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Let’s talk turkey

by | November 17th, 2014

It’s the headliner on almost every Thanksgiving menu. So why not consider your options before grabbing the first frozen monolith you find on sale? There really are some interesting alternatives.

Around 46 million turkeys are consumed each Thanksgiving, and about 99% of those are your standard white tom turkeys—also known as broad-breasted whites. These big guys are bred to grow into a mature bird with a large, white-meat breast within 18 weeks. The price is usually very competitive, but the downside is that most are given antibiotics to speed growth, may be injected with a sodium solution, and then there’s the whole controversy about factory farming, which we’ll sidestep here.

Cooking chicken in the oven at home.
But let’s take a look at the sometimes-confusing alternatives. Heritage birds date back to the 1800s, and are more like what our colonial forefathers carved into. Closer to wild turkeys, they produce darker meat and, some would say, gamier taste. Heirloom breeds are a bit newer, dating to the early 1920s or 1930s, still providing the white meat we Americans love, but with a more robust taste than the standard tom. Both of these types cost more because their life cycle is 24-30 weeks, and they aren’t raised on antibiotics.

If you’re seeking one of these specialty birds or a humanely raised broad-breasted white, try Marczyk Fine Foods (with birds sourced from Bennett, Colorado), Tony’s Markets (all birds free of antibiotics and salty solutions), and In Season Local Market (featuring prairie-grazing birds also from Bennett). And don’t overlook chain stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, whose turkeys range from conventional to organic to heritage—sold both fresh and frozen. Do be aware that these specialty brands can sell out quickly, so reserve yours early.

grilled - marinated turkey on the grill 2
On the other hand, if you’d rather someone else do the cooking, consider a Honeybaked turkey breast, a perennial crowd-pleasing combo of tender white meat and sweet, crunchy glaze. Or a spicy, Cajun deep-fried turkey from Bayou Bob’s or Dickey’s Barbeque Pit, which also offers a smoked turkey.

And if all else fails, 46 restaurants are currently taking Thanksgiving reservations on Open Table.
Roasted Turkey Breast - Rosemary-Basil Rub

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