It’s Turkey Time: Getting the Right Turkey
Andy Anderson !
The question is not how to cook it, but what type of turkey to get. Years ago, that was an easy question to answer; however, today it seems like there's more information out there, threatening to overwhelm both seasoned cooks and first-timers alike.
So, lets take a good look at the different turkey types, and which one might be the best for your Thanksgiving table.
You ready… Let’s go. It’s time to go in search of the perfect turkey.
Free to graze on any grasses or grains it can find in its enclosure.
A more humane and healthy poultry farming process.
The Department of Agriculture's (U.S.D.A.) food safety agency inspects all poultry processors that carry the term "free-range" to ensure that their birds really are allowed access to the outdoors.
You can find free-range turkeys at larger supermarkets, specialty markets, and at your local farmer's market, where it's best to pre-order to ensure that you'll get one during the busy holiday season.
Purchasing a free-range turkey is taking a stand for the humane treatment of animals. They are also said to be more flavorful because they’re allowed to roam.
Raised as free-range.
No antibiotics can be used.
Must be fed an organic and vegetarian diet of grains and grasses that have not been treated with pesticides.
Organic birds are available frozen in better supermarkets and fresh or frozen from many online purveyors.
The purchase of an organic turkey gives you the best of both worlds: The benefits of the free-range lifestyle, and they are free of chemicals.
In most cases a natural bird is cheaper than organic, and usually comparable in quality.
Not all natural turkeys are created equal. Read the label to find out if the bird you're considering is antibiotic-free, free-range, and/or raised on a vegetarian diet.
Many products that claim to be natural also claim to be hormone-free; however, poultry products sold with the U.S.D.A. seal are hormone-free, whether advertised or not because the U.S.D.A. has never approved the use of hormones in poultry production. And, of course, we trust our government to inspect our food, right?
The increasing popularity and marketability of natural turkeys means they're available everywhere from the supermarket to high-end retailers to the local butcher shop.
Naturally raised turkeys are free-range, but may still contain preservatives, and chemicals. Read the label.
Fed a vegetarian diet
Free from antibiotics.
Undergone a salting process (after slaughter) that gives the bird a moist and juicy texture when roasted (similar to brining).
Chef’s Note: NEVER brine a kosher bird; unless you want a saltlick, as opposed to a nice turkey dinner.
The process of koshering a turkey makes the removal of the quills harder, so it’s possible that you will need to go over the bird and check for quills that remain in the skin.
Kosher turkeys are available fresh at most butcher shops, but you should preorder because there will be a limited supply. In addition they can be found frozen at some supermarkets.
Basically a good bird for those that want the flavor of a brined bird, but don’t want to go to the trouble of brining. Depending on when the bird has gone through the koshering process, the meat can begin to get a bit mushy over time. Find out when the bird was slaughtered and get one as fresh as possible.
Some companies inject herb, spices, and/or preservatives.
Require less basting than normal turkeys during the roasting process.
Does not require brining… they already have salt added.
The injection of the meat can give the bird a mushy texture, and strange (non turkey) flavors.
Definitely not for a turkey for the purists in the group.
You can get self-basting turkeys at almost any supermarket. Up to and including the day of Thanksgiving (Butterball comes to mind).
Slow steady growth rate 26 to 28 weeks (typical productions birds are ready in 18 weeks).
Additional maturing time gives heritage birds a richer flavor.
Narragansett, Jersey Bluff, Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Slate, Black Squash, and White Holland.
Special order only, and are the most expensive of the lot. One place online is: heritagefoodsusa.com.
Excellent birds with a good traditional, flavorful taste… They’re expensive but you might want to give them a try. FYI: They take to a good brine, very well.
4 - 12 lbs. 1 - 3 days
12 - 16 lbs. 3 - 4 day
16 - 20 lbs. 4 - 5 days
20 - 24 lbs. 5 - 6 days
4 - 12 lbs. 2 - 6 hours
12 - 16 lbs. 6 - 8 hours
16 - 20 lbs. 8 - 10 hours
20 - 24 lbs. 10 - 12 hours