10 tips for buying the perfect turkey this Thanksgiving

Cooking a turkey can be daunting; shopping for one definitely shouldn’t be.

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How to buy a Thanksgiving turkey
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How to buy a Thanksgiving turkey

Don’t be afraid to buy frozen

There’s no real quality difference between fresh and frozen, says Norma Farrell, a consumer-education specialist at the National Turkey Federation, since the latter are flash-frozen after processing to preserve them. “Fresh” turkeys can be many days old by the time you buy them—and can cost up to 50 percent more.

Go generic

Store brands are cheaper than well-known ones, and both birds may even have come from the same place. One of the main differences: Some brands use a unique seasoning on theirs. Check the ingredients to see if it’s something you might like. Check out this step-by-step guide for how to cook a turkey.

Check the shape

Look for a turkey with a well-rounded breast—it’s juicier. Beware of flat spots, which can indicate thawing and refreezing. This raises the risk of food-borne illness.

Size matters 

Smaller turkeys tend to be more tender. Consider cooking two small birds instead of one larger one. Turkey come out dry? Here’s how to fix that, plus 9 other common Thanksgiving cooking goofs.

Stay away from mega-birds

If you’re having lots of people over, it might seem counter-productive to get two smaller turkeys instead of just one huge one. But Food & Wine advises that birds over 18-20 pounds are much more likely to have been treated with chemicals. Plus, massive birds also take quite a bit longer to thaw and cook, and tend to cook less evenly.

Buy it early

Purchase your turkey far enough in advance to allow it to thaw properly: One day for every five pounds, according to the Food Network. But try to avoid shopping on the worst day of the year to buy your Thanksgiving groceries.

Use this weight formula

For a larger party (and therefore a larger bird), aim for one pound per person. For a small party and smaller turkey, figure one and a half pounds for each person. Keep in mind that smaller birds will have smaller meat-to-bone ratios. Check out some more simple tips for maintaining your sanity while hosting Thanksgiving.

Basted or self-basting? 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a bird labeled “basted” or “self-basted” has been “injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock or water plus spices, flavor enhancers and other approved substances.” This can add flavor and moisture to your turkey. If you prefer to do things yourself, avoid those basted labels.

Tailor to your guests’ tastes 

Do you have guests coming that are particular about their turkey? If most or all of the people you’re feeding prefer white meat, consider buying an extra bone-in turkey breast in addition to (or even instead of, if your guests really can’t abide dark meat) a regular turkey. The same goes for lovers of dark meat: Get a smaller turkey and an extra drumstick or two. If you do end up with more than your guests can finish, try one of these delicious recipes for turkey leftovers.

Consider free-range 

If you see “free-range,” “free-roaming,” or “cage-free,” this means that the turkeys had access to the outdoors and could move around in a yard. These turkeys tend to be more muscular, and therefore have more flavorful, and often leaner, meat. This shows in the price, but the better flavor is worth it for some consumers. But keep in mind that, despite what many people think, “free range” is not the same as organic and doesn’t necessarily mean that the bird was raised without growth hormones. Watch out for these common turkey myths that could ruin your Thanksgiving.

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