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Main Content

Turkey Buying Tips

Choose the right bird for this year’s feast.

 by The Old Farmer’s Almanac staff

 Let’s talk turkey. There is more to choosing a turkey than meets the eye. Or the appetite. Or the guest list.

Shop Talk

At the market, there are more options than ever before, including traditional, heritage, and kosher birds. Take note of these turkey terms so that you buy the best one for your needs:

Free-range/Cage-free: Birds that were raised having access to outdoor space for at least 51 percent of their lives.

Heritage: Progenitors of today’s commercial turkeys. Narragansett, Standard Bronze, Black Spanish, and Bourbon Red are examples of heritage turkeys.

Kosher: Birds that meet the dietary requirements of Jewish law.

Natural: Birds prepared for the marketwithout the use of artificial flavors, colorings, ingredients, chemical preservatives, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredients.

Organic: Birds that meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic standards: were raised on organic land, fed organic feed, not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, and were given outdoor access.

Pasture-raised: Birds are raised in movable floorless field pens, used to control their grazing area.

Traditional: Birds are factory-raised and processed.

Fresh or Frozen?

Fresh birds are the juiciest. When turkey meat is frozen, ice crystals form around cells and can cause damage and fluid loss, ultimately resulting in drier meat. Bear in mind that fresh birds are more expensive.

If you like to shop well in advance of cooking the meal, a frozen turkey is your best bet. Make sure that the turkey is solidly frozen. By reading the label carefully, you can be sure of getting exactly what you want—stuffed, unstuffed, basted, unbasted, or smoked. Tip: If you decide to buy a frozen bird, be sure that it is from this year’s harvest.

Size Wise

How big should the bird be? The general rule of thumb is to plan for at least 1 pound of meat per person, plus an extra ½ pound per person if you want leftovers. Keep in mind that some people prefer white meat, so plan accordingly; consider buying an additional breast. If it is dark meat that your guests hanker for, buy extra thighs.

To Brine or Not to Brine?

That is always the question! Brining a big bird takes up a lot refrigerator space, so you may want to purchase a pre-brined bird. (There is a strong argument to be made for brining: Soaking a turkey in saltwater before roasting ensures a tender bird, as moisture is held in while the bird roasts.)

Take Note

  •    If you are purchasing from a local purveyor, reserve your bird by either calling ahead or buying it online.
  •    Bear in mind that different types of turkeys have different flavor profiles; some are buttery, others nutty or sweet. Let your butcher or grocer know what you’re looking for and ask for recommendations.

Did You Know?

Sarah Josepha Hale, an American magazine editor and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” wrote editorials for 40 years campaigning for a day of thanksgiving. Her efforts finally paid off when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise.”

Roast Turkey with Apple-Pecan Stuffing

For a memorable Thanksgiving meal, try the following recipe. It’s a classic, having won third place in The 1989 Old Farmer’s Almanac Recipe Contest.

Roast Turkey


  • 1 turkey (10 to 14 pounds)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) soft butter
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


Remove giblets from turkey. Massage well with the butter, then salt and pepper the turkey. Prepare stuffing as directed below.



  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 large cooking apples, peeled and diced
  • 10 to 12 cups cubed bread
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1½ cups chopped pecans
  • uncooked strips of salt pork or bacon


Preheat oven to 450°F. In a large pan, melt the butter and cook celery and onions until tender, stirring occasionally. Add apples and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat; stir in bread cubes, water, seasonings, and pecans. Mix well. Stuff the turkey and sew cavity shut with needle and cotton thread. Line bottom of a roasting pan with half of the strips of salt pork, then place the turkey breast side up in the pan. Place remaining salt pork over the breast. Place in oven and cook for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350°F and continue roasting until turkey is done (juices run clear and legs move easily). Baste frequently with the liquid in the pan; add additional melted butter if necessary.