Consider Size and Quality Before You Buy Turkey.


The choices can seem overwhelming when you go to buy turkey. But picking the right turkey is important and should be giving as much thought as how you’ll cook it. The biggest questions for home cooks are what size and what quality turkey to get.

Size
Allow an average of 1 pound, 0.5 kilograms, per person, 1.5 pounds, 0.75kilograms, or more for leftovers. You might have a hard time finding a turkey to buy under 10 pounds, 5 kilograms, or over 25 pounds, 12.5 kilograms. Consider buying turkey breast for a small group or two medium sized birds for a large group, if your oven can handle it.

Ordering ahead to buy fresh turkey can help you get the size you want in a timely manner. Fresh turkeys should be brought home 2 days before cooking, remember it's spent time traveling and at the store, it can only stay good in the fridge at home so long. Store your fresh turkey at 40F or 4C in the bottom of the fridge, somewhere that any juices that leak won't cross contaminate other foods, especially foods meant to be eaten raw like fruits and veggies. Place the turkey on a platter to help catch any juices.

Frozen turkeys can be kept for up to one year. Learn about thawing a frozen turkey

Quality
I bring this up because it’s something I’ve overlooked before. For Canadian Thanksgiving in October 2008 I decided to buy the ‘loss leader’ turkey at the local grocery store. It was .79c Canadian per pound and the next cheapest was about $1.30 per pound. Now the sales ad might have said utility turkey, I don’t remember, but the sign in the store surly said ‘utility’ turkey. And not knowing what ‘utility’ meant I bought that cheap turkey.

So the holiday came and I unwrapped my Thanksgiving turkey. Low and behold it’s missing some skin over the breast and a whole wing! I felt ripped off.

So I looked closer at the package actually reading it this time. After all who has time to read every label in the grocery store? Sure enough, it clearly stated that ‘parts may be missing.’ On the positive side it was just me and my husband, no in-laws to impress and no relatives to joke about it for years to come, but you might not be so lucky.

Buying a cheap utility turkey is great for leftovers, bulk cooking and making broth but no so good to bring to the table whole and carve in front of the family.

Below is a short list of what the grading system means for us consumers. These are the Canadian grades but since turkey is internationally sold they are quite standard. US grading is not mandatory but all US turkeys are inspected for wholesomeness and labeled as such.

Grade Special: top quality; wing tips may be removed; well covered with fat; no prominent discoloration; no more than 3 short skin tears; no broken bones

Grade A: keel or breast bone may be slightly crooked; good distribution of fat ; limited discoloration and skin tears; no broken bones

Grade B: enough fat to prevent a dark red appearance; more than grade A but still very limited discoloration; may have one small, loose, not discolored cyst

Grade Utility: may have part or all of the wings removed, may have one leg including thigh removed or both drumsticks removed; some skin may be missing; sufficient fat to prevent dark red appearance; may have dislocated or broken wing or leg bones

Grades C and D exist but aren’t found in retail stores.

Buy the best turkey you can afford for a great dinner.

Want more information on turkey quality? Look at my guide to turkey labels here.

Or try my favorite turkey recipe here.


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