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What brand of turkey cooks up the best?

I'm investigating turkeys for Chow, and curious what the Home Cooking community thinks about the brands out there. I'm hoping to compile the reviews from CH into a brand comparison chart on Chow for people to reference. So what will you cook? A Diestel? A fancy heritage bird? A Butterball? What type have you had the best luck with in the past?

Which brands stay nice and juicy, and which dry out?
Do the expensive turkeys taste any better than the cheap ones?
Are any brands super bland and gross?
What kind of giblets and bits come with the respective birds?
Do you buy your turkey direct from a farm? If so, how do you find one in your area?

Thanks for your input!
Roxanne, Associate Editor, Chow.com

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  1. Plainville turkeys from Price Chopper have proved excellent in the past.

    1. Jaindl Farms - there is a reason they have been on the White House table for generations

      Our worst turkeys have been frozen store brand turkey

      1. From what I've found, preparation is as important, if mot more than, brand. even the most expensive bird can turn to sawdust if cooked too long or improperly. The recipe I use calls for putting an apple, onion, and celery inside. The veggies help keep it from drying out.

        1. Of the value brands, I'm going to have to go with Butterball. My Mom used it when I was little, and they always turned out moist and delicious. When she bought other brands, it wasn't as tasty...a lot dull, bland, and dry. I use Butterball now when my Mom comes over...though I'd love to try a Heritage turkey...but at high prices Heritage turkeys run for, it's not as easy to splurge on the bird.

          1. In the past I’d always bought Empire Kosher turkeys, but last year I bought a free-range heritage breed (if it had a brand name, I’ve since forgotten). Because of the butchering process, kosher birds don’t need brining—a big plus in my book, since I really don’t have the room for it.

            A negative for kosher birds is that you can’t count on the package containing giblets. Here’s the quote from the Empire Web site: “We cannot guarantee the giblets, therefore the package states ‘Some giblets may be missing’. The kosher process requires separate processing to remove, clean and package the giblets. If the giblets are damaged or unclean they can not be sold or packaged.” And because Kosher turkeys are defeathered in cold rather than hot water, there are often a few feathers remaining. Some people find this very off-putting. But I just grab a hemostat and pull them out.

            As for flavor, my family preferred the kosher bird, and I’ll return to it again this year. It may just be that that’s what they’re used to, but we found the kosher bird to be more tender and flavorful than the free-range heritage bird.

            1. Roxanne, here are links to turkey brand/breed discussions that were moved from the Home Cooking board to General Topics board last year.


              or http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/300908

              This board is for discussion of recipes, cooking techniques, and cookbooks, so your question isn't quite on-topic. The General Topics board gets into brand specifics, ingredients, and the like. You might get more response if you post your question there or bump those threads and ask for an update.

              For procurement, you might want to watch the various regional boards for where, why and how folks are finding their birds, such as these threads on the SF Bay Area board, for example.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Per Melanie's suggestion we moved this on over to Gen Topics--and thanks for the links Melanie, I have been looking at some of those threads (like the heated Butterball discussion!), but hadn't dug up all of those you mentioned.

                Big thanks to all who have commented, this is excellent information, and I look forward to hearing other people's opinions as well.

                Roxanne, Associate Editor, Chow.com

                1. re: Roxanne Webber

                  I believe it's all in the preparation of the turkey...Heritage is fine if you want to pay over $100 dollars for one but I've found a fresh turkey from my local market is no different in taste, tenderness or juiciness. Roasting in a slow oven and basting throughout the day is the trick...along with a few other methods and ingredients of choice.

              2. Here in Sonoma County we have had Willie Bird turkeys for most of the past 20 years. They have been reliably wonderful, and I don't bother with brining. We do cook it indirect on the Weber, so we usually limit ourselves to about a 14 pound turkey. They always have a heart, liver, giblet, and neck, sometimes there is a bonus organ, so I always wonder if someone else got shorted.

                One year when we lived in Oregon we got a Diestel, which was fine, but not quite as good as the Willie Bird, but that may have to do with not going straight to the producer to pick up the bird. All those fresh birds being shipped around may not have been slaughtered as recently as what can be purchased on-site.

                The worst turkey I ever ate in my life was at my Grandmother's when my uncle was delivering for Schwann. Yuck!

                1 Reply
                1. re: dkenworthy

                  Willie Bird sells hearts, livers, gizzards, and necks in bulk, so there are more than enough to go around. Don't feel guilty. (g)

                  I haven't done it, but the two households I know who purchased heritage birds via the Russian River Slow Foods and 4H project, http://www.slowfoodrr.org/localprojec... , have been very happy with the results and continue to support it.

                  Another place to find local farms is the Local Harvest website, http://www.localharvest.org/store/tur...

                2. I cooked a 19 1/2 lb Bell and Evans tom this year, I was really impressed with it. It was moist, tender and looked absolutely beautiful brown when I pulled it out of the oven. I cooked it using their recommended recipie covering the bird in herb and butter soaked cheesecloth and basting every 15 minutes. This was a white meat lovers bird as the breast was huge. It had a full set of giblets. I bought it from a local market..
                  I've cooked Butterballs, Jenios and some store brands. The store brands were thankfuly forgetable at best. The BB and the Jenio were ok but the B&E took it to a whole new level of goodness.

                  1. We served a 26 lbs Murray's Turkey. My first time cooking a bird that size, which was intimidating, but it came out great and so super moist. We had 28 people at the table, many of them more experienced cooks than me, and I got rave reviews. We barely had enough left-overs for two turkey sandwiches! Personally, I like the fact that's it's a natural bird, that's why I buy their chicken as well. I hadn't had a Murray's turkey before, but I will get one again next year. They also sell a pre-brined one, which I'm kind of curious about.

                    Funny thing. A friend also bought a Murray's, slightly smaller, and cooked it upside down (don't ask..). She said it still came out great. You can't beat that.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: agold

                      Thanks everyone for all your input! Here's the comparison chart you helped create: http://www.chow.com/stories/11423

                      On my end, we ended up doing two birds, a wild turkey that a friend hunted (it was roasted), and a supermarket turkey slow smoked in the Weber. Both were good, but my fave was the wild bird. It was surprisingly non-gamy in flavor, tender (without seeming watery), and just really tasty. It was a trip to see the two turkeys side by side and see the differences in the structure of their bodies--the wild bird was longer in general, with lengthier bones on the drumsticks.

                      Roxanne, Associate Editor, Chow.com