7 Terms to Know When Picking Out Your First Thanksgiving Turkey

Whole Foods helps us decipher turkey terms, from heritage to free-range.

Photo: © Ewing Galloway / Alamy

Whether this is your first time hosting Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, the turkey situation can be daunting. The key to a tasty result is starting with a good bird, but when you get to the grocery store you are faced with multiple options like organic, heritage, free-range … and Butterball. What does this all mean? We asked Theo Weening, Whole Foods' global meat coordinator and resident turkey expert, to walk us through the many varieties of turkeys.

1. Heritage Turkey

One of the most popular birds in the past few years because of its superior flavor, heritage turkey is purebred and generally older than other turkeys you may find at the store. They tend to be smaller with more bone and darker leg meat. Life outdoors gives these turkeys a gamier taste than the regular store-bought varieties. According to Weening, many of the birds, due to their coloring, may have specks of black or brown when the turkey is cooked.

2. Organic Turkey

Turkeys that are certified organic by the USDA are now more easily found in grocery stores ⁠— and are Weening's top choice. They are fed an all-organic vegetarian diet, never given antibiotics and raised on organic pastures. They tend to be a little more expensive because the feed the birds eat is more expensive.

3. Free-Range Turkey

No antibiotics or hormones are given to free-range turkeys, and they have access to the outdoors (at least part of the time, according to the USDA).

4. Pastured Turkey

This type of turkey is raised outdoors and is pretty much free to do and eat what it wants, although pastured turkeys are also given feed to ensure they get the proper levels of nutrients.

5. Kosher Turkey

Kosher turkeys are raised and processed according to strict rabbinical guidelines. Before they are packaged, they are rubbed with Kosher salt, which acts as a brine.

6. Brined Turkey

Some turkeys are one step ahead of you and have been brined. Various juices, oils, seasonings, sugar, and/or salt are injected into the turkey. Brining is beneficial because it can provide extra moisture and flavor to the turkey in addition to saving you some prep time, but it can dictate the flavor of your turkey and take the seasoning out of your hands. Butterball turkeys are usually brined.

7. Fresh (vs. Frozen) Turkey

According to Weening, fresh turkeys are kept at a temperature of 27°F. When the temperature drops below that, the meat begins to freeze. If you're buying a fresh turkey, buy it no more than two days before you plan to cook it; you can usually reserve one at markets and farmers markets way in advance.

In the end it comes down to what you want to pay. Turkeys can get pricey, so know how many you are buying for and be sure to take into account the leftovers you want to eat for days to come.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles