What you need to know to get a great bird.

Julia Heffelfinger
October 05, 2017

No matter how much you like your pies and sides, the Thanksgiving turkey is the star of the holiday table. And so you want to make sure that you have the best bird possible to show off. And while brining, basting and roasting are, of course, vitally important, the whole process starts with making sure you pick a quality turkey to begin with. Here are some dos and don’ts you need to know in order to find that perfect bird:

Which turkey to buy

DO: Look for a Natural or Organic frozen turkey, ideally one that was “pastured”—allowed to roam outside. If you have access to a butcher or a farmer who can sell you a fresh turkey (meaning never frozen) or a heritage breed turkey (historic breeds, raised naturally) the taste will be superior, but the price tag will reflect that.

DON’T: Buy a “basted,” “self-basted” or “injected” turkey because those birds are usually factory-farmed and injected with additives to make them bigger.

What size turkey to buy

DO: Assume two pounds for each adult and one pound for each kid to guarantee leftovers.

DO: Consider getting two smaller birds if you’re hosting a big crowd. If you don’t have a second roasting pan, smaller birds can easily be roasted in a large skillet or on a rimmed baking sheet.

DON’T: Buy a monster 18 to 20 pounder. In addition to thawing faster and cooking more consistently, smaller birds are also less likely to be pumped with chemicals.

Where to order your turkey

DO: Go to a trusted butcher or your favorite farmers' market to find local poultry farmers.

DO: Try a store like Whole Foods if you’re going the frozen turkey route. The store’s high standards will ensure you end up with a good one.

DO: Consider ordering online. D’Artagnan, for example, offers everything from organic to wild turkeys online and will ship across the country.

Once you've got your turkey make sure to check out these tips on the best ways to store and cook it.

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