What you need to know to get a great bird.

By Julia Heffelfinger
Updated September 21, 2020
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No matter how much you like your pies and sides, a Thanksgiving turkey is the star of the holiday table. If like many of us you're having a smaller gathering this year, you're going to want the right size and best possible bird to share. And while brining, basting, and roasting are 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 Buy Your Turkey Locally

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.

Where to Order Thanksgiving Turkey Online

DO: Consider ordering online. Plenty of meat purveyors offer everything from organic to wild turkeys online and will ship across the country. Here are a few options for everything from full turkeys to chickens and ham:

Crowd Cow

Crowd Cow has turkeys available for pre-order now, ranging from 12.5 to 18-pound birds. Gunthorp Farms in Indiana offers the pasture-raised birds with delivery in time for Thanksgiving if you order now. For smaller families, you can also order a whole chicken or

Pasture-Raised Turkey, $100-$135 at crowdcow.com

Williams Sonoma

Williams Sonoma also offers turkey delivery for Thanksgiving or Christmas, ranging from 10-12-pound birds up to 22-pounds. The Willie Bird free-range turkeys from Northern California are raised on organic grains, and ship fresh to arrived chilled to be used within 7 days (will be sent right in time for the Thanksgiving holiday). For a no-fuss option, they also offer pre-cooked smoked turkey breast, bone-in hams, or fresh bone-in turkey breast.

Willie Bird Fresh Free-Range Organic Turkey, Thanksgiving Delivery, $140-$250 at williams-sonoma.com

Omaha Steaks

You can also order turkeys from Omaha Steaks, but the brand offers and even better deal which is an entire meal in one, with a 10-pound turkey, 8-pound Thanksgiving ham, two sides, and one dessert for $220. You can also opt for the ready-to-cook turkey (pre-basted with brown sugar and honey for $80), or for a smaller group order fully-cooked turkey breast starting at $40.

Premier Turkey & Ham Holiday, $220 at omahasteaks.com

10-Pound Ready-To-Cook Turkey, from $80 at omahasteaks.com

D'Artagnan

D'Artagnan has an expansive online shop for mail-order food, and turkey is certainly one of them. For a smaller serving option, order the natural bone-in turkey breast for $45, or for a quicker option try the smoked turkey breast.

Organic Whole Turkey, from $60 at dartagnan.com

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