Turkey: the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving feast. Along with that centerpiece comes a lot of debate: how long should you brine it, what you should stuff it with, deep fried or roasted, who gets to break the wishbone… But there’s one more really important question you should be asking….
Where did that turkey come from?
Everyone wants to impress family and friends by dishing out a fabulous feast, right? What most people don’t consider that majorly affects the quality and taste of the bird is where that turkey came from and how it was raised. The most important step that is often overlooked is buying the right turkey.
When you buy a turkey from your local supermarket, there’s a 99% chance that it came from a factory farm. Factory farmed and conventionally raised turkeys are often injected with salt, water, and other preservatives during processing to extend shelf life and cut costs. The birds are raised in cramped, unsanitary conditions with no fresh air or sunlight. The primary focus of the producers are to promote maximum breast grown with minimal grow time, resulting in disproportioned birds that are often too meaty in the chest area to fly, reproduce or even stand up.
Turkeys that are raised better, taste better. Heritage turkeys are raised in smaller flocks, given access to the outdoors and allowed extra grow time. They provide more flavorful meat and are not injected with salt or preservatives. Turkeys that are pasture-raised with access to vegetation also have a higher omega-3 content than factory-farmed turkeys. Organic turkeys are only fed certified organic feed (that means no GMOs or antibiotics). If you know your farmer and they haven’t gone through all the hoops necessary to get that organic label but raise their birds to the highest standard, that’s fine too.
So when it comes time to buy your bird, go for fresh, organic, pasture-raised turkey. No, you won’t find one of these turkeys at the grocer right down the street, but if you put in just a quarter as much effort in finding the right turkey as you do preparing the turkey, I guarantee your guests are going to have a meal they’ll never forget. You will feel good about knowing where the food you’re serving came from and under what conditions it was raised. And that’s something we can all give thanks for.
How to find a free-range turkey
First, ask your local grocer if they have any organic, free-range birds available and you might get lucky. If not, I’ve rounded up some links that will help you find the perfect turkey for your upcoming feast.
Mary’s Turkeys: find a store near you selling their free-range, organic and heritage turkeys.
Whole Foods: Pick what turkey is best for you and reserve it. Order online and pick up in store.
Find out more about Heritage Turkeys: heritageturkeyfoundation.org