage turkeys on sale after Thanksgiving. And if I can’t afford a heritage turkey at Thanksgiving, then I won’t eat turkey. ‘Nuff said.

  12. My kids and I had the opportunity to assist in the harvest of our heritage turkey this year… my friend, farmer Linda, raised a handful and we were able to watch them grow up. We can’t wait to experience the first bite from farm to fork. Also going to enjoy farmer Carl’s butternut squash and grandpa’s homegrown parsnips and sweet corn. This is what it’s all about. Thanks for the great recipes and I want to know about those shoe/sock things in the profile picture!

  13. This is my second year of purchasing a pastured turkey from a local (sort of) farmer. We go right to the farm to pick it up, fresh, which is half the fun! Last year’s was seriously the best turkey ever. The farmer says her pastured turkey’s are high in CLA, which isn’t present in any other poultry. It costs more, but I know what I’m getting! As a side note, I mentioned to her that our local grocery store was now selling pastured turkeys for around $.04 more per pound than hers. She said the farmers that sell to stores usually get only half of what they charge you for it. So support your local farmer, and buy direct, if you can!

  14. Best Thanksgiving turkey I ever had was a wild hen shot by a friend of mine in the Penn woods. Tough? Not at all. Different tasting than your usual Butterball? You bet–and a big, big improvment indeed. The breast had a stronger flavor that was a touch “nutty.” As for being gamey, no way. “Gamey,” for the most part, is nothing but a euphamism for “spoiled.”

    Sadly, none of us have succeeded in getting a wild turkey this year.

  15. Look… it’s not as expensive as you think to get a pastured turkey. It’s just that we are used to dirt cheap factory food.
    I compared prices on a website with an inflation calculator. As it turnes out, I’m not paying any more for my pastured turkey than my great grandparents did in 1940 whith inflation figured in.

  16. I’m reading this with more than a touch of envy since I’ve yet to find pastured turkey of any description.
    The point was made that everything we eat is GMO and while it’s true that we’ve fiddled with everything we always had to answer fairly quickly to Mother Nature. Now we have new ‘smart’ techniques but I expect Mother Nature will still have her say in the end and we (non paleo) will not be happy campers when that card gets played.

  17. Mark’s lawyers probably require him to tell you cook the turkey to 165 degrees, but this is *absolutely* not necessary. USDA’s 165* recommendation for poultry exists so that even the dumbest food service workers can’t cause a mass food-borne illness event. The reality of pasteurization is far more nuanced.

    As The Food Lab has helpfully explains (https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/07/the-food-lab-complete-guide-to-sous-vide-chicken-breast.html#safe), 165* is the “instant kill” temperature. But, pathogens in poultry die anywhere above 136*, it just takes more time (handy chart from TFL: https://www.seriouseats.com/images/2015/06/20150610-sous-vide-chicken-guide-pasteurization-chart.jpg).

    A turkey (or a roast chicken) cooked to 150* will be completely sterilized , but will be orders of magnitude more juicy and tender. ESPECIALLY a heritage turkey that is more prone to being dry and tough. Trust me, you will not get salmonella and you will never be able to go back to eating poultry cooked to 160+.

  18. I LOVE parsnips!! Boiled, roasted, fried, but I never thought to mash them… I will have to try that. Thank you!

    As to turkeys, we raised some heritage turkeys, and they were delicious. However, they were also incredibly personable and social. It was very hard to watch them calling for their missing friend when we harvested one… So we no longer raise them.

  19. While it is true that the term “genetically modified” is sometimes used to refer not just to genetic engineering but also to selective breeding, it’s confusing to do so and I would like to encourage you to use more precise terminology.

    Not only did genetic engineering of foods not occur in the 1960’s, but there are no genetically engineered turkeys on the market.

    Broad-Breasted Whites certainly have been selectively bred for decades but extreme human-caused breeding changes have been around for millennia (corn, dogs, horses, wheat, pigs, etc).

    I appreciate your bringing up the issue, and the history is interesting and important, but please don’t imply something that isn’t happening. (Also, to commenters: While feeding food animals GMO grains is a use of GE in agriculture, it does not alter the animal’s genes.)

    I completely agree with you that selective breeding for livestock that can’t survive in the wild and where single breeds dominate the market is not a good thing for humans or the animals in question. But if the terms are confusing, people can’t understand the problem in a way that helps us find solutions (beyond “don’t eat that”).