Chew on these turkey facts, and you'll be able to choose the best
turkey for your smoker or bbq grill. Whole turkeys are offered in so
many different ways that picking one out can be confusing, unless you
understand the labeling terms.
Types of Turkeys
- Basted or Self basting turkeys
Bone-in turkeys, injected or marinated with a flavoring solution. The
solution can contain butter, edible fats, stock or broth, water, spices,
flavor enhancers and other substances, up to a maximum of 3% of the
pre-processed weight. Boneless turkey can contain added baste solution
of up to 8% of the pre-processed weight.
- Enhanced turkeys
The same as self-basting turkeys.
- Free range turkeys
This only guarantees that the turkey had access to the outdoors.
This access is required to be available for only a short time each day.
It doesn't mean that the turkey spent all day out in the weeds pecking
for bugs. Mainly for marketing/pricing purposes.
- Fresh turkeys
These have never been chilled to below 26°F. According to the NTF
(National Turkey Federation) turkey freezes when its temperature nears
26°F, and not at 32°F as does water.
- Frozen turkeys
Turkeys that are frozen to 0°F or below. Freezing ruptures tissue cells,
causing loss of moisture and flavor. Cooked frozen turkeys will be
- Halal and Zabiah Halal turkeys
Handled according to Islamic law, under Islamic authority. Plants processing these turkeys must be federally inspected.
- Heirloom turkeys
Not a regulated label, these are old-time breeds of turkey, usually
grown free range on small farms. These breeds have not been selectively
bred for the huge breasts that commercial turkeys have, so they usually
have more dark meat than white...for the simple reason that the breasts
- Hen turkeys
Labeling the sex of a turkey is optional and not required. It's only an
indication of size. Hens are smaller than toms, typically weighing from 8
to 16 pounds.
- Heritage turkeys
A term for "Standard" turkeys, comprised of eight varieties recognized
by the American Poultry Association in the 19th century. These birds
usually have much better flavor than commercial white turkeys.
- Kosher turkeys
Antibiotic free, grain fed turkeys that are allowed to roam free. These
are prepared and inspected under Rabbinical supervision. Salted then and
rinsed thoroughly, the process adds water and weight to the birds.
- Minimally processed turkeys
Turkeys that have not been fundamentally altered from the raw product.
- Natural turkeys
Minimally processed turkeys that have no added artificial ingredients or colorings.
- Not previously frozen turkeys
Also called hard-chilled or deep-chilled turkeys. They have been cooled to below 26°F, but not below 0°F.
- Organic turkeys
This labeling has nothing to do with the quality of the turkeys. It's
concern is regarding feed quality and source and the genetic makeup of
the birds. No hormones or antibiotics are allowed. However, hormones
are not allowed in any U.S. poultry.
- Tom turkeys
This labeling is not required by law. Tom turkeys usually weigh from 16 to 32 pounds.
- Young turkeys
Any turkey, (tom or hen) that is less than 8 months old. Most turkeys reach market weight at 4 to 5 months.
Turkey Facts and Decisions
Which turkey is the one for you? The best are fresh, natural turkeys.
My personal favorites are the kosher turkeys and good quality heritage
or heirloom turkeys. They are more expensive, but if you can afford
them, they are worth the extra cost. The heritage/heirloom birds are
usually raised the old fashioned way, and have great flavor.
If you can, go with a natural turkey, whether frozen or fresh. Since
these haven't been pumped full of a salty solution, you are in control
of the final flavor of the smoked or barbecued bird. The taste won't be
as good as the kosher and heritage/heirloom varieties, but with good
brine and turkey rub they turn out pretty darned good.
If you smoke a self-basting turkey, there's no reason to brine it...it's
already filled to the brim with liquid and flavorings. But you can
season it inside and out with a good turkey dry rub, which will improve
the quality quite a bit. Stuff the inside with lots of fresh herbs and
aromatics (onions, celery etc.) for more flavor.
And don't forget to remove that little pop-up "It's Done!" device that's
jabbed in many turkey breasts. It's pretty much useless. Use a good
digital thermometer instead. Now you have all the turkey facts at hand. Go get a good one!
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