PICKING THE PERFECT TURKEY
At the original Thanksgiving feast, turkey was served because it was plentiful in the Americas. But the turkey you get at the store today bears little resemblance to the those that ended up on the Pilgrim’s platters.
To help you decide which turkey to purchase for your Thanksgiving feast, we've rounded up information on types of turkeys, the flavor and texture differences of frozen turkeys versus fresh, and a guide on how much turkey you need to feed your family and friends.
Types of Turkeys
Before we discuss types of turkeys, we have to talk about added solutions. Most turkey processors inject a liquid solution into each turkey as a way of staving off the possibility that it will be overcooked. This solution is typically a combination of brine, water, oil, and seasoning, and is often high in sodium. At the store, look at the turkey label to find the amount of added solution. The lower the number the better, because you'll have more control over the seasoning, flavor and saltiness of your Thanksgiving turkey.
NATURAL TURKEYS: In order for a turkey to be called natural, it must not be fed animal by- products or given growth hormones or antibiotics beyond those necessary for veterinary health. The USDA requires natural turkeys be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients, preservatives, or coloring. These turkeys have a nice flavor and texture, and because they often have little to no added solution, they can be brined for additional flavor.
ORGANIC TURKEYS: To be labeled as organic, turkeys can only be fed organic feed. That means no genetically modified grains, chemicals or animal by-products. They are free-range, raised without antibiotics, and are processed without additives or solutions. This boosts their overall natural flavor and can be brined for additional seasoning and increased juiciness.
KOSHER TURKEYS: Kosher turkeys are usually grain-fed and raised without antibiotics. They're also free range. Because of kosher requirements, they are processed according to rabbinic laws and brined in salt. These birds usually have enough flavor without needing much more than a rub.
HERITAGE TURKEYS: The most expensive store bought turkeys are heritage turkeys. These are specific turkey breeds and are most likely free-range. When processed, they contain no additives. They are known for having a solid flavor profile on their own and containing very lean meat.
CONVENTIONALLY RAISED TURKEYS: The least expensive turkeys are conventionally raised and often come with the highest amount of solution injection. As a result, the taste will often be more buttery and spongy. Because they come with a high salt content, you won’t need to brine these turkeys yourself.