It’s time to begin preparing for Thanksgiving. While you do not have to cook a turkey, most people will. It is traditional.
For many people, it’s a choice of brand and size. But there can be other factors to consider. No matter what choice you make, even the cheapest bird can be a delicious triumph if it is cooked properly.
Let’s Talk Turkey
Here are your turkey choices:
Fresh turkeys usually have been slaughtered shortly before the holiday. Usually, they must be ordered in advance. Because they are fresh, they must be cooked within a day of being picked up from the store. Some people say fresh tastes better. But that only applies if you live near a turkey farm where you can be assured of the bird being killed and cleaned just hours before you pick it up. Raw, as in uncooked, does not mean the same as fresh. Raw turkey has a great chance of becoming contaminated with deadly bacteria before it even gets to your kitchen.
Natural means the turkey has had very little processing and is thus a better choice than fresh. However, it also means the turkey is likely to have a gamier, stronger flavor. Some natural turkeys are free-range, meaning the birds have been allowed to walk around outside of their cage or pen. But not all natural turkeys are free-range. Some, but not all, fresh turkeys will fall into this category.
Kosher means the bird has been killed and prepared according to the Jewish dietary laws. Salt is used to pull the fluids, like blood, out of the meat. This means the turkey will be already salted. This is the only kind of turkey which should not be brined. The problem is, you have no control over the seasoning. On the good side, kosher birds tend to hold on to their moisture and are hard to overcook.
The best thing that can be said about Self-Basting Turkey is that they take the least amount of effort to prepare. They are injected with a salt and flavor solution and really do come out moist. But they also come out with very little flavor.
Heritage turkeys, like heritage vegetables, are breeds that are not seen in most commercial poultry operations. The one we usually see is called the Large White. But heritage breeds, usually raised by small farmers, have all sorts of colorful names. They are expensive and usually only available from the farmers. They also are generally older than the birds we usually see. They have smaller breasts but a lot more flavor.
Another term you might come across is organic. By FDA standards, turkeys labelled Organic cannot be treated with antibiotics or non-organic feed.