Let’s Talk Turkey! Tips for Selecting the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

By | November 5, 2015

Photo Credit: Scott Bauer

With Thanksgiving soon upon us, I thought it would be a good idea to start a new series on how to cook a Thanksgiving Turkey.  I will be covering all aspects of the turkey from selecting the perfect turkey for your family, to cooking your turkey safely, to what to do with all the leftovers.

So let’s get started with selecting your Thanksgiving Turkey.  First of all your need to decide what size of a turkey you need.  A good rule of thumb is 1 pound of turkey for each person.  Of course, if you really like leftovers, you can go with more than that. Leftover turkey freezes beautifully and is perfect for adding to recipes.  More on that to come in the post of leftovers.

After you have determined how what size turkey you need, you will need to determine if you want fresh or frozen.  I personally always go with the frozen option since there is no difference nutritionally.  Frozen can be purchased well in advance and stored in the freezer until you are ready to thaw it.  Frozen turkey can be stored in the freezer up to 1 year with no quality loss.  We always take advantage of the great sales this time of year and buy an extra turkey or two to cook later.

If you are going with a fresh turkey, you should only purchase it 2 days in advance and make sure to put it in the refrigerator promptly when you get it home.  Fresh poultry that is refrigerated any longer than a couple of days can develop off-flavors.  Make sure the fresh turkey that you are purchasing is un-stuffed.  Later in the series, I will be tackling the great stuffing debate, but for now, just suffice it to say that pre-stuffed turkeys can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and should be avoided.

Other choices to consider are whether or not you want an organic  or free-range turkey.

  • Organic means that the turkeys are fed only organic feed and are raised in accordance with current organic standards.  Organic does not mean that the turkeys are allowed regular access to the outside though.
  • Free-range means that the turkeys have access to outside.  However this does not mean that the turkeys actually go outside.  Access can mean they have a small runway off their pen.
  • Pastured means that the turkeys were given regular access to the outside.  If you want to ensure that your turkeys truly were allowed to roam, then look for pastured turkeys.

As you can tell, labels can be confusing.  Pastured turkeys aren’t necessarily organic, nor are organic turkeys necessarily free-range. It’s important to know exactly what the terms mean so you can ensure you are getting a quality product.  The best option is to purchase your Thanksgiving turkey from a local farmer so you can ask exactly how the animals were raised.

Be aware that organic or pastured turkeys are quite a bit more expensive than conventionally raised turkeys.  Last time I priced them, a pastured turkey was going for around $80 here.    To be truthful, although I would love to buy a pastured turkey, our current food budget doesn’t allow for it.   Maybe someday I will have the land to raise our own Thanksgiving turkey!

So tell me…  Have you bought your Thanksgiving turkey yet?

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