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Finding Your Turkey Type

As you begin planning for a Thanksgiving holiday event, which type of bird do you want to buy?

For some of us, the bird is not necessarily about size; it's about type. For the majority, it will be a poultry pick that's been frozen for a few months. It may be a male or a female, we'll never know (except that Toms are larger) and it doesn't affect the taste, anyway.

The Factory Factor

These are the birds you find most often and with a major brand name stamped on the wrapping. They are usually a breed known as "White Holland" or just "large white." Many purists will argue against supporting this industry. They state that the birds are flash-raised - meaning they are fed to speed up growth. In addition, they receive antibiotics for disease prevention (now, is this a bad thing?). Many of these also receive other injections of broth or stock, water, butter, and seasonings to enhance their juicy flavors and make them appear plump-breasted. Again, this may not be a crime, as some of us will end up injecting our own birds, anyway.

These birds are the most economical and you can often find lesser-known labels that are a downright steal. Quality may be affected, however, including skin bruising and poor plucking practices.

All other birds are grouped into specialty categories. These are becoming more popular and easier to find - but that doesn't mean the price tag is lower at checkout.


These are birds that are marketed as descendants of the first domesticated roasters and fryers. You'll find traditionally interesting breed names along with the assurance that these are au naturel, or at least all natural. They receive no injection assistance, which also means they're a touch leaner than the familiar pile of birds at the supermarket. They roam freely and can pick and choose their foods while growing at a leisurely pace. This adds to the price per pound, of course.

Heritage birds are typically raised outside the mass market landscape and under the watchful care (we hope) of smaller producers. The overall flavor is judged to be among the best.

Free-Range and Organic

Organic and free-range turkeys are the picks of the poultry crop. They are raised to their proud owners' exacting standards and to the standards of the USDA. Organic birds are deemed free of all hormones and antibiotics plus they have been fed food that is free of all additives. Not all of them are exactly free-roaming as the name implies. These birds must be kept in pastures and lots to prevent them from ingesting the wrong foods. This in itself has raised some controversy when they are found to be crowded. Cramped living spaces can also affect the flavor.

You'll also find kosher birds that have been raised and processed to strict standards, including brining. If you want the flavor of wild turkey, you'll probably have to find one of those yourself. You may be able to find "semi-wild" turkeys - those that are still commercially raised on small farms. These will still provide enough "gamey" taste for those who prefer it plus a bit more dark meat.




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