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Sep 10, 2012 07:50 AM

Thanksgiving 2012 - What kind of Turkey will you be making? What is best type to buy?

Any suggestions on the type of Turkey to buy for a special Thanksgiving Meal?

Would a heritage breed be better or just different from the standard white turkey we get at the grocery store?

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  1. I cannot comment on the difference between heritage or standard, however, I will comment on cooking method. I find smoking a turkey vastly improves its flavour, keeps it very moist and gives it a terrific mohagany colour. The only drawback I found is that the skin does not crisp up like oven roasted ones. I have never gone back to using the oven for a turkey since I discovered cooking them on a smoker. If you are able you should give it a try sometime. I do not recommend trying it out for the first time for your special meal.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Amac

      There's a recipe for smoking turkey in the latest issue of Fine Cooking - I may just have to give it a try!

      1. re: Amac

        I'm gonna chime in and agree that method is key. Of course, starting with a tastier bird is the best, but method will go far. I've been making Thanksgiving dinner for 20+ years and the best way to cook a *classic* mainstream turkey dinner in the oven is Martha Stewart's Turkey 101, in my opinion: crisp skin, perfect color, juicy and so flavorful. This method produces the most consistent and pleasing results out of many methods I have tried with a variety of turkey types. It's only "drawback" might be that some people prefer a more modern or innovative take on seasoning or preparing a turkey. However, I'd urge someone who feels they are "meh" about traditional turkey to try this method -- it might change your mind about a classic.

        And I like fresh birds that haven't been frozen, preferably organic/free range. I personally wouldn't spend a lot more money for "extras" (some of the trends to sell high cost turkeys borders on bragging the turkeys were hand-fed by vestal virgins, for crying out loud). A fresh bird makes wonderful roast turkey and delicious leftovers, and that's what I want. I guess I have a limit as to what I think is reasonable amount of money to spend on the turkey when it already tastes amazing and I know it's from a local farmer.

        ETA link:

        1. re: Amac

          If you air-dry the bird with an herb rub for a couple of days in the fridge, the skin will crisp up nicely in the smoker.

        2. This topic is a great one that comes up every year, and folks are already posting about new stuff in a current issue of Fine Cooking. Always room for relevant updates. But you may be very very interested in last year's discussion on the same theme. See "What's the Best Turkey to buy?" with posts from 8/24/11 to 12/22/11. I think I posted and put in one more vote (there were several...) for the tried and true Butterball.

          1. The free one from the Supermarket. We will wet brine it and roast it in the oven. Sausage stuffing and all the trimmings. Delicious. No need to spend all that money on a Heritage bird. We will take that extra money and buy the supplies for a Thanksgiving Day meal to the needy.


            1 Reply
            1. re: Jerseygirl111

              This is absolutely the best answer.

            2. This has been thoroughly discussed every year and going through the past threads will yield every possible viewpoint. People buy all sorts of birds for all sorts of reasons, few of them culinary. There is a bewildering array of choices, it seems.

              More important than what bird you buy is how you cook it. Nearly every recipe tells you to overcook the bird. There is never any reason to take the white meat to more than 150F. The other threads link to plenty of scientific papers that show that any bug that can possibly harm you is long dead by the time the internal meat temp reaches 150, at which point the bird is thoroughly cooked and very moist and juicy. You can cook it hot and fast or low and slow, from room temp or from frozen solid like a bowling ball (no, the packet of guts inside won't kill you), breast up, breast down, or both, or vertically, or in a smoker or deep fryer or any other way you wish. Just don't overcook it.

              Fresh/Never Frozen or Frozen? Frozen is always much better, because it is flash frozen and stays that way until you defrost it. "Never Frozen" is a loose term and means the bird is allowed to get down to 28F, meaning it is constantly slightly freezing and thawing, leading to cell damage and a dry bird. Cook's Illustrated did a whole analysis on this and proved what I've experienced for years. Never, ever buy a "fresh" bird. Buy a frozen bird and allow 1 day of thawing in the fridge for every five pounds of bird.

              Basted/Injected or "All Natural"? Doesn't matter. If it's injected, it just has a saltwater solution that's similar to what you'd be doing anyway if you brined it. And brine it you must if it isn't injected. If it IS Basted or Injected, do not Brine. Dry Rub it with a saltless herb rub instead and let it air-dry in the fridge for a day or two before roasting. If it's an "All Natural" bird, brine it for a day or two, then proceed with the herb rub and air-drying.

              Heritage/Organic/Free Range? If it makes you feel good about yourself, fine. It sure won't taste any better. It will probably taste worse and be tough and stringy. But hey, for seven bucks a pound, whatever floats your boat. I pay nineteen cents a pound at Thanksgiving time and buy ten of them and donate eight of them. That's *my* way of feeling good about myself.

              How much to buy? I can now say with great confidence that every bird I have deboned (actually the correct term is "boned" but people laugh at you when you say you "boned the Turkey") has yielded exactly 33% of its original raw weight in cooked sliced meat, meaning the white meat and the thighs, boned and sliced. If you include the wings and legs the percentage goes up to 51%. This is true of birds from 13-30 pounds, so the old saw about bigger birds yielding a higher percentage is totally untrue. Yes, I was shocked too. So if you consider a standard serving to be between five and six ounces, then plan on one pound per person, more if you want leftovers. I like big Toms because I find them tastier and juicier and more tender and I can carve one big bird in half the time it takes to carve two small ones.

              I've spent thirty years doing this and last year I took eighty Turkeys apart for a series of videos I did on everything Turkey-related, from buying tips to what to do with the leftovers. If anyone cares, you can see them at

              6 Replies
              1. re: acgold7

                the exception to the no fresh might be if you can get one fresh enough that you KNOW it has not been sorta-frozen.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Straight from the Ranch and still warm, sure. Supermarket, even Trader Joe's, and especially Whole Foods, if it's traveled any distance by truck, I wouldn't risk it.

                  1. re: acgold7

                    Not still warm -- but I buy mine straight from the farm...there's no doubt in my mind that they've been handled carefully and safely.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      I agree with sunshine842. When I am able to, I buy fresh from a local farmer that I trust because I like to support local farmers and also get a healthy and (formerly) happy bird. And I do believe the consistency of the cooked meat is noticeably more tender in a roasted fresh-never-frozen bird, if you can find one from a trusted source. However, I have no qualms about using a previously frozen bird if a grocery store is my bird-buying place that particular year. Last year I didn't even pick out the bird myself because having guests over and cooking was practically 11th-hour (everyone's plans had changed) -- so I ordered "emergency" Thanksgiving groceries to be home-delivered, which left me with a choice of a brand similar to (but not) Butterball, I forget the name. Anyway, I wanted one that had not been injected with anything or pre-brined, so that was my only option for delivered groceries two days before Thanksgiving and I was lucky that major chain even had a choice that was not pre-brined. I actually got a beautifully proportioned 14-lb bird. After I defrosted it (it was supposed to be "fresh," but it was actually partially frozen still), brined it overnight and roasted it, it was absolutely delicious and I'm sure no one would have cared if it was heritage or fresh or Butterball, because it was just good.

                2. re: acgold7

                  "Buy a frozen bird and allow 1 day of thawing in the fridge for every five pounds of bird."

                  I have never found that to be enough time. For a 12-14 lb bird, it takes at least 6 days in my cold fridge.

                  1. re: Karl S

                    You can actually finish defrosting it in the brine if you choose.

                3. We'll be having a heritage free range turkey that our neighbor raises on open fields. He always 'finishes them off' with his own corn a couple of weeks before processing them. His processor doesn't 'tank wash' the birds. We wouldn't get our turkey from the neighbor otherwise. I'll brine the bird overnight then dry thoroughly, rub liberally with Kosher salt then into a preheated 200 F oven. I never cook any thing with protein at any higher temperature. I don't want my guests to be eating rubber bands. I let the interior temp reach about 150F in the thigh meat. This means the breast meat is going to be a bit higher. Then I consider the 'carry over' temperature. I then tent the bird for at least an hour. Just before serving I put the bird into a screaming hot oven just until the skin turns a beautiful golden brown. That only takes a couple of minutes and I watch the bird like a hawk. This last touch doesn't change the interior temperature of the bird by even a degree. I make 'stove top dressing' using all the giblets of course.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Puffin3

                    We and some other neighbors pay a little extra to our neighbor from the heritage turkey. That means he can afford to donate some white turkeys each year to the food bank at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Personally I don't think there's a noticeable difference between a truly 'free range' heritage turkey and a white turkey eating the same 'free range' diet.

                    1. re: Puffin3

                      This low & slow method is quite brilliant and may be the best way of all to cook a Turkey, even if the health authorities scream. It results in a remarkably silky texture unlike any you may be used to Definitely worth a try if you haven't done it before.