Different Kinds of Turkeys

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The USDA has several classifications for the types of turkey sold at butcher shops and grocery stores. When purchasing a turkey, it is important to understand the types of turkeys out there and how they were prepared before they reach your grocer. According to the USDA, the turkey gets its name from a guinea fowl, which originated in Turkey.

Young Turkeys

  • A young turkey is male or female and is less than eight months old, according to the USDA. A turkey reaches its maturity age for slaughter by four to five months, but is slaughtered depending on the desired weight.

Frozen Turkeys

  • In order for a turkey to be labeled as “frozen,” it must be brought down below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. This is done by a process of flash-freezing, which provides a fresher turkey upon defrosting. Frozen turkeys, no matter the method used, will have a higher probability of drying out during the cooking process since freezing damages muscle cell walls, according to What’s Cooking America.

Basted/Self-Basting Turkeys

  • A more common type of turkey that is prepackaged at your grocery store is the basted or self-basting turkeys. These turkeys are injected with a preservative solution and then vacuum sealed to hold in juices. According to the USDA, basted or self-basting turkeys are injected with a solution of preservative chemicals and food additives in order to stay moist.

Kosher Turkeys and Natural Turkeys

  • Most turkeys are raised on antibiotics to promote a healthy turkey upon slaughter. According to the USDA, turkeys cannot be slaughtered during the withdrawal period, to prevent the antibiotics from staying within the flesh after slaughter. The withdrawal period varies depending on the weight of the turkey itself. Kosher turkeys are no given antibiotics and are raised and inspected under the supervision of a rabbi. Natural turkeys receive antibiotics, but during the packaging process these turkeys are not injected with artificial additives.

Free Range Turkeys and Organic Turkeys

  • Consumers often think that free range or organic turkeys provide a higher quality taste to a turkey, but they do not according to both the USDA and What’s Cooking America. Free-range turkeys are labeled as “free range” as long as they are let out of the pen for a few minutes per day. Organic turkeys are labeled as “organic” if they are fed with organic feed, certified through organic means, and do not use genetic engineering.

Fresh Turkeys

  • To be labeled “fresh," a turkey cannot be chilled below 26 degrees Fahrenheit or be injected with any additives during processing, according to the USDA. It is important to always check the “use by” date on fresh turkeys to make sure you are getting a fresh turkey. Many fresh turkey producers will also label the date the turkey was slaughtered and processed, so that you know how long the turkey has been sitting in a “fresh” state.

Wild Turkeys

  • Wild turkeys are not recognized as a class of turkey by the USDA. This is because wild turkeys are hunted and served fresh by the hunter. Wild turkeys are found throughout the United States and range from 8 to 10 lbs. for females and 16 to 24 lbs. for males, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation.

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