Turkey Facts

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.

Turkey Facts

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 drier.
  • 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 are smaller.
  • 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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