I love Thanksgiving! It’s definitely one of my favorite holidays. I love planning, shopping, and cooking. I even love trying different recipes, including the turkey. The turkey, the biggest part of most Thanksgiving meals, can be tricky to get. While I’m waiting until next year for a how-to on cooking turkey, I thought I’d cover the different types of turkeys you’ll find at the store. There are so many different types it can get confusing, so I hope this gives you a better idea of what you’re starting with.
Why the Type of Turkey Makes a Difference
The type of turkey determines the taste and end result. Heritage turkeys will taste gamier than a Butterball and have crisper skin, and a free range bird will usually have more flavor than a regular grocery store turkey, although a large turkey from the grocery store will have more meat.
Types of Turkeys (or What Exactly is a “Heritage Bird”?)
- Regular Turkey
These are the commercial turkeys you find in most stores, like Butterball®. They are usually sold frozen, so you’ll have to make sure you take enough time to defrost it.
According to USDA, to be labeled “natural” a turkey must have been minimally processed and contain no artificial additives or colors. They’re usually sold in the refrigerated section.
Free-range turkeys are required by the USDA to have spent at least part of their life in an outside enclosure. This may be a long time, it may be short time. It may also be a small enclosure or large enclosure. The producers aren’t required to say. Related are…
- Pastured turkeys
Turkeys that are allowed to roam and peck around. Because of their exercise and diet, the turkeys are flavorful.
Organic turkeys aren’t allowed to be given antibiotics and must have organic feed (which can can cost up to 3x more than “regular” feed, which is why organic turkeys are so expensive).
Heritage birds have been cultivated from historical turkeys. They are rare indigenous breeds that include Broad Breasted Bronze and Bourbon Red. They are smaller, take longer to grow, and taste gamier. Heritage breeds are usually bred by small farms that raise them completely free-range. You usually have to special order them direct from the farm or from local butchers. Our Whole Foods offered them this year as well. They’re expensive because of the care that goes into raising them.
The type of turkey you buy depends entirely on your tastes and your budget. My grandmother used to order turkeys from Keller’s, a local butcher, and for the past few years we’ve bought free-range turkeys from Trader Joe’s. I’d love to try a heritage turkey someday, though.
I’ll be taking the rest of the week off. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
‘Till next time!