Traditionally, a turkey is the main course. But how to properly select the poultry that will sit at the center of the table and be the focus of the meal?
Here are a few hints courtesy of Mr. Alton Brown...
The first thing you should know is that "All poultry is inspected for wholesomeness, but grading is voluntary."
This is the highest quality and, generally speaking, the only birds you will see at the supermarket. This is the type of turkey depicted in the Norman Rockwell illustration.
These are the turkey varieties that were common before the broad-breasted white took over the world. The Bourbon Red and the Narragansett are good examples. Heritage birds are shaped like natural birds rather than engineered breast birds.
FREE RANGE OR FREE ROAMING
Birds must be given access to the outdoors.
Turkeys less than eight months old. Although they are not quite as flavorful as more senior birds, they are considerably more tender.
Larger than hens, but they taste the same.
Birds that have been injected with a cocktail of fat, broth, water, spices, etc. Significantly heavier than non-injected birds.
The rule of thumb is to buy enough meat to allow 1.5 pounds per person. Although it sounds like a lot - the giblets and bones will reduce the true amount of meat available.
Purchasing a 20+ pound bird for 8 to 14 people is usual - but I have found that roasting a large bird is fraught with danger, waste, and takes an incredible amount of time. The better option is to purchase 2 smaller birds and roast them together in separate pans. Roasting a couple of 12 pound birds at the same time takes half the roasting time and they wind up being more flavorful, moister, and reduces the amount of energy required. Plus, the added benefit of having multiple types of flavors along with more breasts, legs, wings and parts cannot be under-stated.