Last year Americans consumed 45 million Thanksgiving turkeys, or one turkey for roughly every six people. That's a lot of post-meal tryptophan going around. If you plan on joining the 97% of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation who plan on eating turkey at Thanksgiving, here's how to choose your bird.
The Grocery Store Frozen Bird ($1.20/lb)
Butterball is the nation's biggest seller of store bought frozen birds. Choose between pre-basted, which pre-loads the turkey with a water, starch and flavoring solution that affects weight and salt content, or non-basted.
The Grocery Store Fresh Bird ($2.10/lb)
Some fresh brands like Bell & Evans don't inject their birds with fat or brine, so it might not come with that salty and moist flavor of a Butterball. Be aware that because it tends to get a little drier, it needs regular basting.
The Organic Bird ($2.65/lb)
Buying an organic bird ensures that it lived hormone and antibiotic free on a diet of certified organic grains. However, organic doesn't guarantee it wasn't raised in very crowded conditions. These birds have a very neutral taste, making them great for added rubs, brining or glazes.
The Fresh Kosher Bird ($2.90/lb)
Although you may only find these in certain areas, a kosher bird has already been salted, so cut back on the salt in your marinade. Salting can also make the bird more tender and flavorful. Whether you buy a regular bird and brine it yourself, or go kosher from the get-go depends mostly on if you'll have observant Jewish guests in attendance.
The Heritage Bird ($12/lb)
Heritage birds have more colorful plumage and greater genetic diversity, but don't gain weight as efficiently and are raised more naturally – hence the high cost. Although more growers now raise heritage birds, they still come at a premium and must be ordered way in advance. While the cost and planning might seem high, a heritage bird is much closer to what your grandparents would have enjoyed with their Thanksgiving dinner than today's turkeys. Talk to the meat manager at your supermarket, your local butcher or visit Mary's Turkeys http://www.marysturkeys.com/ to reserve your heritage turkey.
When buying, estimate a pound of meat per person, more if you want a lot of leftovers for Thanksgiving sandwiches the next day. If you buy a frozen bird then budget yourself 24 hours for every five pounds to defrost in the fridge. That's right, a 20 lb could take up to four days to fully defrost (yes, you can do it more quickly in the sink or microwave, but the fridge is the safest way).