Buying a turkey, the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table, is no longer a decision of just fresh or frozen. In today’s artisan food world, turkeys come in all sizes, some fresh and some frozen, and in all manner of names like heritage, organic and natural. Don’t fret. Before you make dinner reservations, here is a primer to get you up to speed on where to buy your turkey and a mini-glossary on turkey terminology.
Marczyk Fine Foods
770 E. 17th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203
The little grocery store with the big heart in Denver always finds the best of the best when it comes to holiday foods. For this Thanksgiving, Peter and Paul Marczyk source heritage turkeys and humanely raised broad-breasted whites from Dallas Gilbert of Eastern Plains in Bennet, Colorado. The heritage turkeys are a cross of two rare breeds, a Blue Slate and American Bronzes. The birds are hand raised (no crowded barns), are fed a 100-percent vegetarian diet and do not have sodium solutions added after processing. It is best to order the turkeys ahead of time as they often sell out. Marczyk also sells side dishes, fresh produce, breads and pies for a complete Thanksgiving meal. There’s a second location on East Colfax for your convenience.
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12001 E. Caley Ave.
Centennial, CO 80111
This market, deli and butcher shop doesn’t take Thanksgiving shortcuts. Tony’s Market sells a selection of organic, heritage and kosher turkeys and all the trimmings for the annual feast. Whether you want a specialty breed turkey or a more traditional white-breasted bird, Tony’s Market turkeys are free of antibiotics and added salty solutions. Turkeys can be pre-ordered fresh or precooked. Tony’s is also a cook’s best friend because it provides all the little extras that can save you a lot of time. For instance, Tony’s sells turkey brine for a flavor bath; poultry seasoning with just the right blend of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme; and will even pre-cut your onions, celery and carrots for gravy making and turkey aromatics. Tony’s also sells turkey gravy and all the traditional side dishes including freshly baked pies. Call ahead to order. There are five other locations throughout Denver for your convenience.
In Season Local Market
3210 Wyandot St.
Denver, CO 80211
In Season Local Market sells heritage Blue Slate turkeys from Colorado’s own Eastern Plains in Bennett. The Blue Slate heritage breed turkeys are raised on prairie grass with ample space to roam. Eastern Plains turkeys are sold only to co-op members and specialty retailers, so this is a rare treat for Thanksgiving. The turkeys are only sold fresh and sell out quickly, so order early. There’s a second location in Louisville for your convenience.
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Sprouts Farmer’s Markets
Various locations throughout Denver
Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage
Various locations throughout Denver
Colorado grocers and specialty chain grocers sell a variety of conventional, organic and even heritage-brand turkeys as fresh or frozen. For instance, Natural Grocers sells Mary’s brands heritage organic turkeys (they require a $5 deposit to reserve a turkey). Sprouts sells certified organic and conventional turkeys, both fresh and frozen. See below for a definition of terms.
Free-range means that the turkey has room to roam out of doors. All turkeys are raised cage-free, but the amount of space they have to spread their wings varies significantly. Free-range is a loosely defined term that simple means the birds have access to the outside.
Pasture-raised turkeys graze and peck in outdoor grassy areas during the day. They are usually fed a supplemental grain-based feed and are kept inside at night away from predators.
Hormone-free turkey is a much-used phrase that has absolutely no meaning. Hormones have not been allowed in the poultry industry since 1959. Even so, many brands and stores continue to use the moniker along with a clause stating that hormones are not allowed.
Antibiotic-free or raised without antibiotics is a more reliable term than hormone free. Antibiotics have been used in animal feed to prevent disease in crowded conditions and to fatten up birds quickly. Health professionals believe this leads to antibiotic resistance in humans. Increasingly, specialty farms are raising turkeys without antibiotics and are labeled as such.
At a minimum, certified organic turkeys are fed a vegetarian organic grain-based diet, have access to the outdoors and are not given antibiotics as growth promoters. Turkeys labeled as naturally raised have similar attributes, with the exception of the organic feed.
Kosher turkeys are processed by kosher slaughterers, called shochet in Hebrew. The shochet slaughters the turkey using religious guidelines designed to minimize the animal’s suffering and to hasten blood letting. The feathers are removed using cold water (called flicking), the innards are removed and the bird is soaked again in cold water. It is then salted internally and externally.
Heritage turkeys are from specialty breeds that were at one time nearly extinct from American farms. In Colorado, the most common breeds are Blue Slate, Standard Bronze, Narragansett and Bourbon Red. Heritage turkeys cost more than commercially raised brands because their life cycle is 24-30 weeks, rather than 18 weeks for white-breasted Toms. Heritage turkeys are not given antibiotics and are usually raised in a pastured setting.
White Tom turkeys are the most commonly sold turkey with brands like Butterball. They are bred to produce a very large, white-meat breast. Most often, they are given antibiotics to speed growth so the birds are processed within 18 weeks of birth. These turkeys may be sold with a sodium solution added to the processed meat, or “natural”, with no flavor enhancements.
Kimberly Lord Stewart is a food author and journalist for CBS Denver local, Organic Food Reporter for Examiner.com, and the Food, Wine and Spirits editor for Denver Life magazine. Her book, “Eating Between the Lines” tells readers about the truth and myths of food labeling. Stewart is the recipient of two Association of Food Journalist awards for food news reporting and the Jessie Neal Business Journalism award. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.