This year, we changed up again, buying a free-range organic turkey that was raised by some family friends. Like I said, I've cooked a lot of turkeys over the years, so I thought I had it down to a science... until I got input from the family that raised the turkeys. They indicated that cooking an organic, free-range turkey was significantly different than cooking your run-of-the-mill turkey. Cooking time is supposed to be shorter, because of the lower fat content, so I did a lot of research, and found a lot of conflicting information. In the end, I went with one common-sense article, which essentially said "There's a lot of conflicting information out there. If you're not sure what to do, go with your gut and experience. If it doesn't turn out the way you like, then make a mental note and adjust your method next time."
That bit of common sense set me straight and reminded me that cooking is a science and an art. I quit worrying so much about the results and started laying out my game plan. I decided to smoke the bird, since that's consistently produced the best flavor. I decided to inject the bird with a marinade to hedge my bet against a dry bird. I also invested in a meat thermometer. It's the first time I've used a meat thermometer in my life.
Instead of giving you a blow-by-blow description of the process and results, I'll focus on the differences. I'm hoping that talking about the differences, as opposed to talking about every little step, will help others who were in my position... people who have cooked store-bought turkeys in the past, but want to try a heritage bird.
-The breast is significantly smaller than a store-bought bird. The legs are longer and thicker than a store-bought bird. This brings the white meat to dark meat ratio closer to 50-50.
-As I said, I used a meat thermometer for the first time. I used a thermometer with a remote reader. This allowed me to stick the probe into the bird and leave it there, while the display was outside of the grill. I started out with the probe in the leg. Something wasn't quite right though. The temperature reading showed 150 degrees in less than an hour. I suspect that the probe was touching the bone, but I'm not 100% sure. I rotated the turkey 180 degrees in the grill, and moved the probe to the breast. It was absolutely the right call. I KNOW that the probe wasn't touching bone in the breast. The displayed temp instantly dropped down to about 110 degrees (which was more accurate based on the bird's size and the elapsed cooking time). I left the probe in the breast for the rest of the cooking time.
-Cook time was not significantly different from what's required of a store-bought bird.
-The skin was thicker than what I remember from a store-bought bird. Too thick to be edible in my opinion.
-There was a big layer of fat in the upper chest area of the bird. All between the skin and meat. Nothing to worry about, just an observation.
-White meat was very similar to a store-bought turkey. Quite a bit more moist (probably due to the aforementioned fat). A bit more substantial.
-Dark meat was far more flavorful, and far chewier. Not exactly "tough," but a lot more dense than a store-bought bird. This makes sense though. Free-range organic birds actually use their muscles.
For the curious, here's a pic of the finished product.