Thanksgiving guide: The different kinds of turkey - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

Thanksgiving guide: The different kinds of turkey

Updated: Nov 18, 2011 03:55 PM EST
© iStockphoto / Thinkstock © iStockphoto / Thinkstock


By Alexandra Kerr


You may think that buying a Thanksgiving turkey is as simple as glancing through your neighborhood supermarket for the biggest butterball. While that's certainly an option, selecting the best turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner can incorporate an extended ordering process, organically raised birds and a nearly 300 year traditional of raising the perfect turkey.


Types Of Turkeys

Before you buy your Thanksgiving turkey this year, review the following list of turkey terms to better understand what you are, or aren't paying for.


Heritage Turkeys: History, Price and Meat Content

You may not have noticed, but turkeys traditionally sold in supermarkets today are now made of primarily white meat. Over the years, turkeys have been bred (and injected with antibiotics) specifically to develop faster, and contain more of the lighter meat many Americans have come to love. Heritage turkeys are rapidly becoming a popular alternative to the chemically altered turkeys filling store shelves. The term heritage incorporates a variety of turkey breeds, including Black, Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, Slate and more. These breeds can trace their ancestry back hundreds of years, and are raised as closely to wild turkeys as possible.

Free of chemicals and antibiotics, these birds appear and taste differently from modern store-bought turkeys, and often have a white to dark meat ratio closer to 50/50, a sizable increase to common, predominately white options. With the decrease in chemicals and increase in dark meat also comes an increase in price. While you can typically find a supermarket turkey for around $1 per pound, heritage turkeys can cost you up to $7 per pound. Considering you should purchase one to one and a half pounds of turkey per person, this can result in a very expensive dinner. If you can afford the price jump, consider what you generally prefer to decide if a heritage turkey is right for you. If you like dark meat, and enjoy the taste of other wild, game-y tasting birds, then a heritage turkey is perfect for you. Check out the "Where To Buy" section below for details on how to find a heritage turkey near you.


Learn The Terms: Types Of Turkeys


Fresh Turkeys:
By definition, a fresh turkey has never been frozen below a specific temperature, but that doesn't mean it was never frozen at all. Turkeys can be labeled as fresh if they have never been chilled below 26 degrees F. Note, because fresh turkeys can still be kept at very low temperatures, they may have been stored at farms or markets for weeks, occasionally months, before being sold. Always ask when your turkey was butchered to ensure the freshest possible bird.


Frozen Turkeys:
A turkey will be labeled as frozen if it has been chilled below 0 degrees F. Frozen turkeys are frequently the easiest, most economical option found at many supermarkets, though they often lose some of the bird's natural juices, and can be tougher to chew.


Not Previously Frozen Turkeys:
This term can easily cause confusion, and means that the turkey was chilled below 26 degrees F, so it can't be called "fresh", but above 0 degrees F, so it does not need to be labeled "frozen".


Natural Turkeys:
Surprisingly, this label does not refer to how the turkey was raised. Natural turkeys are merely left unseasoned, basted or colored before being sold. Be sure to keep that in mind before paying extra for a turkey with this label.


Kosher Turkeys:
Kosher turkeys are raised on grain, and are not given chemical stimulants. Allowed to graze freely, these turkeys are raised, killed and prepared according to kosher regulations, which includes a salt brine soak. This soak gives kosher turkeys a distinctive flavor, and adds to the bird's overall weight, which may increase price.


Free Range Turkeys:
This is often a misleading term, as free range does not mean the turkey was raised outdoors or even allowed a majority of its time outdoors. A farm can label its turkeys free range as long as the birds were allowed several minutes per day of outdoor time- a standard that hardly affects taste or quality.


Organic Turkeys:
These birds are raised with specifically designated feed, and without any added chemicals. While many consumers prefer the idea of an organic turkey, this label does not necessarily affect the taste or texture of the bird.


Where & How To Buy A Thanksgiving Turkey


Frozen Turkeys:
Frozen turkeys are easily found at supermarkets and food retailers around the country, typically beginning several weeks before thanksgiving, if not year round.


Fresh Turkeys:
Check the butcher's counter at your local supermarket for deals on fresh turkeys, or visit an independent butcher in your area. Many health food stores also offer a selection of fresh turkeys, which typically must be ordered in advance to ensure freshness. Call or visit your supermarket, butcher or health food store several weeks in advance to place your order.


Heritage Turkeys:
These birds are harder to find, and typically must be ordered in advance. Search online for heritage turkeys in your city or county to find vendors offering these highly specific breeds.

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