Turkeys are often thought of as seasonal and symbolic birds, unlike chicken, which is the all-around favorite choice in poultry. These larger birds are low in fat and high in protein and B vitamins. As they have gained in demand, producers are packing and processing turkeys in many different ways.
Turkeys are graded on quality and age, regardless of gender. Toms are always larger than hens at any level of maturity. “Grade A” is the best.
Fryer/Roaster – Weighing in at around 8 pounds or less, smaller turkeys are more expensive and excellent for roasting, especially for one or two people. The birds are processed at 16 weeks of age.
Young Roaster – The majority of roasting birds are in this category. They are no older than 8 months and weigh up to 24 pounds.
Yearling – Year-old birds are not as tender. Like mature birds, they are often cooked in broths and stews.
Mature – Old turkeys (15 months or older) are not recommended for roasting.
Organic and heritage turkeys are gaining popularity, but are more expensive than commercially-raised birds. Other specially-produced birds include kosher, free-range, and smoked.
Always check the package for tears or pinpoint leakage. Pinch the wrapping on frozen birds to feel for ice crystals, which is an indication of thawing and refreezing.
If a label states the bird is “hard-chilled,” treat it as if fresh. Chilling means it has been stored at a temperature no higher than 26 degrees, but has never been frozen.
Processed turkey products may be a blend of parts and will be higher in fat content than all-white cuts.
White meat is the most healthful part of the bird. Dark meat is higher in fat and calories.
Frozen turkeys can be kept up a year, but once thawed should be cooked before re-freezing. The birds are usually on sale in late November, which is a good time to purchase several if you have freezer space.
A frozen turkey will require about 24 hours for each 4 pounds to thaw. Refrigerate intact in the original wrapper. Place breast side up in a leak-proof container
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