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When you think about Thanksgiving dinner, one of the first things that comes to mind is turkey. The turkey is the star of the show with it's crispy skin and inciting aroma. It is the center stage placement of the bird that makes picking perfect turkey critical to pulling off a successful Thanksgiving dinner. Here are some tips that will teach you how to pick a turkey that will impress. Lets get shopping!
First things first, you need to figure out how big of a turkey you need to feed your guests. I hope you remember your calculus classes, because we are about to do math. Ready? Here is the formula for buying the perfectly sized turkey; Number of guests x 1.5 = Pounds of turkey you need. That will give you plenty of food for everyone with a little leftover to enjoy as a late night snack. So as an example, if we have 10 people eating, we multiply by 1.5 to learn that we need a 15 pound turkey. Make sense?
The next thing to figure out when learning how to pick a turkey is whether or not you are buying a fresh or frozen bird. Let's break down the differences.
Fresh turkey is turkey that has never been chilled below 26 degrees. I know, I thought freezing was 32 degrees as well….apparently not when talking turkey. According to the people that raise them for a living, a turkey freezes at 26 degrees. Fresh turkey can be harder to find, as the bird is perishable. In terms of flavor, the meat should have a better texture. Freezing meat causes the water in the cells to expand, and that in turn can burst cell walls, impacting mouth feel and moisture content. Fresh also tends to be more expensive.
Frozen birds have been taken to 0 degrees. These turkeys are readily available year round, and tend to be cheaper than fresh. The meat doesn't quite have the mouth feel of the unfrozen variety, but it is by no means bad. Don't hesitate to use a frozen bird; it will taste great.
Right. You know how much turkey you need to buy and if you are buying fresh or frozen, but what about all the other labels that appear on the packaging of a turkey? Let's break em' down.
If the package says self basting, it means the turkey has been injected with stuff. The stuff is typically a salty stock mixed with some type of fat and “seasonings”. The mixture will contain some sort of sodium phosphate as well. This makes the meat draw up water like a sponge. Personally, I don't like stuff soaked with phosphate as you (1) end up paying for water weight and (2) that liquid all comes out when you cook the meat. If you do use a self basting bird, don't add salt; there is plenty already in the meat.
If the turkey package says Kosher, you can expect a few things. First, it means the bird was processed under the supervision of a Rabbi. Additionally, these birds tend to be raised free range, and they are typically fed a grain based diet. Finally, kosher turkeys are soaked in a salt brine, so like the self basting bird, be careful with adding more salt.
Birds labeled Natural are turkeys that have been minimally processed with nothing added. These birds are not injected or brined, they are simply turkeys “as is”.
Other labels that you may see are things like hormone free, organic, or free range. Hormone free means nothing, at least in the United States. ALL poultry is hormone free, it's not allowed by law, period. Organic means the birds were raised on 100% organic feed and were never given antibiotics. Free range means they had access to the great outdoors.
All of the things mentioned above are important, but if you are not using a yummy recipe it is for naught. Check out our popular post: Perfect Turkey Recipe. Getting the recipe correct and having one that has tons of flavor is the key to getting the perfect bird. A cheap bird done right is far better than an expensive one cooked poorly. Keep that in mind when you go to pick out your bird this Thanksgiving.
We hope that you are inspired by this How to Pick a Turkey for Thanksgiving post. Happy Thanksgiving!