We’re not fans of the candy corn and skeletons that appear on store shelves in July. And don’t get us started on Christmas merchandise that shows up before the leaves begin to fall. But there’s one holiday-related item we do suggest you think about now: a pasture-raised Thanksgiving turkey from a local farm, which probably started taking orders in late summer, and will likely run out of birds any day now.
Getting the centerpiece of this year’s Thanksgiving meal straight from a farm, where the birds are allowed to dine on fresh grass, bugs and other vegetation (supplemented with non-GMO feed), used to be a novelty. Nowadays, however, naturally raised birds from places like the Miller family’s Sunrise Farms in Stuarts Draft are in high demand.
On the Millers’ 90-acre farm, free-range turkeys wander between pastures—where they control the bug population and fertilize the grass—and well-ventilated shelters. According to the family, Sunrise birds’ “richer-tasting meat is the result of raising our turkeys on an all-natural diet, with plenty of exercise and freedom to roam. And we never overfeed or underfeed our poultry, instead providing feed that suits the natural growth of the turkeys.”
Keep in mind, though, that the price of a pasture-raised turkey is quite a bit more than those bought at a grocery store, where factory-frozen birds sometimes cost less than a dollar per pound. Farm-raised birds go for about $5-8 per pound, and there are several reasons for this: Grazing fields take up a lot of pricey land; a certain number of turkeys are lost to predators every season; and labor and feed is more expensive.
For details about purchasing your Thanksgiving main course directly from a local farmer, contact one of these places:
55 Pure Meadows Ln.,
Swoop (540) 885-3590, polyfacefarms.com
2177 Tinkling Spring Rd.,
Stuarts Draft (540) 337-3773, sunrisefarm.net
398 Buck Mountain Rd., Earlysville (202) 213-8421, sylvanaqua.com
2245 Garth Rd. 295-7600, tcofarm.com
If you’re hosting a smaller Thanksgiving crowd this year—or the thought of roasting an entire turkey makes you want to call the whole thing off—consider buying a rotisserie chicken. Not only are they convenient, but if you get a good one, everyone at the table will enthusiastically, er, gobble it up.
What follows are a few tips for selecting a perfect whole chicken, which will set you back between $5 and $6, at your favorite local grocery store (Foods of All Nations, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Harris Teeter and Kroger are all solid options).
Weight matters. You might look silly doing it, but we suggest you pick up every chicken on display and gage its heft; a heavier bird is a bird where the juices haven’t evaporated out of the meat.
Skin deep. The best-tasting chickens are evenly browned with taut skin. Avoid shriveled and discolored birds because this is a sign of juiceless meat.
Watch it. Looking at a display of cooked chickens but there’s no rotisserie in sight? Ask a store employee how often the birds are restocked, or look for a timestamp on the bag or container, a good indication of when the chicken was prepared.
Plain is better. On a recent hunt for rotisserie chickens, we encountered barbecue- and lemon pepper-flavored birds, which sounded good, but take it from us: If you want to use your leftover chicken for stock or a stew, it’s best to steer clear of heavy spices and marinades, which get stronger over time, and could adversely affect the taste of days-after dishes.—SS
Grocery store rotisserie chickens are all good and fine, but if you really want to impress your guests, order your Thanksgiving chicken from Al Carbon, where Myriam and Claudio Hernandez will marinate it for 24 hours before they slowly roast it in a green charcoal oven that they imported from Peru. According to the Hernandezes, whose whole birds sell for $12.50, they “honor our local broiler chickens by simply allowing the coal-fired flame to massage the secret spices while drawing out their natural flavor.”
Al Carbon 1871 Seminole Trl., 964-1052, alcarbonchicken.com