Marconda’s Meats and Puritan Poultry is a family-owned meat and poultry market located at The Original Farmers Market. It’s been in business since 1941 and there are three generations of the DeRosa family working behind the counter. So, of course they don’t want you to buy your Thanksgiving turkey at the supermarket.
Lou DeRosa, current owner of Marconda’s, makes a compelling case. Butchers like Marconda’s, he says, sell turkeys that are sustainably raised, fed well and humanely farmed. The small producers that raise these birds are more concerned with quality than with quantity. “It makes a difference in the tenderness and how large the breasts get and how large the legs get and all those other little details of the bird,” DeRosa says. This means your turkey will taste better.
No matter where you’re buying your Thanksgiving turkey, DeRosa has some tips that will help you make a better (and better-tasting) choice:
- Buy a California bird. Our state has laws governing how turkeys are raised, but these best practices aren’t necessarily followed in other states. You want the label to say that your bird was raised without the use of Brothers Cody, left, Lou, Thomas and Tyler DeRosa antibiotics, growth stimulants or hormones, and was are ready to take your order minimally processed at Marconda’s Quality Meats and Puritan Poultry.
- Fresh is best. Frozen birds are often the cheapest the market could find, “which could mean that it was frozen right after last Christmas when it didn’t sell,” DeRosa says. Birds frozen for too long are vulnerable to freezer burn and moisture loss during defrosting.
- Avoid “pre-brined” birds. DeRosa says these are simply injected with sodium nitrate or sodium phosphate, which are used in processed foods and have no place in your Thanksgiving turkey.
- Choose hens over toms. Larger-size birds (more than 20 pounds) are usually tom (male) turkeys, though it might not say so on the packaging. Choose a hen and you’ll get a turkey with larger breasts, plumper legs and thighs and a little extra fat under the skin. “In that extra layer of fat, there’s much flavor,” says DeRosa.
- Size matters. DeRosa says a turkey’s breast really develops by the time the bird weighs about 14 pounds and continues to grow up until about 20 pounds. That makes 14 to 19 pounds the best weight range to choose. A smaller bird won’t be as flavorful or have as much breast meat. Larger birds are overdeveloped, unwieldy and more difficult to cook.
Marconda’s is one of the few places you can buy the Willie Bird, birds raised on a small family ranch in Sonoma. “We’ve tried them all, and Willie Bird is just plain old special,” DeRosa says. “If you’re going to bring out your best plates, you want to bring out your best bird.”
Considering grilling that bird? That’s one more reason to consult your butcher, because you do not want to try splitting the bird yourself (DeRosa convinced me of this when he told me it involves a cleaver and a hammer).
Once your bird is split, grilling has a few advantages. Grilling imparts a nice smoky flavor, which means brining isn’t necessary. The chimichurri sauce in this recipe takes that up a notch. Grilling is also faster than oven-roasting the bird – and DeRosa says you should definitely use a thermometer to check for doneness whichever cooking method you use.
For grillers, DeRosa advises medium heat and starting your turkey breast-side up, then flipping so that the juices from the thighs and back run into the breast as the bird finishes cooking. You’ll need to cook your stuffing in a baking dish in the oven, and won’t have gravy unless you buy additional turkey parts to roast for pan drippings. But DeRosa says grilling is a great way to showcase a top-quality turkey.
Marconda’s Puritan Poultry’s Grilled Thanksgiving Turkey
14-pound turkey, split
4 ounces spicy chimichurri sauce (they suggest Gardel’s Auténtico Chimichurri Sauce)
3 tablespoons kosher salt
Cracked black pepper, to taste
Clean and dry turkey. Using your hand, create a pocket between the skin and flesh of the breast and the skin and flesh of each leg. Rub one tablespoon of chimichurri sauce under the skin of each breast and one tablespoon under the skin of each leg, for four tablespoons total. Rub the remaining chimichurri sauce over the skin and underside of the turkey. Season liberally with salt and black pepper.
Place the bird on a pan to protect from flareups, and grill covered on medium heat for 1 hour 20 minutes, skin side up, until a thermometer registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the bird.
Let the bird rest for 15 minutes before slicing.