How To Select, Store & Prepare Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Whether you’re hosting a Thanksgiving dinner or just a small get-together, having a turkey is a must. However, there are so many types of turkey as well as preparation methods. Below are some tips to help you select, store and prepare the perfect turkey!   

Selecting Your Turkey

There are several things to keep in mind when choosing a turkey. The number of people you plan to serve is important. Generally, you will need 1 pound of bone-in turkey per person. Your oven size and pan size should also be considered. If your oven runs small, buy two small turkeys rather than one large one. Different types of turkey are processed and raised differently, leading to various textures and flavors.  Here is a description of the different types:

1. Self-Basting, Basted or Injected Turkeys – These are the least expensive because they are factory-farmed and injected with solution and oils to create more tender breasts. This type of turkey may include emulsifiers and artificial flavors. There is no need for brining because they have already been salted.

2. Natural Turkeys – Products labeled “natural” are defined as raised with no growth hormones, antibiotics, or animal by-product feed. These turkeys have a good texture as well as flavor. They are an inexpensive alternative to self-basting turkeys but can be brined since no salt is added.

3. Kosher Turkeys – There is no set guideline of how these turkeys are raised. However, they’re usually grain-fed without antibiotics. These turkeys are slaughtered according to rabbinic laws. No further preparation may be required, but some people find the flavor chemical-y.

4. Free-Roaming or Free-Range Turkeys – These turkeys must have free access to outdoors, but there is not a guarantee they actually roam the outdoors. This also does not indicate that the bird was raised without hormones or antibiotics. As for the flavor and texture, it can range, because birds that roamed around more may have leaner meat.

5. Organic Turkeys – The label “organic” means the turkey only ate organic feed meaning an absence of growth hormones, antibiotics, herbicides or animal by-products. The taste may vary but is usually considered to have great flavor and texture.

6. Heritage Turkeys – Rather than how they are raised, heritage turkeys have to do with the breed. These turkeys are commonly free-range and contain no additives. They are said to have leaner meat and lower fat content, requiring less cooking time. This type of turkey is the most expensive turkey and may not taste like the typical Thanksgiving turkey you grew up eating.

Storing Your Turkey

Once you’ve purchased your turkey, you may be wondering how you should store it. If frozen, it may be stored in the freezer for 12 months. If you will be preparing it soon, it may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days after purchase. Always keep the turkey in the original packaging to ensure freshness and prevent exposure to bacteria.

Preparing Your Turkey

If your turkey is frozen, you’ll need to thaw it. It can be thawed in the refrigerator, microwave, or submerged into cold water that completely covers the entire bird. When thawed, remove the giblets and rinse. If you decide to stuff your turkey, all of the ingredients should be cooked before being placed into the turkey. Generally, ½ to ¾ cups stuffing is used per pound of turkey.

Roasting a turkey is a popular way of preparation and makes a delicious meal. A roasting pan is recommended for this method.

Grilling is a great method to make juicy and moist meat. Before grilling, the cavity of the turkey should be rubbed with your desired spices. A gas or charcoal grill is needed.  

Slow Cooking is a great method when you don’t have too much time on your hands to prepare it the day of. This method is a great way to make tender & extremely flavorful turkey.

How long does it take to cook a turkey? Cooking times will be determined by the size and weight. Stuffed turkey will take longer than unstuffed turkey. The best method to check the temperature is to stick a meat thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and thickest part of the breast. Ensure it reads 165 °F. Let it cool for 20-30 minutes before serving. Slice and serve with some cranberry sauce or gravy and enjoy!

Image via The Suburban Soapbox