Sure, you could grab the biggest, cheapest frozen turkey you can find and call it good. Most of us do. But we looked into alternatives that some find tastier, healthier, and often kinder to the bird that once was.
Standard, white tom turkeys—also known as broad-breasted whites—are bred to grow fast and big. The low price is appealing, but the downside is that most are given antibiotics to speed growth, may be injected with a sodium solution, and then there’s the whole controversy about living conditions on factory farms. On the other hand, heritage birds, dating back to the 1800s, are not genetically engineered or modified, reproduce naturally (the modified boys are too top-heavy) and typically live in more humane conditions. Closer to the wild turkeys our colonial forefathers ate, they sport a 50-50 ratio of white to dark meat, while today’s toms have been bred to a 65-35 ratio. Be aware that there is a flavor difference, though, in which the heritage birds are deemed either the upbeat “more flavorful” or the downbeat “gamey,” depending on the taster.
Intrigued? If you live in Stepping Stone, you’re a short drive from an excellent source of heritage breed meats: JNP Ranch in Castle Rock. It’s a family ranch in business since 1998 and is committed to preserving heritage breeds, humane treatment of animals, and ranching sustainably. Providing pork, lamb, beef, poultry, and eggs, this ranch gives all the animals access to fresh air, sunshine, and pasture. You’ll need to reserve and put down a deposit on your turkey, though. And the price is higher than typical grocery stores, at $7 per pound, given the longer time the birds need to mature.
Other sources for heritage turkeys include Marczyk Fine Foods (with birds sourced from Bennett, Colorado), Tony’s Markets (all birds free of antibiotics and salty solutions) and In Season Local Market (featuring prairie-grazing birds also from Bennett). And don’t overlook chain stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, whose turkeys range from conventional to organic to heritage—sold both fresh and frozen. Do be aware that these specialty brands can sell out quickly, so reserve or purchase yours early.
If all this seems like a little too much trouble, you could let someone else do the cooking altogether. Consider a Honeybaked turkey breast, a perennial crowd-pleasing combo of tender white meat and sweet, crunchy glaze. Or a spicy, Cajun deep-fried turkey from either Bayou Bob’s or Dickey’s Barbeque Pit, the latter of which also offers a smoked turkey.
And if all else fails, 46 restaurants are currently taking Thanksgiving reservations on Open Table.