We don't all have a gourmet grocer in town where we can easily snag an organic, free-range or heritage turkey for our holiday feast. For a lot of people, it's either an industrially raised supermarket turkey or nothing. But hope can come ... through the internet. There are a few producers with online marketplaces who can ship you a freshly processed top-notch bird that will truly earn its place at the center of the table.
Here's how they stacked up.
Of course, these premium turkeys come at a price. Because they're not industrially farmed, they're more expensive to produce. Most hover at around $6 per pound, with shipping adding an extra $15 to $50. And keep in mind these aren't a year-round product. There's a limited number available, so you'll need to pre-order your turkey as soon as possible before the size you want is sold out. Don't worry — you won't have to hang onto it for weeks. The turkeys are usually shipped via UPS or FedEx the week of Thanksgiving.
I tested out four mail-order turkeys (all free of any additives) to see if they're worth the extra effort and price tag. I cooked them all the same way (at 350°F on a roasting rack with just a few cups of broth poured into the roasting pan for basting). I used no herbs or seasonings, so that each turkey's natural flavor could come through.
See the steps: How To Cook a Turkey: The Simplest, Easiest Method
Why only four turkeys? They're surprisingly hard to get too far in advance of Thanksgiving. Which is bad for me and my reporting, but good for you because it means you're getting the freshest birds possible!
This online gourmet retailer specializes in the finer things, like several varieties of duck breast, truffles, and caviar, and it's no slouch when it comes to turkeys, either. In addition to offering an organic turkey, they also have a heritage breed and wild turkeys.
I opted for organic, to keep the playing field level, which meant the breed would be a Broad-Breasted White. The turkeys are fed an organic, vegetarian diet of non-GMO corn and soy. They're given no animal byproducts, no antibiotics, and no growth hormones.
The 16-pound bird arrived plump and beautiful. The skin didn't get as burnished and brown as some of the others, but it still crisped nicely. The flavor throughout was rich and deep, with a "classic turkey" flavor. The majority of my taste testers preferred this one over all the others. If you love the distinct flavor of turkey, this is the one to get.
As for cost, it's on par with the others, about $6.40 per pound. A 12- to 14-pound turkey will cost $83.99 and shipping is an extra $38.95.
This New Jersey-based meat purveyor got its start with "exotic" meats like ostrich and bison, but now sells a wide variety of meats including turkey. The common denominator is that they're all sourced from family farms that use sustainable practices. As for the turkeys, they're all Nicholas breeds, which a Sonoma county poultry breeder introduced in the 1950s. The turkeys are raised on small farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania where, according to the company, they're free-roaming and fed a vegetarian diet of corn, rye, oats, alfalfa, and soybean meal. Antibiotics, hormones, and steroids are never used.
My 13-pound turkey came sealed in a simple clear bag; the only adornment was a weight label from the farm that raised and processed the bird. The minimal packaging felt very home-grown and farm-direct, which was kind of comforting. I looked up the farm, Goffle Road Poultry, and got a glimpse into a third-generation family business that's clearly beloved by locals.
The turkey cooked up beautifully, the skin perfectly browned and the meat tender. Compared to the other turkeys, this one had a distinct brightness of flavor, which almost half my tasters preferred to the richness of the others.
At $4.30 per pound, this is by far the cheapest turkey in the bunch. The shipping is via UPS ground for about $35. But if you're west of Ohio you'll have to opt for overnight shipping, which can cost more than the turkey itself.
You've likely heard of Organic Valley, the co-op of Midwestern family farmers who produce organic dairy products. Well, Organic Prairie is the meat division, producing everything from pork sausages and grass-fed beef to chicken and turkeys. All of the whole turkeys are Broad Breasted Whites and come from a single Organic Prairie farmer in Iowa. According to the site, they're given an all-organic diet, are able to range outside, and are never given antibiotics or synthetic hormones.
My turkey was about 16 pounds and looked perfect — except it was missing one wing tip (I didn't miss it). The skin cooked up deep golden and crisp, and the meat was super juicy. I had to check the package to make sure it hadn't been injected with a basting solution. It hadn't! It was just naturally full of juice. Flavor-wise, this was the mildest of the bunch, almost like a cross between chicken and turkey. Think of it as the all-around crowd-pleaser.
There's no variety size-wise. The turkeys are all in the 13- to 16-pound range and cost $88.49. Shipping is a flat $15.95, which is a bargain. And it's free if your order reaches $200.
This small turkey farm in Sonoma, California, has been going strong for more than 50 years. It's a favorite among Northern Californians, where lucky locals can pick up their fresh, pre-brined or smoked turkeys right from the farm's retail store. They're clearly proud of what they do and how they do it, posting Facebook videos of the free-range flock of Broad Breasted Whites as they grow from chicks to full-fledged adults. (They roam freely around the ranch's oak-tree covered hills!)
I got a bird on the small side, about 12 pounds. It was plump and beautiful but cooked up quite differently than the others, probably because the birds are truly free-range. The skin crisped to a deep burnished brown, and the flavor of the meat was robust, even a bit gamey (but in a good way). It reminded me of the taste of heritage breed turkeys. If you're a dark meat fan and like a strong-flavored bird, this one's for you.
You can order your fresh turkey directly from the ranch. A 12- to 14-pound bird costs $138, which includes shipping via FedEx overnight. But it's cheaper if you order through Williams-Sonoma, which charges $89.99 for a 12- to 14-pound bird, plus $13.99 shipping and $15 shipping surcharge, and the birds are still shipped direct from the farm.
The winner: It's actually very hard to pick a single winner. They were all extremely good and better than turkeys I've gotten at the supermarket. Although, for the prices, they should be! If I had to choose, it would be the D'Artagnan because it had a really rich turkey flavor without being "strongly" flavored.
Where are you getting your turkey from this year?