From Farm to Feast: A Guide to Choosing and Cooking Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Just a little over a week until Thanksgiving, so you need to get your orders placed if you are buying fresh birds from a local retailer. This year, getting a bird should be easier than before since the supplies are less tight than they have been.

This year, the American Farm Bureau Federation expects a decline in turkey prices of -22% from last year, falling from $1.63 a pound in 2022 to $1.27 in 2023. The price drop is due to a growth in the bird supply as farmers added +2-3% more to their flocks this summer. Those once pricey refrigerated trucks are now gliding at $3.30 per mile, compared to last year’s $3.80. Plus, there’s a greater fleet ready to ship, ensuring your turkey travels from farm to your festive table, sipping less fuel along the way.

When it comes to thawing your chosen turkey, remember, frozen ones need a little nest time in the fridge—three to four days for a safe, slow thaw, maintaining that moisture. This means you must purchase your turkey at least five days before Thursday, November 24. And for those who prefer their birds to be fresh, you can only chill them for two days max.

Below are some great turkey tips I learned from Janet Rausa Fuller over at Epicurious.

You might wonder if there’s a big difference between buying a fresh turkey and a frozen one for your holiday meal. Well, here’s the scoop: fresh and frozen turkeys can be equally delicious, so it comes down to preparation time.

Frozen turkeys are super cold! They get flash-frozen to temperatures at or below 0 degrees right after they’re packaged. This keeps them safe and preserved until you’re ready to thaw and cook.

On the other hand, fresh turkeys are kept cold but not frozen solid. They’re chilled to just above freezing, but not colder than 26 degrees, to keep them just right without freezing.

Only turkeys that have never been colder than 26 degrees can wear the “fresh” label. So, if a turkey was ever frozen, it stays in the “frozen” category and can’t be sold as fresh later.

Understanding Turkey Types: Pastured and Heritage

Heading to a local farmers’ market or buying directly from a farmer can lead you to discover two special kinds of turkeys—pastured and heritage. Let’s break down what makes each unique and perfect for your big meal prep.

Heritage Turkeys are like the heirlooms of the turkey world, from old-timey breeds that have been around for ages. They often have more leg and thigh meat and less breast meat than the turkeys at the grocery store. The taste? It’s more profound and a bit wild, which can be a fun new flavor for your dinner table.

Pastured Turkeys: These birds get to live outdoors, roaming in the fields (that’s what “pastured” means). Many food lovers believe fresh air and exercise make these turkeys tastier meat.

Both heritage and pastured turkeys are usually leaner, so they love a little extra care when cooking to keep them juicy:

Try rubbing some soft butter under the skin or lay some bacon on top of the breast (known as “barding”) to keep the meat moist while it roasts.

If you’re checking for doneness, you can take the turkey out of the oven when the thermometer reads 160°F. Then, cover it loosely with foil. The heat will continue to cook the turkey up to the perfect 165°F while keeping it tender.

So, whether you go pastured or heritage, you’re in for a treat—and a great story to tell about your turkey choice!

How About “Kosher” – Birds labeled “kosher” have been slaughtered and processed under rabbinical supervision—and they come pre-brined, which lessens the chance of a dried-out bird.

How About “Organic” – USDA-certified organic turkeys are supposedly raised on organic, pesticide-free feed, with access to the outdoors (though how much time they spend outside isn’t clearly defined).

How About “Range-Free” – It means the birds were “allowed access to the outside,” but that’s about as far as the USDA defines it, so again, I’m not sure how much time the turkeys spent out there.

What About “Hormones” – Regardless of what you might hear, I’m told it’s illegal to give any Turkey being sold to the public hormones. If you’re concerned about antibiotics, watch for “antibiotic-free” or “raised without antibiotics” on the label.

It’s time to make the centerpiece of your holiday meal an accurate statement of taste and tradition. Whether you choose a frozen turkey, cherish the rustic charm of a heritage breed, or savor the robust flavor of a pastured bird, the heart of your feast promises to be as memorable as the gathering around your table. Remember, the art of cooking a turkey lies in the love and care you infuse from kitchen to table, making every choice—from kosher to organic, from range-free to antibiotic-free—a reflection of your culinary journey.

As you ready your home for laughter and gratitude, rest assured that your turkey, selected with insight and prepared with passion, will not just nourish but also enchant. Here’s to a Thanksgiving feast as bountiful and delightful as the company you share it with. Happy cooking and even more joyful feasting!


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