Choosing the Best Turkey for Thanksgiving and the Holidays
Heritage breeds are available from local farms like Northwind Farms in Tivoli or Turkana Farms in Germantown — or pick the best brand at the market
Soon after moving to the Hudson Valley, my husband and I gutted our kitchen and, in a burst of unmerited optimism that the renovation would go smoothly, invited guests from far-flung parts for Thanksgiving. A week before they were due to arrive, with the stove not yet hooked up, a storm knocked the power out for five days, adding to the chaos. We pictured huddling with our friends in a cold, dark, house. But the power came back on in the nick of time and we decided to wing it.
One problem: Getting a turkey at the last minute. We wound up settling for a half-defrosted supermarket bird, injected with water and additives and implanted with a plastic pop-up gizmo. It turned out have such a peculiar texture and taste, nobody wanted to eat it, and was awful enough that we took it back to the store for a refund the next day.
That was 20 years ago, and there have been no more over-processed turkeys in our house. These days, flavorful, pasture-raised, heritage birds are the rage among those who can afford the extra bucks. The best broad-breasted white turkeys I’ve tasted have come from Northwind Farms in Tivoli, where they now raise heritage Bronze birds, too. Even those traditional turkeys cost a little more than their supermarket counterparts, but I think it’s worth it, especially on a feast day.
Turkana Farms, a small farm in Germantown run by Peter Davies and Mark Scherzer, also offers pasture-raised heritage turkeys that are fed organic grain. Heritage turkeys, Davies says, usually weigh from 12 to 14 pounds — the max is around 17 pounds — so for a big gathering you’d probably need two. At around $10 a pound, they’re expensive.
Unless you’re a dedicated foodie (or a member of the one percent) chances are you’ll buy a standard brand — and there are perfectly acceptable ones to be had. Fresh turkeys are best (freezing them breaks down tissue, which dries them out). Fresh, free-range turkeys from Bell & Evans and Eberly rated highest in a test conducted by Epicurious, with the more expensive Murray’s coming in third. Adams Fairacre Farms offers all fresh turkeys: their own natural brand from a Pennsylvania farm ($1.89 a pound); Bell & Evans ($2.89); Jaindl ($2.69); or free-roaming turkeys from Campanelli Farms ($2.69 a pound). (Free range in this context often means standing in a barn all day, so don’t imagine these birds are living the life of Riley like the ones at Northwind and Turkana.) If you can afford a pasture-raised bird, there’s probably still time to order one. Otherwise, just avoid anything “enhanced.”
More on Turkana and other local farms in future blogs.