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Nov 12, 2009 11:01 AM

What is your favorite fresh turkey to buy for Thanksgiving?

I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner for some dear (and foodie) friends in my tiny rental apartment kitchen and need some help choosing a turkey. What kind of bird do you recommend, and where can I buy it? I see that many have recommended Willie Birds, Mary’s, or Niman (from Bi-Rite) in the past – are these the best choices? I would rather not spend more than $5/lb.

The bird does not need to be heritage or organic, but I would prefer something fresh, without phosphates or anything strange injected, and ideally raised humanely.

Secondary question: brining seems to be universally recommended, no matter what bird is chosen, but I am not sure this will be feasible for me space-wise. Any suggestions or alternative approaches?

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  1. The heritage turkey from BN Ranch (Bill Niman is no longer allowed to use his own last name as part of the divorce) through Marin Sun or Bi-Rite is excellent. Tried it last year and it was hands down the favorite from years of turkey experimentation.

    I recommend the dry brining (AKA salting the bird) as described in the Zuni Cookbook. The heritage bird from BN Ranch does not really need much brining with herbs and spices, as it isn't a factory bird. I think excessive brining actually gets in the way of the flavor of the heritage birds. Plus you don't get soggy skin with dry brining.

    1. Some useful research here:

      We're getting one direct from a farm for under $4 a pound but they sold out months ago.

      See the Home Cooking board for alternatives to brining:

      3 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Thanks for the alternatives to brining link! Someone in that thread mentioned a kosher turkey, so if anyone has compared a fresh kosher bird to a Willie or heritage one I'd love to hear the results!

        1. re: meghanb

          Very old turkey tasting, the article not the bird, with the Empire having alow score.

          1. re: meghanb

            A fresh kosher bird I bought a few years ago was the best non-"heritage" bird I've had.

        2. My source for the BN (Niman) has it at $6.49 per pound--$100 for a 15-16 pounder is too much for my TG budge. As for kosher: I see Trader Joes is offering fresh Glatt kosher turkeys. Anyone had experince with that?

          6 Replies
          1. re: alfairfax

            $2.19/lb. for a free range Mary's at Berkeley Bowl West is a pretty good deal. Puts you just under $40 for a 16 lb. bird.

            Berkeley Bowl
            2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

            Berkeley Bowl West
            920 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA

            1. re: adrienne156

              Yeah, that's what I ordered, thanks for posting about this on that other thread, adrienne. And BB West is easier to navigate and seems to have a better ordering system than BB East; I feel less like a lunatic for deciding to go there for Thanksgiving shopping.

              1. re: JasmineG

                You're welcome. Did you do it over the phone? I called in my order and am slightly nervous about it getting lost...

                1. re: adrienne156

                  I did it over the phone, but the person that I talked to seemed on top of it...though I'm a little nervous, because last time I ordered from BB for Thanksgiving, they lost my order. It seemed like there was a system in place this time, though, so I felt reassured.

            2. re: alfairfax

              I saw those last night, they looked nice.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I hosted Thanksgiving two years ago and served a Mary’s heritage heirloom turkey I purchased at the Davis food Coop. It was a huge hit and was completely devoured.


                I will be serving one again this year (a bigger one this time so I will hopefully have leftovers) and would highly recommend it. It’s more expensive but Thanksgiving is only once a year. Commercial turkeys have been bred for having a lot of breast meat but heirloom turkeys have more dark meat. Compared to other turkeys the meat of the Mary’s heritage was more flavorful, moist and had better texture. Perhaps the only negative thing is that the skin was a bit thinner than other turkeys but it was superior in every other way.

            3. I like Mary's turkey. I've had Diestel and Willie Bird in the past. Diestel and Willie Bird have a lot of white meat while Mary's have more dark meat. All brands contain a wide enough cavity for stuffing. I like the taste of Mary's the best. I always brine the turkey and I think that Mary's absorbs the flavor of the brine the most

              3 Replies
              1. re: peachblossom

                Do Mary's non-heritage birds also have more dark meat?

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Sorry. I should have been more clear. I was referring to the Mary's non-heritage bird. I have not yet tried their heritage one.

                  I paid $2.84/lb for Mary's at Crystal Springs Poultry in San Mateo

                2. re: peachblossom

                  Mary's turkeys are air chilled, which means they haven't already been soaked in a water bath. That may explain why they absorb brine well. That said, I don't know how the other premium turkeys are processed.

                3. Has anyone tried one of those pre-brined turkeys at Trader Joes?