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Selecting Your Turkey

How to Select the Right Turkey for your Family or Group:

Size Plan on about 3/4 pound per person (raw weight in the package) for generous servings with not very much left over. If you like to have more leftovers, plan on 1 to 1.5 lbs. per person. (Tip: the raw weight of the turkey is nearly always on the tag attached to the top of the package.)

Grade Nearly all turkeys in the U.S. are inspected by the USDA for wholesomeness and bear this agency's inspection seal on the label. Another seal almost always on the label is the USDA Grade A shield. This means the turkey is free from pinfeathers, broken bones, and from large bruises, cuts, and skin tears. If the Grade A shield is not on the label, the turkey is safe and wholesome, but may have less than optimum appearance. If you're showing off your turkey and carving it on the table, you'll want to be sure it's Grade A.

Hen vs. Tom Turkey Contrary to "old wives tales", the only difference is the size. Hens are under 16 pounds and toms are over 16 lbs. They are equally tender, moist, and delicious. Either will be a young turkey, just a few weeks old at the time of processing.

Pre-Basted vs. All Natural
Turkey This decision is merely personal preference. Most people prefer the convenience and extra tenderness and juiciness of a pre-basted turkey. Pre-basted turkeys will have a statement on the label such as "5.5% Natural Turkey Broth and Seasonings Added Deep Inside...". Most pre-basted turkeys are infused with natural turkey broth, and have no added fats, oils, sugars, and no MSG. Make sure yours is at least a "no added sugar", of course.

Some people prefer a "natural" product with no additives. Either way it will be delicious, but the "natural" turkey will tend to be drier. All-natural turkeys have been only minimally processed and have no added ingredients. The label will say so. This doesn't mean you can't add your own butter/seasoned butter pockets to the bird!

Pop-Up Timers Don't want to deal with meat thermometers (or don't have one?) Buy a turkey with a pop-up Timer. This takes the guesswork out of cooking times. When the center stem pops up, your turkey is done. What could be easier?

Frozen vs. Refrigerated Most people will never be able to tell the difference, although some believe a refrigerated turkey is a little more tender and juicy. Both are high quality. Usually this decision will be made based on convenience. If you're in a hurry and don't have a couple of days to thaw a frozen bird you may want to buy a refrigerated one.

When you buy a refrigerated turkey get it into your home refrigerator as soon as possible. And cook it right away within a couple of days. If something comes up and you can't cook your refrigerated turkey as planned, freeze it and save it for another time.

Frozen turkeys can be held in your freezer at 0° F for over a year with no noticeable loss in quality. Sometimes this is an advantage because you can buy the turkey in advance whenever it is most convenient or when turkeys are on sale.

Smoked Turkeys For a special, convenient whole turkey treat, try serving a pre-cooked hickory smoked turkey. Simply thaw, heat, slice, and serve. Or since it comes already pre-cooked, just thaw and serve cold. (Tip: Smoked turkeys are particularly good for picnicking and camping. They are safe to store on ice in a cooler, and are easy and delicious to prepare. Try heating it in a dutch oven or reflector oven. Delicious!!)

Bone-In Breasts If you like traditional roast turkey, but the whole bird is too much (or if you're not a dark meat fan), try a bone-in breast. These normally weigh 4-8 pounds, can be roasted in 1.5 to 3 hours, and can be served the same way as a whole turkey. Buy one with a pop-up timer to make roasting even easier. (Tip: If you're serving a very large group or a group that has a preference for white meat, consider roasting a breast along with your whole turkey!)


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