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9 best turkey crowns for festive feasting

These are simply the breast for white meat enthusiasts

Alicia Miller
Friday 03 December 2021 09:27
<p>We prepared each bird the way you would at Christmastime, with the full retinue of sides, cranberry sauces and gravies</p>

We prepared each bird the way you would at Christmastime, with the full retinue of sides, cranberry sauces and gravies

Christmas Day is fast approaching, and that means one thing: turkey. But you don’t have to go for the whole big bird. Whether you’re catering for a slightly smaller crowd or just prefer tender white meat, a turkey crown is a great alternative. You still get the carving experience, but they take up less room in the oven and cook faster than whole birds, too.

Not all turkey crowns are created equal. There are the obvious differences in size – they come as small as 1.5kg for a few people, or as large as 5kg-plus to serve more than two dozen. Crowns are always on the bone, but you can get them with or without wings attached.

Some come plain – ready for prepping as you desire – and others are already stuffed and topped with bacon or butter. Whatever your taste or cooking ability, there’s a crown out there to suit you.

How we tested

When we tested our best turkey crowns, we judged them on flavour and texture, of course. But that wasn’t all. We judged them on how true they were to the producer’s description – for example, if it was stuffed with sage stuffing, could we really taste the sage? We also, crucially, judged them on value for money. Turkey crowns can vary dramatically in price; the cheapest we tried came in at £10 per kilo, while the most expensive was three times that.

As so few people cook turkey on a regular basis, we felt that the quality of the included instructions was crucial. We cooked each turkey exactly as stated by the producer or retailer, following temperature and timing instructions exactly. Unless specifically told to do so, we didn’t add any additional flavourings (save a bit of butter under the skin). If the turkeys were not already stuffed, we did not stuff them. We awarded extra points to instructions that were clear, concise and – crucially – didn’t lead to that dreaded turkey dryness. Crowns that seemed overdone after the stated cooking time were slightly marked down.

Finally, because we are dedicated to turkey testing here at IndyBest, we prepared each turkey the way you would at Christmastime, with the full retinue of sides, cranberry sauces and gravies, so they could be appreciated properly. Just as you’ll be doing, on Christmas Day.

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The best turkey crowns for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Heston from Waitrose turkey breast on the bone crown: £65, Waitrose.com
  • Best mid-sized premium – Morton’s family farm free-range bronze turkey crown: £84.12, Mortonsfarm.co.uk
  • Best for small ovens – Sainsbury’s taste the difference British bronze turkey crown: £24.50, Sainsburys.co.uk
  • Best large-sized premium – Walters traditional free-range bronze turkey crown: £96.75, Parsonsnose.co.uk
  • Best easy-to-cook bargain – Morrisons roast in the bag stuffed British turkey crown: £18, Morrisons.com
  • Best small crown – Gressingham foods turkey crown: £19.99, Langthorpefarmshop.com
  • Best online-only retailer crown – Farmison & Co devon bronze turkey crown: £76, Farmison.com
  • Best premium easy-to-cook – M&S collection the perfect turkey crown: £55, Marksandspencer.com
  • Best for dark meat lovers – Aldi specially selected ultimate British turkey crown and thigh fillets: £39.99, Aldi.co.uk

Heston from Waitrose turkey breast on the bone crown with a turkey brine, poultry jus and herb butter

Best: Overall

Score: 9.5/10

If you think white turkey meat is dry, it’s because you haven’t tried this crown. The secret is the brine, a salt and water solution in which the turkey soaks before cooking. Brines tenderise meats, and make them taste super juicy and perfectly seasoned. You do have to be a bit organised; prep starts 24 hours in advance. But really in comparison to making a homemade brine yourself – and we have – this couldn’t be breezier. Pop the ready-made liquid, infused with sage, thyme, rosemary, black peppercorn, juniper and bay, into the included brining bag. Then add your turkey and stick the lot in the fridge. That’s it.

The extra five minutes of work pays off – we’ve rarely had a bird so moist. Of course, the immense amount of included herb butter, for rubbing under the skin just before roasting, might also have something to do with it. The crown comes with a jus that you need only heat for 6-8 minutes before serving. On the whole, if you want a foolproof ready-to-go bird, this one tastes great and is top value at £15 per kilo.

Morton’s family farm free-range bronze turkey crown

Best: Mid-sized premium

Score: 9/10

Morton’s has been farming for four generations in the North Norfolk countryside, and the experience shows with this delicious crown. Our turkey, which was free-range and reared to high welfare standards, showed its quality with good colouring and a pleasantly meaty grain. That’s because Morton’s doesn’t treat crowns as second best; they’re the same as its other Great Taste Award-winning turkeys, just with the legs trimmed off.

Our 3.3kg crown, which still had its wings on – and included giblets – cooked faster than expected according to the enclosed instructions, but it still retained plenty of moisture. As for the skin? It was just as you’d want it to be: enticingly brown and crisp. We cooked this bird with nothing but a light slathering of butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and yet it was immensely flavourful. We would have happily eaten it on its own, without gravy or cranberry sauce.

Sainsbury’s taste the difference British bronze turkey crown

Best: For small ovens

Score: 8/10

If you’re just after a simple, reliable turkey crown that won’t cost a fortune, this well-priced Sainsbury’s bronze bird fits the bill. At as little as £14 per kilo, it’s excellent value. And it tastes, quite simply, like archetypal turkey – mildly flavoured and with a fine grain. Gourmets might not get overly excited about it, but equally, there’s not really anything bad to say about it, either.

One of the more compact crowns we tried – the lower half of the turkey’s carcass had been removed, and so had the wings – it’s a great buy if you’re limited on oven space and need to fit it into a small roasting dish. Or, if you want to reduce the oven-juggling stress on Christmas Day and cook sides at the same time. At the time of publishing, this turkey was out of stock, but we’re told more should be available soon.

Walters traditional free range bronze turkey crown

Best: Large-sized premium

Score: 8/10

When we first unwrapped out Walters bird – the turkey of choice for leading London butcher Parson’s Nose – we couldn’t quite believe how big-breasted it was. This could be the most sizeable turkey crown we had ever seen, and we were only testing a 4.4kg one; they are available at 5.5kg-plus. The wings, still attached, were just as hefty. It looked like it had been sourced from a bird that was healthy and thriving, the antithesis of some over-processed crowns out there.

The cookery instructions were excellent. They included the sound advice to cook the bird on its belly first, keeping the meat moist – though the skin was slightly sacrificed as a result, as it didn’t turn out as crispy as some others. While we didn’t think the crown needed cooking for quite as long as suggested – it was a smidge overdone using our oven – if you were to cook it using a thermometer as your guide it should turn out perfectly.

Morrisons roast in the bag stuffed British turkey crown

Best: Easy-to-cook bargain

Score: 7.5/10

For inexperienced cooks or bargain hunters, Morrisons’ roast in the bag comes through. For starters, it’s pretty hard to get wrong even if you’re doing a million other things at once: take off the outer sleeve and, with the turkey still in the moisture-capturing bag, bung it straight in the oven and forget about it. It’s already filled with a pork, sage and onion stuffing and topped with smoked bacon lattice and bay leaves, so you just need to cook and carve. All pretty good considering it costs as little as £10 per kilo.

Is it the best-tasting turkey we tasted? Not quite. The cooking bag, while it keeps the turkey acceptably moist, prevents the bacon from properly crispening – so while it colours, it ends up somewhere between crisp and floppy. The flavour of the turkey was a little bit processed, too; and the sausage stuffing a tad sweet for our palate. But the crown does look great and it is a fair price. Serve it at the office knees-up or a wine-soaked dinner with friends.

Gressingham foods turkey crown

Best: Small crown

Score: 8.5/10

You may know Gressingham primarily for its duck, but come Christmastime the producer also turns out turkey. Sourced from a Red Tractor assured British farm, this crown is perfect for micro-gatherings – it’s only 1.5kg. “Officially” that serves around five people, but we all know that between the turkey sandwiches on Christmas night and the turkey curry on Boxing Day, that really means just two or three of you. As a solid, classic-tasting crown, it will taste good however you choose to prepare it.

Farmison & Co devon bronze turkey crown

Best: Online-only retailer crown

Score: 9/10

Farmison is a pro at sending good-quality meat all around the country, so we weren’t really surprised that its turkey crown was tasty. Sourced from Devon Bronze turkey flocks “free to forage in fields and cherry orchards” it was notably flavourful, perhaps due to the fact that it had been hung for 14 days. While £76 is no small amount to spend on a turkey – that’s £30 per kilo – the crown’s moderate size means if you’re a family you’ll probably get through it all without any going to waste.

Like other premium birds we tried, the Farmison crown arrived with its wings attached and giblets encased for gravy-making. It also came with clear, insightful instructions that resulted in a perfectly cooked bird. Emerging from the oven it looked as bronzed as it does in the online photos. The only thing less-Instagrammable? The odd lingering feather root that arrived still attached to the bird, which we plucked out before cooking. It didn’t bother us – it made the turkey feel more natural – but particularly squeamish cooks may want to take note.

M&S collection the perfect turkey crown

Best: Premium easy-to-cook

Score: 9/10

Fact: M&S makes cooking easier. If stuffing a turkey yourself, or even just smothering it in butter, sounds a bit too much like hard work, this ready-to-go crown is for you. Already stuffed, wrapped in bacon and topped with butter and herbs, it genuinely couldn’t be easier to make. Just squirt a chicken stock flavour sachet into the bottom of the (included) pan, cover with foil and cook.

This being M&S, it’s obviously a bit jazzy too. Got your notepad ready? This is a wingless British Oakham crown basted with chicken and turkey stock and buttermilk, filled with pork and cranberry stuffing, garnished with Applewood smoked streaky bacon, and topped with goose butter and a garnish of herbs. (Did you get all that?) Added water makes the meat super juicy as well as easy to carve, too. It’s certainly all quite moreish, but with all those bells and whistles the overall impression isn’t especially homemade. If you’re not into cooking, however, “not quite homemade” is probably exactly what you’re looking for. Sadly online M&S Christmas food slots are now all booked up, but you can pick this turkey crown up in stores from 18 December.

Aldi specially selected ultimate british turkey crown and thigh fillets

Best: For dark meat lovers

Score: 7/10

We’re slightly cheating with this one, because it does involve dark meat. Aldi’s version is a herb butter-topped crown, flanked by two detached stuffed and bacon-wrapped turkey thighs. We’ve allowed it here because for some people choosing a crown over a whole turkey is more about ease than it is about forgoing leg. And this “crown” lets you have the best of both worlds: ease of preparation and carving, and that whole turkey taste.

The prep is breezy – throw a sheet of foil over the ready-to-go pan and roast in the oven for two and a half hours. Really, you can pretty much forget about it. Once cooked, it wasn’t the most picture-perfect turkey we tried, but it was certainly moist, with a decent grain. Where it lost marks was the stuffing, which we found far too sweet and a bit pasty. Kids will probably love it, though.

The verdict: Turkey crowns

The best turkey crown for you will largely depend on what you’re willing to pay for it. When it comes to value for money, we found it hard to look past Waitrose’s Heston offering, which for around £15 per kilo provided a deliciously juicy bird. It was easy to cook and still was lusciously moist the day after cooking. Even 12 hours in the fridge couldn’t dampen its deliciousness.

One could argue, however, that if you’re handy in the kitchen you could do the brining yourself. Or, just order a top-quality free-range bird that may taste a bit more flavourful from the get-go. For that, it’s a toss-up between Morton’s and Farmison.

Finally, if you want a pre-stuffed bird, go for M&S. All you have to do is bung it in the oven and enjoy. It’s stress-free, and that can’t help but result in a relaxed, happy Christmas feast.

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