To select a Thanksgiving turkey, don't just drive to the supermarket and choose a turkey at random. Instead, you'll need to consider several factors before choosing the perfect bird for your meal. Here's how to select a Thanksgiving turkey:
- Conduct a head-count. The size of turkey you need depends on the number of people you plan to serve. Are you making a Thanksgiving dinner for four people, or feeding several dozen? You should choose a bird that provides between a pound and one and a half pounds of turkey for each person. If you want ample leftovers, be sure to get a turkey that is a little bigger than what you need for the meal. No matter what, make sure you have enough turkey for your guests; Thanksgiving is not a time to skimp on the food. Even though this sounds like a lot, remember that the cooked turkey weighs less than the frozen ones, and the turkey bones included in this weight are not eaten.
- Consider logistics. Can you find refrigerator or freezer space to store a turkey? Do you have room in your oven to cook a very large turkey? If you have unusually small appliances, or your refrigerator and freezer are often stuffed to the brim, consider alternatives. If you don't have the space, consider two smaller turkeys instead of one larger bird. If it is less than 48 hours until Thanksgiving or you don't have freezer space, look for a fresh turkey if you can find one. However, be warned that it may be difficult to find a fresh turkey the day before Thanksgiving.
- Consider the quality of the turkey. All turkeys you find at the grocery store are not equal. Younger birds are generally more tender and flavorful; these are often called fryer or roaster turkeys, but they may not be large enough for a big Thanksgiving feast. Look for turkeys that are under a year old; those labeled "mature" are over 15 months, and are not well suited to many Thanksgiving turkey cooking methods. Fresh turkeys must be cooked within a couple of days, but they're generally considered better quality than those that have been frozen. Other terms you may see are smoked (ready to eat without cooking), self-basting (turkeys that have been injected with ingredients to keep the turkey moist as it cooks), or organic (fed only organic and natural feed).
- Look at the turkey's condition. Besides choosing a turkey of the appropriate weight for your gathering, look for a few other factors present on the turkey itself. Watch out for signs of damage or frost buildup. When selecting a frozen turkey make sure that it is frozen through, with no soft spots.
- Take it home quickly. Don't leave your frozen turkey in the trunk of your car while you run other errands. Yes, it is big and frozen solid, but it will start defrosting as soon as it's removed from the grocery store freezer, and this invites bacteria to grow. Get it home and into the freezer fast, or start the defrosting process properly.
Selecting the Thanksgiving turkey is an important task. Make sure to consider how many guests you are feeding, as well as the number of days before Thanksgiving and what kind of turkey you need, when you select a Thanksgiving turkey.