If you’re gearing up for Thanksgiving, here’s a good place to start.
TYPES OF TURKEY
Commercial/Standard: Broad breasted white, developed in the 1960s for our love of white meat, count for 99.99 percent of megamart turkeys. They weigh between 16 and 22 pounds at 12-14 weeks. After processing they weigh between 12-18 pounds. National average is $1.50 per pound. So heavy and large breasted birds cannot fly or mate naturally.
Natural: This is not a controlled term. No artificial ingredients or color is added, and they are minimally processed. These birds tend to be drier, which can be remedied with brining. Natural poultry can be given antibiotics.
Kosher: These birds are broad-breasted, white processed birds processed under rabbinical supervision. They are grain fed, have access to the outdoors, given no antibiotics and soaked in salt brine. Salting seasons the meat, improves texture and retains moisture.
Organic: Certified by the USDA (an accredited certifying agency); raised on 100 perfect organic feed, have access to outside and have zero antibiotics.
Self-Basting: Injected with or marinated in a solution. It increases the moisture content for a juicer bird, but masks the turkey’s flavor — do not brine these birds.
Free-Range: Access to outside — doesn’t necessarily mean it has roamed though. Commonly misunderstood as organic or naturally processed, however, this does not refer to the birds feed or handling.
No Hormones Added: Sometimes added to labeling, though this is meaningless as no hormones are allowed in U.S. poultry or eggs.
Heritage Birds: These are turkeys from old-fashioned (heirloom) breeds. Eight varieties are listed in the American Poultry Associations Standards of Perfection: Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White and Royal Palm. Other recognized varieties like Jersey Buff and White Midget, have been accepted by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, but not the APA. Heritage birds are a lot more expensive than commercial birds coming in at $7-10 per pound (commercial averages $1.50 per pound). All heritage birds must meet the following:
– Natural mating and growth
– Long productive outdoor life style
– Slow growth rate (7-8 months, 2x longer than commercial turkeys)
– No antibiotics or other additives (i.e. basting solutions) can be given to heritage birds
– Heritage birds have time to develop an extra layer of fat which is said to add to their deeper flavor. Because they are allowed to run and fly, their meat is firmer/chewier. The meat is darker without being gamey.
SHOPPING FOR A TURKEY
1. Look for a bird that’s packaging is damage free, isn’t sticky and is free of any “off” aroma.
2. If you can see the turkey look for plump breast, moist pinkish-white skin, no blemishes or bruises, no off aromas.
– Smaller bird fits better in the fridge
– Larger bird increases the likelihood that the bird will be over cooked
– Consider roasting two medium birds rather than one huge bird
– Store fresh birds on ice or in the fridge for up to four days.
– Frozen birds can be kept in the freezer for up to six months.
– DO NOT defrost at room temperature
– DO NOT cook partially frozen poultry