The one time of year everyone seems to get excited about turkey is Thanksgiving. There is just something special about roasting up a big bird and having the family and/or friends around to share it. But because turkey is a one (or perhaps) twice a year ordeal, most people really don't know anything about turkey.
Let's be honest, buying or cooking up a turkey is nowhere near as exciting as buying a Tomahawk steak.
When it comes to turkey, just what are you supposed to buy?
Should it be fresh or heritage?
Does it matter if it's frozen?
What is the deal with Kosher turkey?
What about 'happy turkeys?'
Why Do We Love Turkey?
Turkey is one of the few original American foods that our ancestors used to eat. So we are talking tradition.
However, the turkeys our ancestors ate were nowhere close to the turkeys we eat today. Turkeys back then were wild animals and a bit tough to chew. Now our turkeys are raised to have big breasts and to be juicy and tender.
And there are many different ways to raise a turkey.
This is not a bad thing. You now have a lot of options and we will help you figure out what you should be looking for.
Let's Start With Size. How Big Should The Turkey Be?
Simple. Factor in 1.5 lb of turkey for every guest. It is better to have left overs than to leave a couple people with nothing but scraps to eat.
Fresh Or Frozen Turkey?
Outside of thanksgiving, you will not find fresh turkey. That is unless you live close to a farm that raises turkeys.
If you are buying fresh turkey make sure it is really fresh. Look at the sell-by or use-by date, or buy from a reputable shop. Turkey does not have a long shelf life.
A lot of times you will find turkey that has been previously frozen. It should be labeled as such. Look for a label that says “previously frozen."
If you are buying frozen turkey, make sure you allocate enough time to thaw it out.
Do note that according to the National Turkey Federation (yep, that exists), there is no quality difference between a fresh and frozen turkey.
That said, at Meat N' Bone we prefer fresh turkey. If you are going to eat turkey once or twice a year, it's best to go for fresh. But if you cannot, do whatever works.
The Different "Grades" Of Turkey
One of our suppliers loves the phrase "you can't cheat price," and he is right. When it comes to most meat, you pay for what you get.
Pricing is determined by quality, supply, demand and logistics. The more tender, love andcare you give to the bird, the more expensive it is.
Self-Basting or Basted Turkey
If you go to your local supermarket you will find Self-Basting, Basted, or Injected Turkeys. They are extremely cheap. In order to make them tender, they are usually injected with a saline solution and vegetable oils. If you are looking to brine, don't buy these turkeys. They are already "pre brined" and will be buttery and spongy.
All Natural Turkey
Next up, you will find "All Natural" turkeys. The USDA defines natural turkeys as having been raised with no animal by-product feed, no administered growth promotants, and no use of antibiotics except for parasite control.
Sound's pretty good? They are leaps and bounds better than the Self-Basting, Basted and Injected Turkeys. They are minimally processed, have a good flavor and texture, and are an inexpensive alternative to self-basting turkeys. These turkeys can be brined since there is no added salt.
You can also choose to pay a premium and go organic. To be labeled organic, the turkeys eat only organic feed, which by law contains no genetically modified grains, pesticides, herbicides, chemical residues, or animal byproducts. They are also raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones and are may or may not be free range.
Neither "All Natural" Nor "Organic" Means Happy Turkeys
If you are looking for "Happy Turkeys", the ones who grew up with tender love and care on a farm, you are looking for Free-Range or Free-Roaming Turkeys. It is usually best to go Amish simply because they are not reliant on a means of technology and their turkeys are rasied truly natural.
Our Amish turkeys are the cream of the crop. The 'Wagyu of Turkey.' These turkeys offer excellent flavor and texture, and depending on how much exercise the bird received, the meat may be leaner.
Our turkeys are hatched, grown and processed by local Amish family farmers in Troy, Michigan. The turkeys are raised inside naturally ventilated houses and have free access to feed and water.
Our Amish turkeys are raised without hormones or steroids. They are raised on a vegetable, protein diet which contains no animal by-products, artificial ingredients or coloring agents.
- The flocks live in a clean, modern, well-lit, ventilated barns.
- These turkeys have free access to feed and water.
- They are fed a diet of corn and soybeans. No animal by-products.
- Raised without hormones or steroids.
- The birds aren’t crowded or stressed.
The farmers we work with are peace loving folks who are extremely community-minded and express love and concern for each other, so it’s only natural that they treat their turkeys with the same care. Our farmers provide a natural, looked-after environment for their all-natural turkeys to live and grow.
Our Amish Turkeys are not cheap, but they are not the most expensive. There are certainly more expensive options out there. I'm not sure how they justify higher prices but I can say that our turkeys are as good as turkey gets.