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Women In Ag: Turkey Tips for Thanksgiving

As you can probably imagine, I often get asked about what kind of turkey I buy for Thanksgiving along with tips for purchasing.
 
I’m very low maintenance—I buy a frozen bird at my local grocery store for whatever low price they offer at Thanksgiving. (Supermarkets almost always put turkey on sale in November to get folks into the store to buy other products for the Thanksgiving meal. It’s called being a “loss leader.”)
 
To me, the only reason to buy a fresh turkey over a frozen turkey is convenience—turkeys take a lot of time to defrost in the refrigerator (about 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds), so if you’d rather just purchase a bird that is already good to go I totally get that.
 
Frozen turkeys are “flash frozen” during processing, so once defrosted their quality is just as good as a fresh turkey—and almost always will cost less. That’s why I go for the good deal—and will buy two turkeys because the price is right. (I’ll simply save one for December or January.) Turkeys, incidentally, will last up to 12 months in the freezer. 
 
Some turkey brands offer a frozen turkey “in a bag” that can go right from the freezer to the oven—no defrosting needed. Those are terrific options, as well, although similar to a fresh turkey so they will be priced higher than a regular frozen turkey.
 
Most turkeys purchased in supermarkets are conventionally raised—meaning, the breed is a broad-breasted white, which is prized for its white breast meat. Conventionally raised turkeys are raised indoors in barns that help keep them safe from both predators and weather elements, and allow the flock to be closely monitored by the farmer at all times of the day and night. 
 
Other turkey options you might see or hear about have specific labels (source: www.serveturkey.org):

 

Free Range: 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says the term "free range" or "free roaming" can be used to describe poultry that "has been allowed access to the outside." There are a limited number of "free range" turkeys being produced and most of them are for the holiday season. There are fewer "free range" turkeys because of geographic and climatological considerations, making warm weather the most conducive for allowing birds access to the outside.

 

Organic: 

A turkey labeled "organic" has the approval and certification of the USDA. The government standard includes strict regulations on organic feed and free range access and allows no antibiotics. There are also fewer "organic" turkeys for some of the same reasons that there are fewer "free range" turkeys.

 

Heritage:

The term refers to the turkey breeds indigenous to the Americas, dating to early Colonial times. These include the Beltsville Small White, Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Narragansett, Royal Palm, Slate, Standard Bronze, and White Holland. As a result of the market dominance of the conventional Broad-Breasted White, these breeds had been slowly shrinking in population. In 2001, Slow Food USA launched an initiative with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy to work with small farms to return the heritage turkey to the marketplace. Heritage turkeys grow at a much slower rate than Broad-Breasted Whites. The result is a smaller bird with a unique flavor and a thicker layer of fat surrounding the breast. These turkeys typically need to be special ordered direct from the farmer who raises them.
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