Before you can get to work cooking your turkey, you’ll need to choose from one of the handful of varieties sold in stores. You can purchase fresh or frozen, depending on when you’ll be serving the turkey. A fresh turkey can be kept in the refrigerator for one to two days before serving, so it’s your best bet if you’re planning on preparing it soon. Turkeys can be frozen in the freezer for up to 12 months.
Wondering how much turkey to buy for your guests? You can figure this out by multiplying the number of guests by one pound of uncooked, whole turkey per person. This equation gives you enough for the table as well as a few leftovers, which are especially nice on Thanksgiving. Turkeys can range in size anywhere from eight to 24 pounds.
Which Type of Turkey is Right for You?
There are many types of turkeys to choose from, and the kind you should select depends on the occasion and your personal preferences.
If a turkey is free-range, it means the bird has been given access to the outdoors. Free-range turkeys are generally moist and have a robust turkey flavor, but can be a bit more expensive than other options.
Organic and Natural
When a turkey is labeled as organic, it means it’s free of hormones and antibiotics. Organic turkeys may be slightly more expensive, but they often have a delicious, substantial flavor. If a turkey is labeled as natural, it means it is free from preservatives and artificial ingredients, and can only be “minimally processed.” Again, these turkeys might be slightly more expensive, but are, in general, more flavorful.
For a turkey to be labeled as kosher, it needs to be processed in accordance with Jewish dietary law under rabbinical supervision. Kosher turkeys are soaked and salted, then triple rinsed. For this reason, they typically don’t require additional brining.
Wondering what a heritage turkey is? If a turkey is labeled as heritage, it means it comes from some of the first domesticated turkeys farmed by the English settlers. There are two main heritage breeds: American Bronze and Bourbon Red, which both have a bit more dark meat than other types of turkeys. Heritage turkeys are some of the best birds to slow-cook because of their moist, slightly chewy texture. They are substantially more expensive than other turkeys.
A self-basting turkey is generally less expensive than organic or natural turkeys. It has been filled with ingredients like salt, butter, or chicken fat to make it more flavorful and moist—hence, there’s no need to baste it. In general, these turkeys produce juicier meat than other varieties.
Conventional turkeys will be less expensive than organic turkeys, but may have added hormones or antibiotics, depending on where they come from. If you like, talk to your butcher about what types of turkey he recommends for the cooking method and meal you’re planning.