Tip: How to Read Turkey Labels

part of a Serious Thanksgiving

Ed wrote earlier this morning:

"There seems to be more and more choices every year, and I don't know about you, but I think there's a conspiracy afoot to befuddle and confuse us with these choices.

Just consider what we are confronted with: fresh, frozen, frozen basted, free-range, free-roaming, all-natural, heritage fresh, heritage frozen, organic, wild, kosher fresh, kosher frozen. It's mind-boggling."

To help you navigate your way through the turkeys, we've put together a brief guide to reading turkey labels.

  • Fresh: Any turkey labeled "fresh" has never been cooled to a temperature lower than 26°F, which is the point that turkey meat begins to freeze. A fresh turkey should be cooked no later than 2 days after it is purchased or by the "use by date" on the label, otherwise it must be frozen until it is ready to use. You may also find "fresh" replaced with the "refrigerated."
  • Frozen: A turkey cooled to a temperature of 0°F or below via a flash freezing process, ensuring that when the turkey is defrosted it will be at the same level of freshness as the day it was originally frozen.
  • Natural: Turkeys that have limited processing with no artificial ingredients, solutions, or colors added. Often but not necessarily free-range.
  • Organic: The birds have been raised without any antibiotics or animal by-products in their feed.
  • Heritage: These are free-range, small farm, pure breed birds that typically have superior flavor, texture and tenderness. Popular breeds include: Jersey Buff, Bourbon Red, Black Spanish, and Narragansett. See also the official definition from the American Livestock Conservancy.
  • Kosher: A kosher turkey must be raised and processed with strict guidelines under rabbinical supervision. The turkeys are free-range birds that are fed only grain, are never given any antibiotics, and are individually inspected. When they are processed, the turkeys are soaked in a salty brine solution.
  • Basted, Self-Basting, or Enhanced: A turkey injected with various ingredients, such as oil, juices, and seasonings, before it is frozen. When the turkey is roasted, the added ingredients keep the meat moist and tender as well as provide extra flavor.