How to Choose, Buy and Bake a Turkey in the U.S. and Europe
The USDA gives useful facts about about turkey hygiene and cooking, all based on the assumption that you’re cooking frozen turkey. If you live in the U.S., you’ll most likely be cooking a frozen turkey, so this information is spot-on.
Julia Child’s The Way to Cook still rates top on my list for detailed, illustrated explanations of how to prepare and cook a turkey and lots of other tips.
If you live in Western Europe, there are plenty of free-range, grain-fed turkeys. I order mine months ahead from a farmer near me, since in Europe they only eat turkey at Christmas and they won’t be fattened otherwise.
In Paris, in the 7th and 16th arrondissements in particular, many butchers have fattened turkeys for Thanksgiving, and they are often free range and natural. One of the most prized origins in France is dinde de Bresse, which of course comes from Bresse and is free range. In Geneva, you can buy these, stuffed or unstuffed, at La Boucherie Molard across from the Globus during the Thanksgiving period.
If you live in other cities in Western Europe, you may not have a lot of choice. I’ve had a number of bad experiences ordering turkeys through the butchers in the provinces. They are never sure whether they’ll actually receive a fattened turkey or a scrawny thing which was intended to be fat for Christmas. If you live in the country, however, try and find a turkey farmer near you. They will invariably be cheaper and often better.
Free-range, organic turkeys will never weigh as much as the supermarket variety, but the ratio of meat to bone is greater. It’s amazing how much meat there is on a 9 or 10 lb. turkey.
I have never tasted Mary’s Turkey in California, but they sound appetizing. Mary certainly takes her poultry seriously. They are free-range, vegetarian-fed, gluten-free, and free of all antibiotics, preservatives and hormones. They are also USDA-certified organic. You can order them online, or find a store near you that sells them.
Click here to watch an entertaining but helpful video about the dangers of frying turkeys.
Chowhound has a great discussion board about whether free-range, heritage turkeys are worth the price. I would always vote for free-range and natural. They have more meat and less bone, probably due to the fact that they’ve not been gorged with antibiotics, steroids and we probably don’t want to know what else. In addition, they don’t taste like meal.
The wild turkey population is growing in much of the U.S., so I’m sure many are tempted to shoot a big one for Thanksgiving. That’s all fine, but keep in mind: cooking a wild turkey is an entirely different bag of worms. If they are large, they risk tasting gamy. Here is some good common-sense advice for preparing and cooking them.
“Truth About Turkey” gives an excellent layman’s explanation about how the various kinds of turkey in the U.S. are raised.
“Have a Slow Food Thanksgiving” gives a list and directories of where to buy heritage, organic and free-range turkeys in the U.S.
Whenever possible, buy directly from a local farmer. When buying fresh turkey, always ask about the “use by” date. It will depend on packaging as well as when the turkey has been slaughtered. If bought fresh and unpackaged, The New York Times and Seattle Times suggest you can keep it one or two days maximum in the refrigerator, so plan your pick-up time carefully.
- An Ode to Thanksgiving: A Poem by Mark Manning
- Thanksgiving 101: How to Fry a Turkey
- How Far in Advance Can I Buy a Fresh Turkey?
- Tips on turkey labels