A meat expert talks turkey.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Thanksgiving is this week. Preparing the big meal—whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned chef—is a daunting task, so we reached out to Bluescreek Farm in Marysville for some pointers. The farm, which specializes in naturally raised meats, had been the North Market’s primary butcher for more than 20 years; it relocated to Plain City and expanded in 2016. Jamie Johnson, daughter of farm owners David and Cheryl Smith, shared turkey tips with us via email. (Her responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

The turkeys you sold this year were vegetable-fed, in addition to being free-range and free of hormones and antibiotics. How does that affect the taste of the bird once it’s cooked?
An animal’s diet—a healthy balance—is very important to having a quality animal. One that has had a good life can provide us with wonderful flavor and taste.

Is there anything else that sets your birds apart from ones found at a chain grocery store like Kroger or Giant Eagle?
All of the turkeys we are selling for Thanksgiving this year are either fresh—never frozen—or Austin’s Turkeys, which have been frozen for a few months. Many grocery stores handle turkeys that have been frozen for sometimes years. We do our best to make sure that we are finding the right bird for each of our customers and also getting them any other side items, desserts or seasonings they may need for their gathering.

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In recent years, a lot of people have experimented with deep-frying or smoking turkeys for Thanksgiving instead of roasting them. What’s your favorite cooking method?
I am more of a traditionalist when it comes to preparing Thanksgiving turkey. My brother and I both raised turkeys in 4-H growing up, so it was always my responsibility to cook the Thanksgiving bird. There is something very heartwarming to me about baking a turkey for Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong, I am more than happy to eat a smoked or deep-fried turkey, but on Turkey Day, I want it baked.

What tips do you have for prepping a turkey to roast in the oven?
Some people like to brine their turkey. I personally just like to rub it down with olive oil and season it with fresh herbs or a dry rub. Get a probe meat thermometer that works well and goes outside the oven—preferably one that will beep when you reach your desired internal temperature. Then make sure you have a tight cover on it using foil or a good lid, and start baking. Every time you open the oven door you lose 10-20 minutes of cooking time, so only check it when you need to. One of the best things you can do for having an evenly cooked turkey is to let it cook. In the last few minutes, turn your broiler on and get a good crust on your turkey!

What types of seasonings pair best with a traditional roasted turkey?
Rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper are my favorite seasonings for fresh turkey. We also carry a sazon rub from North Market Spices that is fabulous on poultry! I mix a little olive oil and fresh garlic with it and rub my poultry down. It is wonderful!

What’s the biggest mistake home cooks make when making their Thanksgiving turkey?
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they cook their Thanksgiving turkey is overcooking their bird. Anything you are cooking will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven, so you want make sure you’re taking that into consideration.

Any key tips for those who might be cooking a Thanksgiving turkey for the first time?
Don’t be afraid to try something new. But also be realistic. If you’re overwhelmed with the idea of making a whole turkey, maybe you should think about doing a bone-in breast instead. Enjoy your day; don’t be overwhelmed! Also, a lot of people don’t do turkey for Thanksgiving. Many people will do a beef, lamb or pork instead of or in addition to a turkey item! We have multiple people doing seasoned porchettas for Thanksgiving this year.

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