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Thanksgiving Tip: How to Buy a Bird

Buying a turkey can be a daunting task: it should be big enough to feed a crowd, but have plenty of meat for leftovers. It also has to fit inside your oven, deep fryer, or brining vessel. Then there's the question of fresh versus frozen? No worries, I'm here to help! To learn how to order the turkey that's right for you,


  1. Figure out how much you'll need. For each guest you will need about one and half pounds of turkey. For 8 people, get a 12-14 pound turkey. For 10 people, a 15-16 pound bird will do. For 12 people, an 18-20 pound turkey is necessary. For 14 people, get a 21-22 pounder. A 24-pounder will feed 16 people. For a group larger than 16, you'll need more than one turkey.
  2. Be familiar with the terms used to describe turkeys:
    • Self-Basting turkeys are injected with additives like water, broth, and butter.
    • Fresh turkeys are birds that have not been cooled below 26°F.
    • Frozen birds are stored at or below zero degrees.
    • Free-Range means the bird is not raised in a cage and is permitted to graze on grass and grains.
    • Organic turkeys are raised free range without the use of additives or pesticides.They are fed an organic diet.
    • Kosher turkeys are farmed according to the Jewish dietary customs and are treated with a salting process after slaughter. Because of this technique, you should not brine a kosher bird.
    • Heritage birds are farmed like they were before the 1920s, meaning they have a slower growth rate, richer flavor, and more dark meat.
    • Wild birds are the most similar bird to what the Pilgrims ate. They have lots of dark meat and little fat.
  3. When purchasing a frozen turkey look for the bird with the latest sell-by date because that means it's the freshest. Avoid leaky or sticky packaging and never buy a bird with a bad smell. Buy several days before Thanksgiving to allow time for defrosting.
  4. Fresh turkeys keep in the fridge for only two days, so order now and pick up later.
  5. If you are worried about the turkey fitting in your oven, measure it before ordering the bird. However, most standard ovens can hold a 25-pound turkey.
  6. Birds can be ordered and purchased from Whole Foods, Williams Sonoma, and Heritage Foods.

Have you ordered your turkey yet? What kind do you plan on making?


Join The Conversation
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
i always laugh at my mom when she brings home the turkey cause the first thing is that she'll get one for free because of the offers at the store if you spend a certain amount you can get one for free. then i always think that it's funny cause she always gets one that's too big since she assumes that my brothers will eat more than they do. it's just really funny all around :)
DCStar DCStar 8 years
I've ordered a Bourbon Red and I cannot wait! Heritage Turkeys are happy turkeys :)
bluebellknoll bluebellknoll 8 years
I've heard that you shouldn't buy a turkey under 10 lbs because it won't have much meat on it. My mom usually cooks an 18 lb turkey....for 3 people! hahaha Lots of leftovers. :)
Lindaloo52 Lindaloo52 8 years
Trader Joes for us, just have to make sure we get a fresh one, cannot order early! Organic and range free for the first time!
Beth-W-MI Beth-W-MI 8 years
What about tom vs hen? I never know what the difference is in the meat...
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