The INSIDER Summary:
• It can be hard to choose a turkey for Thanksgiving with all the different labels out there.
• You should buy about a pound of turkey per person you’re feeding.
• Labels include free-rage, frozen, self-basted, natural, organic, hormone-free, kosher, and heritage.
Cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving is daunting enough.
But before you even get to that step, you have to choose a turkey, and with so many options that part is a mission in and of itself.
Keep scrolling to learn how to pick the perfect bird.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is to buy a pound to a pound and a half of turkey per person. It depends on how many leftovers you’d like to end up with.
If you’re hoping for no leftovers and you’re hosting light eaters, go for a pound per person. If you have a hungrier crowd and/or would like plenty of leftovers, go for a pound and a half per person. For a happy medium, you can always do a one and a quarter pounds per person.
Free-range or pasture-raised
All this means is that this turkey was not raised cooped up in a cage. But don’t be fooled into thinking that means the bird was able to run free in large, grassy fields. The US Department of Agriculture defines free-range only as having “been allowed access to the outdoors.”
Pasture, on the other hand, usually means the turkey had more space to roam, although it’s an unregulated term, so there aren’t really any guarantees.
Buying a frozen turkey increases your chances of serving a dry turkey come Thanksgiving day. That’s because the water crystals that are formed when a turkey is frozen can rupture the cell membranes in the bird’s muscle tissue, allowing moisture to escape when the turkey thaws.
If you do decide to go with a frozen turkey, be sure to allow extra time for preparation. Defrosting a whole turkey can take up to four days.
Enhanced or self-basted
According to Prevention, these turkeys have been injected with a mixture of phosphorus, potassium, and water. This method is meant to make your turkey more flavorful and prevent it from drying out as it cooks, but it leads to meat with extremely high sodium levels.
You’re better off just basting your turkey yourself (especially if you went with a frozen turkey). But plan accordingly — basting can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours.
This label means that a rabbi has supervised both the raising and the processing of the bird.
Kosher also means that the turkey follows Jewish diet laws, which require the bird to first be soaked in cold freshwater, hand salted on both the inside and outside, and then rinsed three times.
Beware, these turkeys might still have some feathers.
Hormone-free or no added hormones
You can basically ignore this label. It’s against the law to use any kind of hormones or steroids in raising poultry, so the fact that the turkey you’re about to buy doesn’t have any added hormones means pretty much nothing.
Natural or all-natural
According to the FDA, if a food is labelled natural it means “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all colour additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.”
So that means minimal processing and no preservatives. Most turkeys fall into this category, but keep in mind that even the turkeys that have been enhanced or self-basted can be considered natural.
This label is a step above natural. According to Real Simple, these turkeys have not been given antibiotics or growth hormones, and they have eaten organic feed their whole lives — no pesticides, herbicides, animal by-products, or genetically modified grains. This label is a good indicator of a healthy, well-raised bird.
When it comes to turkeys, heritage birds are often considered the cream of the crop. That’s because this label indicates a bird that is directly related to the wild turkeys that were raised and domesticated by the first English settlers who came to the US.
There are several varieties of heritage turkeys, and you’re more likely to find them on a farm than you are to find them in a grocery store. They’re more expensive, and taste-wise they might not be for everyone. These birds have more dark meat than white meat, and have a gamier flavour.
In the end, Thanksgiving is mainly about the people you’re enjoying your food with, so don’t spend too much time fretting over which turkey to buy.
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