What Kind of Turkey Is Best?
Fresh or frozen? Free-range, pastured, or barn-raised? Organic? Heritage breed? Local or mass-market? No pressure—it’s only that your choice of turkey has the potential to ruin Thanksgiving…for everyone.
Chowhounds don’t have strong opinions on fresh versus frozen turkey. “I’ve cooked both fresh and frozen organic turkeys with good results,” says janeh. “A frozen bird is fine—just remember that it takes longer than you might think to thaw it,” advises sheiladeedee. “I like to take my bigger birds out of the freezer and put them in the refrigerator on Sunday night before Thanksgiving so it is thawed in time to brine it.”
A local, organic turkey is worth it if you can afford it, says keith2000, but keep in mind you’re going to have to brine the turkey yourself. “The best turkeys I’ve had have been local and free range,” says ccbweb. However, remember that an “organic” turkey may well not be free-range, and even a turkey labeled “free range” may have been raised in a barn, rather than out scratching in the pasture.
Whole Turkey for 12 People, $120 at Porter Road
This pasture-raised turkey free of antibiotics and added hormones is far better than your average grocery store bird, but they do ship frozen, so factor in defrost time.
A major overlooked aspect of turkey taste is the age of the turkey. A longer-lived bird tastes better, but “even your organic, free-range bird is likely to be only four months old at best when it is a commercial breed,” says susanl143. “It costs more to grow a turkey longer and that adds to the buyer’s cost but you do get a big return in improved flavor.” Pasture raising makes a big difference in flavor, too. Birds able to play, run, and even fly taste different from birds who only sat at the feeding trough—activity makes the texture of the meat firmer, “more like a game bird,” says susanl143.
If you go with a supermarket turkey (like a classic Butterball), look at the label; if it says the meat has been treated with a salt solution, then you don’t need to brine it as it’s essentially already been done (via injection).
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Related Reading: The Best Turkey Delivery Options for Thanksgiving
How Much Turkey Do You Need Per Person?
The general guideline is to plan on one pound of turkey per person, but increase that to 1 1/2 or even 2 pounds per person if you want to have leftover turkey. Also remember that the size of your turkey determines how long it takes to thaw (unless, of course, you get a fresh turkey); really big birds can take up to six days to defrost completely, so plan accordingly.
What if a whole turkey is too much food for your group to consume? ccbweb recommends roasting a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey, though amyzan doesn’t think it’s quite as flavorful as a whole turkey.
Related Reading: How to Make Thanksgiving Dinner for One or Two
Another solution? Buy a whole turkey and get your butcher to saw it in half, suggests Jacquilynne. “My mother did that one year and it worked out quite well—we had a mix of white and dark meat, some nice toasty skin, and not nearly as many leftovers. Plus, another half a turkey for Christmas or New Year or Easter already in the freezer.”
You can also try some alternative birds for Thanksgiving.
See our Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving for everything else you need to know, including a turkey day timeline and more expert tips, tricks, and recipe ideas.
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