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How To Buy A Holiday Turkey

How To Buy A Holiday Turkey

Before you set your perfectly prepared turkey, golden with crisp skin gleaming in the light, in the center of your table. Before you painstakingly cook that turkey, watching it like a hawk for what feels like hours unending. Before you even season that turkey to succulent perfection. You first need to buy a turkey. There are a lot of different things that need to be taken into consideration before you plunk that perfect poultry on the table. Knowing how to buy a holiday turkey is definitely something you should be aware of before running to the store, and knowing how you are going to cook it will definitely be influencing your buying decisions too.

The difference between a fresh and frozen turkey

This one is actually easier than most. A turkey that is “fresh” has never been chilled past 26°F and has never been previously frozen. Thankfully this is isn’t really a be-all end-all factor in choosing what type or turkey to buy for Thanksgiving. A frozen turkey will have been quickly frozen to 0°F in a process that preserves the cell structure. The thing about fresh and frozen turkeys is ease of purchase. Are you a last minute shopper? If so, you will likely have an easier time finding a frozen turkey. If you are always prepared, pre-ordering a turkey will be easy for you. Fresh or frozen, pre-ordering a bird from your butcher or favorite market will be a piece of cake.


What type of turkey to buy for Thanksgiving?

What do those labels mean when you buy a turkey? This is the part that gets a little confusing to most. You can’t just go get a turkey. There are a lot of things you need to watch for.

Self Basting / Injected

These birds are mass-produced. They’re injected with saline and oils to tenderize the meat as it cooks which also means that they may contain other ingredients that you don’t want in your turkey. Do not brine these birds, as you will wind up with a turkey that tastes more like a salt lick than succulent. Butterballs are a great example of this, they’re also drippy, so if you’re going to grill a processed bird, remember to have a nice deep drip pan or use a roasting pan to avoid flare-ups and a blackened bird.


Don’t mistake this for a turkey that has been raised antibiotic free, however, a natural turkey won’t have anything artificial in it - colors, flavors, or synthetic ingredients. Don’t confuse this with Organic though. Good for brining as there’s no added salt, and just as good un-brined as well. These turkeys are relatively inexpensive compared to Organic and Heritage options.


These birds are a little more expensive, but there were no chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, fillers, or fertilizers used to raise these birds. Turkeys with an organic label also get to go outside, like free range birds. Taste wise and texture wise organic Thanksgiving turkeys are excellent brined, injected, or just plain seasoned.

Cooked and carved turkey
Live Turkeys


The most expensive kind of turkey you can buy, heritage has more to do with the breed of the bird than how it was raised or processed. However, that being said these turkeys are usually humanely raised – free range and natural – and humanely prepared, so are unlikely to be injected. It’s said that their taste and texture are unlike any grocery store turkey you have tasted. They’re also leaner, taking less time to cook.

Free Range

The lack of cages and access to outdoor spaces builds muscles, which lead to a better tasting bird, however, they are not necessarily raised without chemical interference, only access to exercise and light. Pay attention to the labels on this bird as free-range birds may or may not be processed to become self-basting or injected.

How to buy a holiday turkey

Buying a turkey for your next big family dinner, or holiday meal isn’t just as simple as running to the grocer. The final thing you need to think about when choosing a holiday turkey is who you want to buy one from. It’s generally a good idea to call ahead, whether you are buying from the grocery store, your favorite butcher, or the farm. You will need to reserve a bird that is fresh no matter what, it’s Thanksgiving, and most people will be serving turkey.

Before cooking, serving, and eating, you need to know how to choose a turkey. Knowing the difference between fresh and frozen, free range, heritage, where you will be buying, and how you want to cook a turkey plays a big role in planning the perfect meal.


Happy Grilling!