For Thanksgiving this year, I reserved a smoked turkey from the Willie Bird Turkeys store on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. The Sunday before the holiday (the only Sunday that the store is open each year), I stopped by to pick up the bird plus wings and necks to make giblet gravy and stock. Another customer was asking about "no nitrates", and I paid attention. Besides the tried and true traditional smoked bird ($3.69/lb.) that we've enjoyed many times, there's now a No Nitrates version ($3.99/lb). The ingredients listed were just turkey, salt and brown sugar. Maybe it said water too, but certainly no celery or other source of nitrates. The staff member said that once the vacuum pack was opened the turkey would last about 7 to 10 days in the refrigerator, a little less holding time than the traditional cure.
I switched to the No Nitrates smoked turkey to give it a try. And as much as we've liked the traditional cure smoked turkey, we all liked the new one even more. The traditional cure has heavier smoke flavor, more salt and sweetness, and a wetter and softer texture similar to water-injected ham. The No Nitrates tastes less like a cured product and more like a freshly cooked turkey. It reminded me of the birds that my dad used to smoke in his kamado. The breast meat was less wet but certainly not at all dry with a moist and velvety texture. A much finer and lighter smoke flavor that let more of the natural, minerally taste of the bird show through and the skin was easy to bite through and not tough like the traditional cure version.
We liked it so much, we're thinking about getting one for Christmas. So I thought I'd post here for others who are looking to try something different for the holidays. We're lucky to have the Willie Bird store here in our own backyard for a Saturday drive in Sonoma County's wine country instead of paying $60 in shipping charges.
Willie Bird Turkeys
5350 Sebastopol Rd, Santa Rosa, CA