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Nov 19, 2009 11:56 AM

Organic vs. heritage vs. free range turkeys - worth the extra cost?

I've searched the boards and have yet to find a consensus on whether organic, free range, or heritage birds are worth the extra cost over a 99 cent/lb. frozen Butterball, assuming all other things are equal in terms of preparation and cooking. My local Costco (in Austin, TX) sells fresh Foster Farms organic turkey under the Coastal Range brand for $2.29 lb. -- heritage birds from a local farm typically sell for around $6/lb. I'd like to get some opinions from people who have tried various kinds of turkey as to whether it's worth paying two or three times the price for your holiday bird.

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  1. i would not consider buying a fresh, special bird by mail. a local costco might be different. two years ago we ordered an organic, free range bird from the usually reliable lobel's in nyc. the bird arrived putrid--though shipped on ice it had a packaging flaw. no turkey that year.

    looking back, i feel a little silly for having tried to go deluxe. sure we serve turkey at thanksgiving but it really isn't the center of the meal--there's all this other stuff. perhaps if we were more turkocentric i'd try again. as it is, may i please have another helping of dressing and some more gravy, please.

    1 Reply
    1. re: silverhawk

      turkocentric, heh. I'm going to start using that word silverhawk. :) Sucks about the putrid bird. Hope you got a refund.

    2. I think it depends on what "better" means to you. Here's a link to the ingredients in a Butterball that have no business in a turkey, IMO:

      Then there's the matter of taste/texture preferences; free range is much better texture, IMO, preferably pasture, not feedlot raised. Tastes better to me, but that's a very subjective criterion.

      Organic isn't as important to me for an occasional turkey and doesn't change the taste, but free range, pasturing and keeping bogus ingredients out does.

      And for some folks, the conditions the animals are raised in make a difference to us; I don't buy animals raises in typical big agribusiness conditions for a whole host of reasons. So it matters what your priorities are.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mcf

        Well put, mcf. One's answer to the OP does depend on one's priorities and what "better" means. We're opting to buy a free range pastured turkey this year, as we did last year, that was raised within 300 miles of us. Why? I feel strongly about how the turkey is raised and what is (not) added to the turkey by the processors, namely fillers, flavors, and other junk.

        We do pay a bit more for this, but it is 1x per year and I'm glad to support a (relatively) nearby farmer. How to justify the extra cost in this economy? We eat very little meat, thus when we do buy meat we have a bit extra to spend on meat raised, slaughtered, and sold in a way that we prefer.

        One thing about the Heritage birds: while I have no direct experience with this, my understanding is that they must be cooked differently than your average Butterball-esque bird. Apparently most purveyors of heritage birds provide strict instructions about how to properly cook them (so they don't get overcooked/dried out).

      2. I buy a local, free-range, organic, heritage breed turkey from a farm that I've visited many times. Depends on the breed, but the heritage birds that I've tasted have all had a much more complex flavor profile than the Butterballs. You don't get as much white meat, though, if that matters to you.

        1. Buy local, and take care of the bird yourself. Any shipping and freezing damages a bird. If you can't go local and fresh, Butterball can be made edible if you cook it correctly.

          1. If you can tell the difference in taste, and it matters...of course its worth it. People should remember that a "fresh" turkey has been hanging around a warehouse, and then in the market for some time. Frozen turkeys are frozen when eviscerated and remain that way until sold. I'm not sure, but "fresh" turkeys may be stored for weeks/months at 25 degreees like chickens. Not really "fresh". I think prep is as important as freshness. A properly thawed, brined, and prepared turkey tastes mighty good.