How to Choose a Turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas

Thanksgiving is this week, and Christmas is a month away! Maybe you’ve already bought your turkey, but in case you haven’t and you’re wondering what the best way to go about it is, we’ve got you’ve covered. Turkeys can be pretty expensive, so make sure you’re buying the right one to make it worth all that money you’re dropping on it.

Determining the Size of Your Turkey

The first thing you absolutely have to consider when you’re buying a turkey is how much meat you actually need to buy, and what kind. Generally, a good rule of thumb is you’ll need 1 pound of turkey per person, or 1 and 1/2, or even 2 pounds per person if you want enough for plenty of leftovers. Large turkeys (above 16 pounds) tend to have a higher meat-to-bone ratio, so you can get away with less than a pound per serving. So this looks like:

  • For 8 people, buy a 12-pound turkey.
  • For 10 people, buy a 15-pound turkey.
  • For 12 people, buy an 18-pound turkey.
  • For 14 people, buy a 21-pound turkey.

Smaller turkeys are usually more tender, so if you’re planning on feeding a crowd, you might want to buy two small turkeys, instead of one large one – especially if your oven runs smaller. You don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to stuff a huge turkey into a little oven!

Also take into account the size of your roasting pan. Make sure that whatever size of turkey you’re planning on buying, you have a pan you can fit it in so you don’t have to buy another piece of equipment just for Thanksgiving!

Fresh or Frozen?

Who doesn’t want the best flavor for their money? To be honest, it’s often cheaper to find a frozen turkey for a marked-down price, but you will be sacrificing a little on flavor. Freezing the meat disrupts the cell-structure of the turkey, resulting in a dryer piece of turkey. You should also keep in mind that a frozen turkey needs a long time to thaw – about one day for every five pounds.

A fresh turkey will taste better, and you won’t have to spend so much time and energy thawing it, and it won’t be taking up all that space in your fridge. If you go the fresh route, make sure you buy it no more than 1-2 days in advance, or else you’ll risk your turkey going bad.

What Kind of Turkey?

Different stores offer a lot of different kinds of turkeys to be bought. But, what do all of these different labels mean? And, which one is best for your wallet?

  • Basted or Self-Basting: a basted or self-basting turkey is a whole bird that is injected or marinated in a specific solution. According to the USDA, this includes: “butter or other edible fat, broth, stock or water; plus spices, flavor enhancers and other approved substances.” This will give you a pretty moist bird, but the natural flavor will be masked somewhat. These birds are the most likely to be factory farmed, so they will be the easiest on your wallet. If you’re looking to save the most money and willing to sacrifice a little bit of flavor and texture, go this route.
  • Free Range/Cage Free: These birds will have been raised with access to a yard. The increased mobility gives them more developed meat, and thus a more complex flavor. This might be a slightly more expensive option, but if you’re firmly against animal cruelty and want to know your food was raised well, then this is the way to go.
  • Kosher: This is the title given to birds that have been slaughtered according to Jewish dietary laws. They’re salted inside and out, and left to drain. The flesh will be much more dense, and will have a full taste, and they tend to be more expensive than non-kosher options.
  • Natural: This tells you your turkey absolutely has no artificial colorings, flavors, ingredients, chemical preservatives, or anything artificial in it. These will be slightly more expensive, but they are not to be confused with organic turkeys.
  • Organic: Organic turkeys, like natural and free-range turkeys, are raised with access to the outdoors, and direct sunlight, and were given no antibiotics or roughage fillers. Their feed must be organic as well, with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. This will be the most expensive bird available, but it will taste the best.

How you go about buying your bird is ultimately your choice. It’s up to you how much your money is worth, and what you want to spend it on. Hopefully, armed with this information, you can make the best decision about your Thanksgiving feast for you and your family.