The turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving dinner. Having a turkey on the dinner table is surely something to be thankful for. But the sad truth is that the quality of turkey meat today is not the same as it was in the past.
Back then, turkeys were hunted from the wild or were raised in backyards and farms. These turkeys fed on what they naturally eat. Nowadays, turkeys are mostly factory-farmed. These birds live in unhealthy, poor conditions as they are raised in crowded and enclosed compartments. They are fed fodder which contains high amounts of boosters that hasten their growth.
The good news is you can still serve your family a healthy Thanksgiving turkey and the facts below will help you with that.
The real deal with “fresh” turkey
Did you know that "fresh turkey" is not really fresh? Those that are labeled “fresh” are actually flash-frozen turkey.
Flash-freezing is a process where the turkey is frozen at a very quick rate in temperatures below zero degrees right after being slaughtered. The meat is kept intact because it freezes before the water in them forms ice crystals.
Turkey that is "truly fresh" is that which has been slaughtered one to three days before it is roasted. Turkey meat does not spoil until after three days, so these are often all-natural.
If this is the type of turkey that you want, you have to place your order at least a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. This way, your supplier will be able to get you the turkey in the size you prefer.
What about "frozen” turkey?
“Frozen turkey” is continually stored in temperatures below zero degrees up to three years. While most brands declare a shelf life of two to three years, it is best to buy one that is within its first year of storage.
A frozen turkey can be sold thawed. These are those that have a sticker that says "previously frozen". If you do not have time to thaw the bird before roasting or if you missed ordering fresh turkey on time, a frozen turkey will be best for you.
Now here is the deal: fresh turkey is not necessarily healthier than frozen turkey.
What makes your Thanksgiving turkey healthy is more about what is in it. Labels on the turkey’s tag will help you with this.
Understanding common turkey labelsUnderstanding labels on the turkey's tag will help you find out if a turkey is good for you or not. Here are labels you will commonly find and what they mean:
- All-natural - The meat does not contain any artificial additives and preservatives.
- Brined - Also called "self-basting". The meat is injected with salt and oils to enhance flavor. Along with the flavor-enhancing solution, the meat may also have preservatives.
- Kosher turkey - Has been slaughtered under rabbinical regulations. Kosher turkey is brined in Kosher salt.
- USDA Inspected - Must be found on the packaging of your turkey as inspection is required by law. The sticker tells you that the quality of the meat has met USDA standards for wholesomeness.
USDA Grade - Tells you the quality of the meat. Most of the ones you will find at supermarkets are "graded A", meaning:
- the meat to fat ratio is at a healthy range
- the bird has a healthy bone structure
- the skin and the meat are free from cuts
- the bird has a symmetrical form and does not exhibit abnormalities.
- USDA Organic - According to USDA regulations the turkey was raised in a farm with free-range access, was subject to antibiotic-free or booster-free diet and was slaughtered in the most humane process.
All the information mentioned above are some of the basic things to remember when buying your Thanksgiving turkey. However, your job does not end there. You also need to be mindful of serving healthy portions as well. The ideal serving portion is at ¾ to one pound of uncooked turkey per person.
Also, cooking your turkey well does not promise lasting wholesomeness. If the Thanksgiving turkey is too big to be consumed in one sitting, carve and serve only a portion that’s enough for the whole family. Store the remaining turkey in a vacuum-sealed container to preserve its freshness.
Now, are you ready to whip up the best Thanksgiving turkey recipe? Have an awesome Thanksgiving dinner!