• Self-basting turkeys are a new and rather scary development in the already horrifying factory-farm meat world. These birds are injected with a saline solution and vegetable oils to tenderize their Pamela Anderson breasts. We all know there's no such thing as a free lunch; the ingredient list can contain unknowns like emulsifiers and artificial flavors and these birds can taste buttery and spongy.
• Kosher turkeys are slaughtered and processed according to rabbinic laws and are brined in salt. Aside from the obvious religious aspect, these birds usually taste very good without any further preparation, but
Price: $2 - $4.50/pound
Producer: Empire Kosher
• Free-range turkeys are technically allowed to roam outdoors, which some believe makes the meat taste better. While the idea of a range where turkeys can roam free is nice, a free range label may just mean that the Turkey has access to a door outside and there’s no guarantee he actually trotted out for a jaunt. If it’s important that your Tom had a range to roam, look for the word “pastured” on the label. "Free-range" also does not indicate if the bird was raised without antibiotics or hormones.
Prices: $1.50 - $4.00/lb.
Producer: Polyface Farms
• Organic turkeys eat only organic feed, which by law contains no genetically modified grains, pesticides or herbicides, or animal by-products. They are also free-range, and raised without the use of antibiotics or growth-hormones. Their taste varies, although Eberly's is said to be one of the best.
Prices: $3.50 - $4.50/pound
• Natural turkeys are minimally processed and have no artificial ingredients, preservatives, or coloring added.
Price: $1 - $2/pound
Producer: Bell & Evans
• Heritage turkeys are breeds that were originally raised on farms before large commercial meat processing plants began to dominate the turkey industry. In the last several years, Heritage breeds such as Jersey Buff, Bourbon Red, Black Spanish, and Narragansett have made a comeback due to the efforts of small family farms, and the online organizations that sell the birds (Local Harvest and Heritage Foods USA.) The flavor is said to be superior, and the meat is leaner. Because they have lower fat content, they don’t have to cook as long. If your budget allows it, these are the birds to try.
Slow Foods USA’s state by state guide to heritage purveyors:
Price: $5 - $9/pound plus shipping
Producers (distributors): Local Harvest, Heritage Foods USA