On Thanksgiving, let's talk turkey

By KYRA LOW, The Mirror

Soon tantalizing smells will waft from the kitchen. The table will soon groan from the weight of the bounty, food that will soon induce a triptophanic coma.

But the question is, what kind of turkey will be served?

With so many options out there, it can get a bit confusing. So here’s a brief explanation of the lingo associated with this feathered feast.

The original

The basic turkey that can be found in the freezer of the grocery store is a strain of turkey called broad breasted turkeys, which have been genetically modified to have more breast meat, said Tim Mallek, the meat manager at Dash Point Metropolitan Market. A popular brand, Butterball, has been injected with butter, hence the name, to add more moisture to the bird and prevent it from drying out during cooking.

All natural:

This term goes to birds that are not given any antibiotics or hormones during their lifetime, said Demo Guy Joe Pettit from Trader Joe’s in Federal Way. All natural also means that the bird had an all vegetarian diet.

Free range:

Free range turkeys have no steroids, hormones or antibiotics. “They’ll have more flavor to them because they’re a more healthy bird,” Mallek said. These birds have a high-protein, all-vegetarian diet of grains used to fatten it up. These birds also do not live in cages; rather they are free to roam about outside. This type is becoming more and more popular. “It’s the one we kind of hang our hats on and promote the most,” Mallek said.


These birds are fed only certified organic food and are a type Mallek sees as getting very popular in the next few years with the organic food trend. “People care about what they put in their bodies,” Mallek said.

Heritage turkeys:

This type is not generally available in most supermarkets. It is available through private certified farms, though. These birds are a result of the slow food art movement and are not the same breed of bird typically seen at Thanksgiving. These turkeys are strains of native turkeys, with small breasts, and consist of all dark meat. They are, however, the closest thing to what the pilgrims may have eaten. Some breeders claim that their turkey’s lineage can actually be traced back to the pilgrims.


These turkeys are not a separate type, but many stores now give the option of purchasing a pre-brined turkey. Trader Joe’s has two different options, brined and kosher. The brined are soaked in a salt solution with other seasonings that are drawn into the bird. Kosher birds are packed in kosher salt, which draws out the blood from inside the bird, making it kosher, Pettit said. Of course, brining can be done at home. Mallek suggests soaking the turkey for 24 hours in a saltwater bath with ice water, salt and herbs.


Turkey tips from the USDA:

Plan for about one pound per person for the turkey weight.

For thawing, the USDA suggests the following timeline, in the refrigerator (40 degrees F or below).

Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds

4 to 12 pounds: 1 to 3 days

12 to 16 pounds: 3 to 4 days

16 to 20 pounds: 4 to 5 days

20 to 24 pounds: 5 to 6 days

In cold water

Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound

4 to 12 pounds: 2 to 6 hours

12 to 16 pounds: 6 to 8 hours

16 to 20 pounds: 8 to 10 hours

20 to 24 pounds: 10 to 12 hours

A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.

For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily.

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