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Eat and Drink

Types of turkey: What bird are you getting for Thanksgiving?

Once the calendar turns to November, turkey is on a lot of people's minds. Also on people's minds: what kind of turkey to buy.

We told you how to cook your Thanksgiving bird, now we'll help you navigate all the different types of birds you can buy (and tell you where to buy them).

Consider how the bird was raised

Before deciding what type of turkey you want
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ Jessica Lucia

Before deciding what type of turkey you want to buy for Thanksgiving, first consider how it was raised. From what it's fed to where and how it lives is information that you have a right to know and that should come into consideration when buying animal protein. Here are some terms to understand.

Pasture-raised: Animals roam freely (in a contained, rotating area) outdoors. Eat naturally occurring plants and bugs in addition to supplemental feed.

Free-range: Animals are given space to roam, but are not necessarily completely outdoors. How much space they have is not uniform but according to the USDA free-range means animals are provided shelter in a building, room or area with continuous access to the outdoors, which may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting or some other material.

Cage-free: Turkeys are too large to be kept in cages, but when it comes to other poultry, according to the USDA cage-free means animals freely roam a building, room or enclosed area.

Organic: To be certified organic, the way something is grown must meet certain approved methods. That generally means animals are humanely-raised, allowed to roam free and are not given antibiotics or hormones.

Hormone free, Antibiotic free: This term means the animals have never been given hormones or antibiotics, but federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids in poultry, pork or goats, so the term is mostly important when buying beef.

Kosher: Kosher rule dictates when an animal is slaughtered, great pains are taken to ensure the animal does not suffer. Kosher turkeys are salted (brined) as well.

Vegetarian-fed: This means the animals are only fed grains, no animal by-products.

Broad Breasted White turkey

The most common Thanksgiving turkey is the Broad
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ WFIU Public Radio

The most common Thanksgiving turkey is the Broad Breasted White, a domesticated turkey that's bred to have larger breasts (ie: white meat). The turkey is a descendent of the Broad Breasted Bronze, also pictured, which has bigger breasts as well. The Bronze was the most common turkey until around the 1960s, when producers decided white feathers left a more desirable appearance after being plucked, according to the Livestock Conservancy.

"The Broad Breasted White is the traditional Rockwellian Thanksgiving turkey," said Ben Turley, an owner of The Meat Hook butcher shop in Williamsburg, which is taking orders for the birds now. "We like to stock products that harken back to stuff we liked as kids."

At the Meat Hook the turkeys are fully raised on pasture, which means they are outside during the day and get at least 25% of their food from the earth (bugs, grass, worms, etc.) They are sheltered at night and their enclosures are moved every few days to a new area with untrampled grass.

Where to buy

This type of turkey is available everywhere, but here is where we suggest you shop for a turkey this Thanksgiving.

The Meat Hook,the-meathook.com. $6.99 per pound. Features: No antibiotics, hormones. Never frozen. Pasture-raised.

Fairway, fairwaymarket.com. Wide range of turkeys, from organic to kosher to standard, $1.99 - $3.99

Dickson's Farmstand Meats, dicksonsfarmstand.com. $6.75 per pound. Features: Cage free, barn-raised. No hormones or antibiotics. Never frozen.

Fleisher's,fleishers.com. $7.99 per pound. Features: Pasture-raised. No hormones or antibiotics. Certified organic.

Whole Foods, wholefoodsmarket.com. Availability and pricing depends on your store. At Whole Foods Brooklyn: $3.99 per pound. Features: Certified organic. Free-range.

Heritage turkey

Heritage breed turkeys more closely resemble wild turkeys
Photo Credit: FLICKR/ turkzilla

Heritage breed turkeys more closely resemble wild turkeys in behavior as their biology has not been altered in order to breed for human consumption.

They are rare and each type of heritage breed has a distinct flavor, size and feathered-appearance. Perhaps you've heard of Bourbon Reds or Narragansetts? They are generally larger than conventional turkeys, and have a more pronounced flavor. Some have a gamey, or rich, taste. They are almost always raised on pasture or are at least free-range.

Heritage breeds appeal to foodies who want something different or more humane. They also appeal to food history lovers. Some breeds are 200 years old.

Where to buy

Heritage Foods USA, heritagefoodsusa.com. The heritage turkeys from Heritage Foods sell out quickly, but if you're having a big party and want a 22-25 pound bird, you can still order one for $244! Raised by Frank Reese, a longtime heritage breed farmer and activist for heritage bird conservation.

Fairway, turkey.fairwaymarket.com. The heritage turkeys are also raised by Frank Reese. $9.99 per pound.

Lobel's of New York, lobels.com. This classic NY butcher sells all-natural Thanksgiving turkeys each year that are a cross of heritage breeds. They do have fuller breasts like the Broad Breasted White. Features: free-range. No antibiotics or hormones. 12-14 pound bird is $102.98 and a 14-16 pound bird is $116.98.

Whole Foods, wholefoodsmarket.com. Availability and pricing depends on your store, but Whole Foods in Brooklyn has a free-range hybrid breed heirloom turkey for $4.99 per pound.

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