Know Your Turkey Choices This Holiday

For some, selecting the right turkey for a holiday meal is a mystery.

First you need to know exactly how many people you are going to feed.

“The general rule of thumb is to have 4 to 6 ounces of useable meat per person,” said Chef John Maxwell, host of a cooking segment on Down Home Virginia, Virginia Farm Bureau’s television program. “Generally, you can feed about three people to the pound.” If you are feeding a large party, two turkeys may be necessary.

Next: Fresh or frozen? First you must consider how long you will store the turkey before preparing it. “You must thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator for several days,” Maxwell said. “If you don’t let it thaw in the fridge, you are just asking for serious bacteria problems. If you don’t have the space in your fridge to thaw your bird, then buy fresh.” A rule of thumb is to use one day of thaw time for every 4 pounds of bird.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends purchasing a fresh turkey only when you will be cooking it within two days. Always check the sell-by date on any fresh or frozen turkey.

Is there a difference in taste? “Not if you are going to smoke or deep fry your turkey,” Maxwell said. “However, if you are going to roast your turkey, fresh is always best.”

Maxwell said one thing to remember when roasting a turkey is that the breast has a tendency to dry out before other parts like legs and wings are fully cooked. “One trick I use to keep moisture in the breast meat is to take bacon and slide the strips between the skin and breast meat,” he said. “That way when the bacon cooks, the fat will drip and moisten the meat.”

While most people buy turkeys at supermarkets, they also can be ordered from butcher shops, and some farms raise turkeys to sell directly to consumers.

Here are basic types of turkeys on the market:

  • fresh – must never have been stored at less than 26 degrees;
  • frozen – must never have been stored at more than 0 degrees;
  • kosher – complies with Jewish dietary laws;
  • natural – no self-basting fluids;
  • organic – raised on a certified organic diet with no antibiotics;
  • free-range – had access to the outdoors to graze;
  • pasture raised – exclusively raised by grazing;
  • heirloom – one of several turkey breeds with a smaller breast-to-body ratio;
  • self-basting – injected with fluids and fats for moisture.

via – Virginia Farm Bureau


  1. I don’t eat turkey, but we recently made one for the family and the bacon trick truly did keep it moist. Of course, we were lazy and put the bacon on top.

    The frying of such a large bird concerns me, which is the “in” thing to do around this area, because I worry about undercooked meat. Besides, frying is not healthy compared to baking – that goes for any kind of food.

  2. Go local, free range or pasture raised. The animals are humanely raised, and fresh when you get them. The sterioid store bought birds do not compare in taste and texture. It’s worth the extra $ if you can afford it.

  3. I am going to try the bacon, but another way is to butter the bird well and add about a cup or two of chicken stock to the pan when you start roasting, cover the bird lightly with foil. Baste every 1/2 hour and add more chicken stock as needed so that the pan does not dry out. Remove foil for last 1/2 hour if more browning is desired. Use the pan drippings for a great gravy. I have never had a dry bird in 32 years – thanks Mom – you taught me well.

    • Why not turn the turkey over halfway through the roasting process? Then the juices will run into the breast meat. Of course, you’ll want to carve up the turkey before presenting it then, cause it won’t look as pretty if you do it that way.

      • Bonnie Lentile says:

        I tried cooking with the turkey breast side down after seeing it done on Emeril (food network). All the juices go to the breast and make basting not necessary. If you want to show it with browned skin, just flip the bird over before it’s done and let the skin brown. I always carve mine so no one ever knows I cooked it upside down. I also put celery, carrots, and halved apples in the cavity to add moisuture.