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Turkeys, again

After reading ALL the recent threads on Thanksgiving turkeys I STILL cannot decide what kind of turkey to buy. Here's my concerns:

Diestel: I had one last year. I've more recently bought Diestel turkey parts. I just don't like them. They're not all that tasty or tender, IMO. Maybe the ones I had were frozen? Do they come fresh?

Willie Bird: I was thinking of these, but people have reported that they have very large breasts (what do they do? give them silicone implants?) and very small rib cages. Since dark meat and stuffing are my favorites parts of the meal, Willie Bird might not make sense.

Aaron's: (the one Cook's Illustrated liked best). While I generally trust CI, I don't know. My experience is that unless you brine the bird it's never moist enough and it cooks unevenly. You can't brine a kosher bird since they're so salty to begin with. Too salty, in my experience.

Fulton Valley Farms: I love their chickens, but I've yet to see their turkeys sold anywhere near where I live (on the Peninsula) and their website is uninformative. Any leads? I'd be willing to try a FVF turkey this year.

At least one poster says that it doesn't matter which brand you buy as long as you get a turkey that's fresh, not frozen. Do other people concur? Does anyone have any ideas for where I could find a fresh, not too salty, not overdeveloped breast-wise bird with enough room for stuffing?

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  1. While I can't vouch for any of the other turkeys you mentioned, we get Fulton Valley Farms turkeys from Cal-Mart, our local grocer. I ordered mine a while ago and they will be ready for pick up on Sunday. You might want to give them a call to see if they have extras. I know that doesn't help you much on the Peninsula, but you never know, it might be worth the drive!

    Cal-Mart is located in Laurel Village, on California and Spruce, in San Francisco.

    1 Reply
    1. re: meggie t

      Canyon Market in Glen Park is probably closer for the peninsula.

    2. For years we have used Manor House turkeys from Safeway. Remember that "fresh" turkeys have usually been stored for months at the USDA permissible 25 degrees below, and may suffer some cell leakage if the temp rises. Also, the thawed "fresh" turkey may sit aound for days before being sold. There are many far wiser than I who feel that properly frozen fish and fowl are better than fresh. However, some feel that paying $95 (minimum) for a fresh Wiilie Bird makes the turkey taste better. And impresses your guests.

      8 Replies
      1. re: OldTimer

        In the interests of accuracy, the $95 for the Willie Bird turkeys on their site includes FedEx overnight shipping. If you buy it from a local retailer, you won't pay anywhere near that much.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Well, Cafe Rouge told me that they're selling them at $7 per pound, so for a 14 pound turkey, that would be more than buying direct from Willie Bird. There might be other places where you can get them for cheaper, but that price was a little much for me.

          1. re: JasmineG

            Andronico's has Willie Birds for $2.59/lb.

            1. re: Humbucker

              Wow, really? Cafe Rouge has a crazy markup, then!

              1. re: JasmineG

                I believe that Cafe Rouge is selling them brined.

              2. re: Humbucker

                Berkeley Bowl has the "free range" Willie Birds for $2.39/lb and the organic ones for $2.99/lb.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  That's the same price as at the Willie Bird retail store in Santa Rosa. On Sunday when I picked up my order, the largest size turkeys left were 18 pounds. All the bigger ones are gone or spoken for.

                  Talked to a couple friends over the weekend who are getting ready to pick up their heritage birds in Petaluma. They're about $7.50/lb. These were raised by Sonoma County 4Hers and FFA kids in conjunction with Slow Food Russian River. Jim Reichardt (Liberty Ducks) is taking care of the poultry processing. According to this article in the local paper, there were still some birds available at publication time.

                  John Reynold's column in the Sonoma Sun, 11/8/2007 -

              3. re: JasmineG

                Cafe Rouge is selling Heritage Birds this year. They sold Willie Birds last year.

          2. What about Mary's? We're getting a heritage from her this year. Both her heritage and her organic free-range have been fabulous in the past. They're out of Fresno, family-run, and Mary answers the phone herself at her toll-free number. What more can you ask... You can order them at Baron's, the Berkeley Bowl, I think Andronico's, and more--check the informative website:


            1 Reply
            1. re: heidipie

              I love Mary's poultry! We buy skin-on boneless chicken breasts for a recipe, and Mary's flavor is way better than the ordinary free range skin-on boneless that Cal-Mart also offers. I haven't had Mary's turkeys, but might have to try that next year.

            2. I'm kinda in the same boat; I buy Diestel from Mission Market and I'm not overwhelmed by the flavor profile. I have always understood that turkeys naturally have little flavor and questionable tenderness and that's why they benefit from brining.

              Then there is the question of fresh or frozen..... The CI article recommends frozen because fresh tends to be a bit chewy, even with brining. Keep in mind too that all the tens of millions of turkeys eaten on Thursday aren't butchered on Wednesday! The USDA definition of frozen notwithstanding, most turkeys are kept pretty darned cold.

              So, I dunno, I'll probably just get another Diestel since it is a known quantity and work on an alternative for next time. My family doesn't seem to mind; it's my own obsession that's driving this.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JockY

                I strongly disagree that turkeys have little flavor, and I grew up on frozen Butterballs and have only had a brined turkey once. Fresh versus frozen should matter more in texture than flavor.

                I wouldn't worry about which one you buy too much though; the bigger pitfall is overcooking, not getting the wrong deluxe brand.

              2. Hmmm, more flavorful turkey, don't care for the oversized breast--sounds like you're a prime candidate for a heritage bird. Mary's should be the easiest to find.

                1. It sounds like you want a heritage turkey. For this, you'll probably have to plan ahead and expect to pay some money. From what I read, just about all the turkeys available are the big-breasted modern hybrids. Even Willie Bird has apparently opted out of the heritage business. Here's a recent article:


                  1. Here's an update:

                    I emailed Fulton Valley Farms to ask where I could buy their turkeys on the Peninsula and they wrote back (the same day!) to say that Fulton Valley Farms turkeys are not actually from Fulton Valley Farms. It seems that they gave the right to use their name on a turkey to Modesto Foods, one of their distributors, about 20 years ago.

                    So, scratch the FVF turkey. Heidipie's response got me interested in Mary's turkeys. According to their website a few places around here has them. Draeger's was already sold out, but Mollie Stone's can get me a Mary's organic (but not a Mary's heritage; apparently there were very few available this year). I'm hoping Mary's organic is more like a heritage bird than a modern one, but we'll see.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: JoyM

                      Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle ran this story on Avedano's Holly Park Market in Bernal Heights: Female Butchers Cut To the Chase;
                      they have Willie Bird, Woodland's Branigan, and Mary's.


                      1. re: Cynsa

                        Here's a link to Branigan's website for stores carrying its turkeys,

                      2. re: JoyM

                        When I went to pick up my Willie Bird at Mollie Stone's on Portola today, I noticed they also had Mary's organics in the display case, even if one hadn't ordered ahead. They were three-something a pound, about a dollar more per pound than I paid for my Willie Bird (which was 2.39 a pound).

                        and they had turkey wings, so my shopping is done. However, they did NOT have any Strauss ice cream, so if that is a trend my one reason to shop there has been eliminated (especially after seeing Cynthia's post about Avedanos). I didn't ask, but it may be that they were temporarily out, as they did have Strauss whipping cream and butter...I settled for Marianne's ice cream, not a bad settle..

                      3. TURKEY REPORT!

                        Well, I went with the Mary's organic from Mollie Stones (they didn't have any Mary's Heritage) and it was excellent. Moist, flavorful, lots of dark meat, good texture. Thanks, Hounds. Once again, I couldn't have done it without you.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: JoyM

                          I think that I'm going to have to switch to Mary's next year -- I've gotten it in the past and liked it, but this year I got Diestel, and while the turkey was good, there was so much more white meat than dark meat, and because my family are all dark meat fans, we were a bit disappointed by that.