Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Nov 10, 2008 02:57 PM

Local turkeys for Thanksgiving?

The time has come for me to choose my Thanksgiving turkey. I usually leave this to the last minute and so the last few years I've wound up w/ Diestel. It's ok, but I'd like something better. I tend to prefer dark meat, so from what I've read I'd probably be happier with a Heritage turkey, which have not been bred to have mostly white meat the way the more modern breeds do.

I like the idea of buying a local brand, but my mobility right before Thanksgiving will be limited since I have to work Mon-Wed. I live on the Peninsula, so probably can pick up a turkey anywhere from SF to San Jose on Weds.

What do people recommend? I've looked at websites for Willie Bird (expensive), Mary's Heritage, and Harmony Farms. Any suggestions?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. On the price of birds...they're much more expensive if you mail order, or go through AG Ferari or similar.

    Willie Birds can be had either from the source (in Santa Rosa), or from some of our better local super market chains for under $2 per pound. If memory serves, the organic version is $0.30 more per pound than the natural, but was still around $2 / lb. I think AG Ferari's prices for the same birds was at least 2-3 times more. The Willie Bird breast is quite large, but these are free range birds and it still had big meaty legs and thighs with lots of dark meat. We accidentally overcooked it (thermometer calibration problem), but the breast stayed moist due to its thickness, and the dark meat had a delicious melty quality and it was by far the best turky I'd had in ages.

    I'm curious to try something from Mary's Heritage (I like their air-chilled chicken, which I get at Falletti's in San Francisco), but the Willie Bird birds are their own category--not modern factory birds, and not heritage either, but with some of the good characteristics of each.

    1. Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco is selling heritage turkeys raised by Bill Nieman in Bolinas. I have not had them but I don't think Nieman would sell anything that wasn't good. You would definitely need to reserve your turkey ahead of time and it is likely to be even more expensive than a Willie Bird.

      3 Replies
      1. re: SFDude

        It's Niman, in case anyone is wondering. Yes, *that* Niman.

        Here is a list of the turkeys Bi-Rite has on offer and the prices. Sorry, it's a PDF.

        1. re: Atomica

          I've read that Bill Niman is forbidden to use his surname commercially since divesting himself of Niman Ranch. I wonder if Bi-Rite is treading on thin legal ice by identifying them as Bill Niman's.

          1. re: Atomica

            $6.99 a pound? That's gonna be one expensive turkey.

        2. For me, the quality and brand of turkeys is a real controversial one and a hot button for me!!! I have tried most of them, from 69 a pound to $4.99 a pound and I do not find much difference in them, even organic ones!!! Turkey is a meat that cannot be improved in raising. Have you ever seen a fresh turkey in your grocery store except November??? I think it is the way it is cooked that makes the difference. So, stop wasting money and just get the cheapest one you can find. Does anyone agree with me???? I tried almost all of them, Diestel, Willie bird, Nimen. Even the cheapest one at 49 a pound is just as good. I do prefer fresh over frozen!!!

          5 Replies
          1. re: diner101

            I agree the main difference is fresh vs frozen, but I do think some of the premium birds taste better. In particular, of the "standard" birds we've had I liked the Mary's (conventional, not organic -- my butcher offers both) and the heritage bird we had last year (better than Diestel and even Willie Bird). $4.99 a pound is still cheap when you compare it to something like prime rib!

            1. re: diner101

              No. I definately don't agree.

              When I started moving on up from the 29 cent special that markets like Safeway sell to get you in the door to do all your holiday shopping there, I had mainly Willie Bird for years. Once I tried Diesel I never went back ... except for one year when Safeway was having some incredible bargain and I bought a bargain bird. It was awful. It was dry and tasted like sawdust. I roast the turkey in the same way every year from the same recipe in my mother's Betty Crocker Cookbook with the same stuffing. So the only variable was the turkey.

              You get what you pay for.

              Also, a lot of the cheapo birds are injected with stuff that I don't want, not to mention being raised miserably, eating heaven's knows what and being shot up with all sorts of stuff. It makes a difference in the taste.

              1. re: rworange

                A lot of cheapo birds are injected with a solution of salt and water, i.e. brine. People pay a premium for birds with no solution added so they can add it themselves.

                1. re: Xiao Yang

                  It's more than salt and water. Buterball's ingredient list also mentions "modified food starch, sodium phosphates, and natural flavorings." I can tell you that starch molecules are pretty flexible, so god knows what they've been modified to do. Natural flavorings usually means MSG among other things; I don't mind that, but many do. I've no idea what sodium phosphates are...

                  1. re: SteveG

                    "I've no idea what sodium phosphates are..."

                    Maybe they make your turkey glow in the dark!

                    Okay, I had to look it up: according to this handy list of food additives, it "prevents 'off' flavors in foods due to presence of metal ions."


            2. This is helpful, everyone, thanks. I wrote to Mollie Stone's to ask them what type of turkeys they will have this year, and this is the response (IIRC, all of the other supermarkets on the Peninsula just have Diestel turkeys):

              1. Fresh Mollie bird,100% natural,locally grown.
              2. Fresh Mollie free range, raised in the open air, no
              growth hormones,vegetarian-fed, locally grown.
              3. Fresh Willie Bird, Large breasted, free range, open air,
              no growth hormones.
              4. Fresh Mary's organic,free range, organic,open air, no
              growth hormones.
              5. Fresh and frozen Kosher Turkeys.

              I'm leaning towards the Willie Bird.

              10 Replies
              1. re: JoyM

                Did they say how much per pound all of these would be?

                1. re: JoyM

                  I got the Mollie bird one year (#2). It was ok, but I prefer Diesel. The note here is that it was about eight years ago so things have probably changed, but personally I don't want to take the chance again.

                  1. re: JoyM

                    I wonder whose turkey they're putting their name on?

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      At that time it wasn't Diestel because that was what I was looking for. It was one of my frequent last minute shopping things that once were part of my life. Had to go with the MS bird or a frozen Safeway turkey.

                    2. re: JoyM

                      OK, I am a total freak about turkeys. So far, I have tried Safeway, Willie Bird, Diestel's, Mary's. I've baked, smoked, brined and baked, and brined and smoked. One year, I brined and smoked a safeway turkey next to a Diestel's turkey. While the majority of guests (15) could identify the diestel's in a blind taste test, 2 guests insisted they could not tell the difference. Actually, 1 of the 2 could tell the difference, he just didn't care that much.

                      I have finally come to the conclusion that heritage turkey is the way to go, despite the price premium. Last year, I got one of Frank Reese's heritage birds from Kansas through Fatted Calf and hands down it blew all the other turkeys out of the water flavorwise WITHOUT THE MESS OF BRINING. It had a very strong gamy real turkey flavor with a nice meaty texture and was very juicy. My father, a Chinese farmboy once upon a time, commented that the bones were nice and solid and not brittle like the usual supermarket poultry. Usually, people like breast meat but with the heritage turkey, everyone went for dark.

                      I think they are selling them for $6.50/lb this year, but pickup can be a pain if you don't go the Berkeley's farmers market.
                      Bi-Rite is selling similar under 20lb Reese turkeys for $6.99/lb. Me, I reserved a Bill Niman tom two weeks ago from Bi-Rite. (But these guys are BIG, an estimated 20-30lbs)

                      Here's a link to a Bay Area Bites post about local sustainable turkeys:

                      1. re: sfbing

                        Which of the more reasonably priced (<3$/lb.) turkey's did you like the best? I also enjoy a gamy tasting bird, but $6.50 is too rich for my blood.

                        1. re: Humbucker

                          For a cheaper bird, I would consider lightly brining a Mary's, but I'm not sure how much they cost nowadays. An alternative is trying to get a very small heritage turkey (10lbs) and maybe adding another protein, like roast pork shoulder.

                        2. re: sfbing

                          Great link. You can also pick up the turkey at the Fatted Calf store in Napa. They also are selling Hudson Ranch Heritage Turkeys from Napa. Price is $7.75/lb.and turkeys are 22-30 pounds.. Wow, $170-$232.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Turkey farms must be a recession-proof industry...

                            1. re: Xiao Yang

                              Having spoken to a couple of farmers who've tried growing heritage turkeys, they are apparently not that easy to raise to a large size. I think this is partially due to the fact that consumers (and therefore farmers) are used to birds that have been overbred to reach insane sizes and heritage birds aren't really meant to be that huge. So people get a little frustrated with how puny they are. Plus, the price of grain, especially organic grain, has been insane this year.
                              Liz at Clark Summit farms (who is really nice BTW) is going to be selling some turkeys for $10/lb, and I think they are barely breaking even.