Whether this is your first time hosting Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, the turkey situation can be scary and daunting. As soon as you enter the grocery store, you are hit with multiple options like fresh, frozen, organic, heritage, free-range…and Butterball. I mean, what does it all mean? How big of a turkey do I need?
A Beautiful Turkey Cooked by Williams & Sonoma
Today, I will try to help with the decision of picking out the turkey. I have researched several types of turkeys so that you are armed when you enter the store. This does not have to be hard.
How BIG of a Turkey Do I Buy?
To make sure you feed all your guest well, your biggest decision should be the size of turkey. An easy rule is 1 pound for every person at your table. If you want leftovers, 2 pounds per person will be perfect. IF you want lots of leftovers, well, you get the idea.
Where is this Bird Going to Cook?
Now, you need to consider where you are cooking this turkey! In your oven, in a roaster oven, and the neighbor’s. You need to size-up the area you have to work with. You can see the problem on Thanksgiving day when your turkey is TOO BIG and you have nowhere to cook it. Big Fail!
Do you have a Pan to Cook your Turkey in?
This is like a dress rehearsal. I like to (days before) establish what pans and dishes I will be using for Thanksgiving. Go ahead and pull out the pan you will be cooking your turkey in. You might need to purchase one or borrow from a friend. If you are using a roaster oven, make sure your bird fits before the big day.
Heritage, Free-Range, Organic, Oh My!
When you arrive to the grocery store, you will be hit with several choices. I consulted my friends over at Food & Wine to break it down for us.
Heritage: One of the most popular birds in the past few years because of their superior flavor, heritage turkeys are purebred and generally older than other turkeys you may find at the store. They tend to be smaller, have more bone and darker leg meat. Life outdoors gives these turkeys a gamier taste than the regular store-bought varieties.
Organic: Certified organic by the USDA, these turkeys are now more easily found in grocery stores, and are Weening’s top choice. They are fed an all-organic vegetarian diet, never given antibiotics and are raised on organic pastures. They tend to be a little more expensive because the feed the birds eat is more expensive.
Free Range: No antibiotics or hormones are given to these turkeys and they have access to the outdoors (at least part of the time, according to the USDA).
Pastured Turkey: This type of turkey is raised outdoors and is pretty much free to do and eat what it wants, although they are also given feed to ensure they get the proper levels of nutrients.
Kosher: Kosher turkeys are raised and processed according to strict rabbinical guidelines. Before they are packaged they are rubbed with Kosher salt, which also acts as a brine.
Brine: Some turkeys are one step ahead of you and have been brined already. Various juices, oils, seasonings, sugar and/or salt are injected into the turkey. Brining is beneficial because it can provide extra moisture and flavor to the turkey in addition to saving you some prep time, but it can dictate the flavor of your turkey and take the seasoning out of your hands. Butterball turkeys are usually brined.
Fresh vs. Frozen: Basically fresh turkeys are kept at a temperature of 27 degrees. When the temperature drops below that, the meat begins to freeze. If you’re buying a fresh turkey, buy it NO more than two days before you plan to cook it; you can usually reserve one at markets and farmers’ markets way in advance.
Where Will the Turkey “Live” Until You Are Ready?
Once you buy your turkey, you will be storing it until you are ready to brine, unthaw, cook, etc. Make sure you anticipate the size of your turkey and the space in your freezer or refrigerator.
Check Out Local Restaurants and Grocery Stores For Cooked
Many local restaurants offer Thanksgiving Turkeys for your convenience. This is a great option and one I have used before. You usually need to order a week before. Your turkey is prepped and cooked by a professional. Then when you pick up, you are given specific directions of how to cook your turkey. This is a great option to take some pressure off the big day.
It Will All Be Fine….
In the end it comes down to what you want to pay. Turkeys can get pricey, so know how many you are buying for and be sure to take into account the leftovers you want to eat for days to come. Otherwise you got this. Feel confident in the purchase of your turkey. Your guest will LOVE it.