Top 8 Things to Know When Picking Out a Turkey
Thanksgiving is only THREE weeks away. People are beginning to put in orders for their turkeys already. If you haven’t, get on it before all the good ones are gone. “By the way” you ask “how do I pick out a good thanksgiving turkey?”. You’ve come to the right place my friend. Scroll down and I’ll tell you everything you need to know in The Top 8 Things to Know When Picking out a Turkey .
Aaaaah turkey. Probably the most popular lunch meat ever. So many brands and so much eye-glazing-over when it comes to choosing. Let me help you out a little. You can get turkey from a few different places:
- The butcher
- The grocery store
- The local farmer or farmer’s market (find on the Eat Wild database or Wellness Mama’s article on Where to Find Free Range Turkeys)
- The online food suppliers such as US Wellness Meats and Tropical Traditions
So now that you know where you can get one, decide the route you’d like to take and move on to thing #2.
2. QUALITY & QUESTIONS FOR THE BUTCHER (OR FARMER)
There are so many different types of turkeys you can buy: heritage turkeys, wild turkeys, organic turkeys, anti-biotic free turkeys…the list goes on. You don’t have to wonder what the heck it is anymore, because it’s all broken down for ya here.
Heritage turkeys – Not the same as wild turkeys and it doesn’t mean they are organic. They don’t exclusively feed on bugs, worms and other treasures found in pastures as would a wild turkey . And, they’re not necessarily medicine/anti-biotic/supplement free. Feed mixtures may or may not be Non-GMO or soy/corn-free. They are however; required, to spend a certain amount of time outdoors. But mainly, the term “heritage turkey” refers to 10+ (non-broad-breasted-white i.e. most factory farm turkeys) turkey breeds whose meat boasts superior taste to that found in grocery store turkeys. And yes, I actually did read through the The Livestock Conservancy’s Heritage Turkey Manual to figure this out for you!
Wild turkeys – SUPER lean. Not a lot of breast meat, but a ton of thigh meat. Wondering if it’s tender? Surprisingly, yes! And apparently it was the bird the inspired Ben Franklin to nominate it as the national symbol for the US of A. Neat! Anyways, these guys are not-vegetarian birds so they can be found in the likes of swamps, grasslands and forest floors foraging and gobbling (no pun intended) insects, salamanders, nuts, seeds and fruits. Look for them in the Americas, Hawaii, Europe, and New Zealand. Naturally, they’re Non-GMO and soy, corn and anti-biotic free. This also usually means they are organic too, but not always. PS- the terms “pastured” or “pasture-raised” and “free-range” turkeys are often interchangeable with “wild turkeys”, although not always so be sure to ask as they may also be supplemented with GMO, soy, and corn-laden feed. But if they’re clear of the former three yuckies, then this is the jackpot right here. Food of the gods if you will 🙂
Organic turkeys – These are not necessarily “wild” or “pastured” or “pasture-raised” or “free-range” unless they specifically say they are. So, they’re not necessarily flapping around under the sun. All “organic turkey” means is that the turkey was given only organic feed which is not synonamous with Non-GMO and soy/corn/anti-biotic free unless it says so and can be found in their vegetarian feed. Check the packages carefully.
Anti-biotic Free turkeys – This means that despite whatever feed they were given, be it GMO/soy,/corn-laden, they weren’t given anti-biotics. It doesn’t mean they weren’t given other drugs. It also doesn’t mean that they will be kept in cleaner houses or that they will ever see the light of day.
All Natural/Supermarket turkeys – This basically only means that yes, you did in fact pick a turkey and not a very large chicken. Aside from that, it doesn’t mean that it’s anti-biotic free, organic, wild or heritage AT ALL. This term is completely unregulated by the FDA and is used to mislead and capture the attention of uninformed, well-intentioned buyers hoping to buy healthier food. These are likely the factory chickens that we’ve seen in food industry documentaries such as Food, Inc. living in extremely unhealthy conditions, that are purposely fattened up via vegetarian feed, drug and anti-biotic use over a very short period of time for mass production purposes.
3. GROCERY STORE BRANDS YOU’LL RUN INTO
- Bell & Evans
- Plainville Farms
None of these are wild, but one is organic and a few are at least anti-biotic free. Epicurious did a nice taste-test on all of these turkeys for ya. Here are the results and brief brand descriptions for your browsin’ pleasure.
*Bell & Evans says in the description that their birds are free-range, but in this case the term is not interchangeable with wild since these birds still actually eat vegetarian, man-made feed.
4. WHEN TO BUY
Order your turkey at least 3 weeks in advance. Maybe even earlier if you want to ensure you get what you want. Info on pick-up dates, refrigeration and thawing below. Order now!
5. HOW MUCH TURKEY TO FEED THE GUESTS
Factor in about 1-1.5 lbs per guest (unless of course you’re feeding the hulk, then multiply that by 10 and you’ll have enough to feed him…and probably him only). So just multiply the number of guests by 1 or 1.5, pick the one that sounds more realistic, or if you’re me, find the average of the two and bank on that covering the whole gig (or if you want left overs add in a couple pounds to the 1.5 x guests calculation).
6. PRICE BREAKDOWN
Here’s a great one from The Nibble, which outlines about how much per pound you should expect to pay for different kinds of turkey:
*these prices may vary a bit depending on the grocery store, online supplier and/or farmer from which you purchase
7. FRESH TURKEY
The 101 on purchasing a fresh turkey:
- Tends to cost more
- You don’t have to thaw it
- Only need to pick up 1-2 days ahead
- Refrigerate in the coldest part of your fridge (locally raised fresh ones won’t last more than 2 days in your fridge; commerically raised may last a bit longer…check the expiration date)
- If you’re getting a store bough one, it’s possibly it has been sitting around for many days (this is not the same story if you get one from a local farmer)
8. FROZEN TURKEY
The lowdown purchasing a frozen turkey:
- Requires anywhere from 3-6 days to thaw depending on weight
- Usually less expensive
- Available year round, so you could purchase next years on Black Friday if you really wanted to 🙂
- Don’t keep it in your freezer for longer than a year (I dunno why you would…it takes up a boat load of space!)
- They’re flash frozen immediately after they’re butchered, so sometimes they’re even fresher than “fresh” turkeys
- Butchers tend to favor these for their superior freshness (refer to the above bullet point)
Not sure how to thaw it? No worries. We gotcha covered. How to thaw a turkey here.
Bonus – don’t wanna lift a finger this Thanksgiving? Check out Pete’s Paleo and Paleo on the Go. They ship nation-wide and have some really affordable Thanksgiving Meal Plans with really high-quality ingredients (we’re talking free-range and organic turkeys!).
Happy Turkey shopping!