Bronze Turkey v’s Supermarket Turkey

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What is the difference between traditional slow grown direct-from-farm bronze turkey versus supermarket bronze turkey?

When searching for your Christmas turkey, you may be wondering what the difference is between a slow grown bronze free-range turkey and a bronze supermarket turkey?  After all, this is probably the most important meal of the year for you.

What is a Bronze turkey?

Bronze turkeys are a breed of turkey.  This is a cross between the wild turkey and domestic turkeys brought from England.  There is a huge variation in the quality of the meat of a bronze turkey.  This is largely down to the varying methods used to both rear and process the birds. 

Maturity

A slowly grown bronze turkey will hatch in spring.  This is the natural laying season.  This turkey will go outdoors at the start of June and will be around 26 weeks old when it is processed.

Supermarket bronze turkeys will be around 12 weeks old when processed.  Many of these turkeys will hatch in October.  If they are free-range, then they will only be free to go outside for a few weeks. 

How does this affect the meat?

At 12 weeks old, a turkey has not had the time to develop a layer of marbled fat.  The turkey may be processed at 5kg as this is a popular weight.  However, this turkey may only be fully matured and lay down the necessary layers of fat when it reaches 10kg.  This results in the turkey being full of water that evaporates when roasted. This is one of the main reasons that turkey has a reputation for being dry and tasteless.

A slow grown bronze turkey is processed after 26 weeks old which allows the bird time to develop a layer of marble fat.  When the bird cooks, the fat naturally bastes the turkey and makes it juicy and succulent.   This also ensures that the meat cooks much faster.

What is the difference in their diets?

A free-range bronze turkey bought in a supermarket will only go outside for a few weeks of its life.  Therefore, they have extremely limited opportunities to supplement their diet with natural vegetation.

A slow grown bronze turkey will be outside for around 22 weeks.  For a large part of its life the turkey can supplement its diet with natural vegetation and insects.  This varied protein source gives the meat distinct nuances in flavours.  It also adds more depth to the flavour.

Supermarket bronze turkeys are fed compound diets to make them grow faster. A slow grown bronze turkey will usually be fed a diet which has a higher content of wholegrain cereals. This diet is specifically tailored for the bird to grow slowly.  This allows the bird time to develop intramuscular fat. 

Are the birds processed differently?

Supermarket bronze turkeys often travel greater distances to be processed.  This can have an impact on the quality of the meat.  In contrast, slow grown bronze turkeys are processed on the farm that they were reared.  This ensures minimum stress to them and greatly improves the quality of the meat.

A slow grown bronze turkey is dry plucked and finished by hand which is a very costly process.  This process keeps the outer layer of skin intact and retains the juices and flavour when the bird is cooked. Dry plucking ensures that the turkey can be hung in a cold store for two weeks.  This allows the meat to mature and develop more depth in flavour while the muscle fibre breaks down over time and tenderizes the meat.

Supermarket bought bronze turkeys are wet plucked with chemicals by a machine.  This is quicker and much more cost-effective.  However, this process takes off a layer of the top skin which holds in the flavour and juices.  This is another reason why turkey meat often has a reputation for being dry.  

Supermarket Turkey: Pros

  • The supermarket bronze turkey is a more economical option than a slowly grown bronze turkey.  The price of a bronze turkey bought in the supermarket for Xmas starts at around £35.
  • The skin of a supermarket-bought turkey is immaculate and does not have the occasional little pin feather. 

Supermarket Turkey: Cons

  • A supermarket-bought turkey takes longer to cook than a matured turkey.
  • You may require greater cooking skills for a supermarket-bought turkey as they have limited flavour and the meat is drier.  This might involve brining the turkey overnight or constantly basting the turkey.  You may have to use butter underneath the skin to stop the turkey from drying out so much.

Slow Grown Bronze Turkey: Pros

  • The bone to meat ratio is far greater on a slowly grown bronze turkey.  Kelly Bronzes found up to 48% more meat on their turkey than a turkey of equivalent size from the supermarket.  Therefore, the turkey in real terms costs around 30% more than a bronze turkey bought in a supermarket.
  • This turkey has much more depth in flavour and is more tender and succulent.  There is also a higher volume of richer gravy produced.
  • This turkey is very simple to cook as it is naturally full of flavour.  You do not require to baste the turkey or add anything to it for flavour. 
  • A 5kg slow grown bronze turkey will cook an hour faster than a supermarket-bought bronze turkey due to the maturity of the bird. 

Slow Grown Bronze Turkey: Cons

  • Due to the hand plucking method, some turkeys have the occasional pin feather. Most of these will disappear when cooked.
  • The price of free-range, slowly grown bronze turkeys will start at around £65.  This turkey is not for people working on a very tight budget for Christmas dinner.

Which turkey is for you?

If you are on a tight budget and are concerned about the occasional pin feather then the supermarket bronze turkey is likely the best option for you.

If you are looking to impress family and friends with a turkey that is full of flavour, then a slowly grown bronze turkey is a great choice.  Also, if you require to use your oven to cook other meats then a slowly grown bird will occupy the oven for less time as it cooks much faster than a supermarket-bought turkey.  There is a lot less cooking skill required to produce excellent results with the slow-grown bird as it is naturally full of flavour and extremely juicy.  This turkey would be well suited to those cooking Chrismas dinner for the first time and really looking to impress the family.

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Craig Michie

Based at Lochend of Barra, Inverurie, Craig Michie left a job as a town planner in 2009 and travelled around South America where he met his Columbian wife Maria. The couple returned to Scotland and the century old family farm to create Barra Bronzes which was named winner in the ‘Judge’s Choice’ category, runner-up for ‘Best New Retail Product (businesses with up to 25 employees),’ and was named as highly commended in the ‘Best Young Business’ category at the Grampian Food Forum Innovation Awards 2016.

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