This year try serving a free-range turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
Regular supermarket turkeys are usually cooped up in crowd cages and killed in an inhumane fashion. Furthermore, they are often fed antibiotics, killed before full maturity, and then injected or enhanced with preservatives and solutions to ensure a juicy bird on Thanksgiving day.
To be labeled free-range, the USDA states that a turkey must have access to outside. While this definition does not mandate what the turkeys are fed or how they are killed, it often means free-range turkeys were raised in a way that was more humane for them and healthier for us to eat. They live in a less stressed and cramped environment, have a chance to exercise, making there muscle stronger, and grow at a slower rate; they live healthier lives and therefore they are healthier to eat.
However, to ensure selecting the best bird, also look for other labels on your free-range turkey. The definition “free-range” in itself does not necessarily ensure that the birds weren’t fed antibiotics or pesticides. Certified Organic turkey covers most of the terms, but if that is not available look for any or all of the following labels defined (the definitions are for chicken as well):
Vegetarian-fed: “The birds’ feed does not contain any animal by-products,”according to the Humanesociety.org.
Cage-free: Birds are often “uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors” according to the Humanesociety.org.
Certified Organic: “The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, and are required to have outdoor access” and “are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides,” according to Humanesociety.org.
Natural: “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed,” in ways that do not drastically alter the bird, according to fsis.usda.gov.
No Antibiotics: Farmers must provide documentation that no antibiotics were used according to fsis.usda.gov.
In Columbus it is easy to find free-range turkeys in time for Thanksgiving. Below are four Columbus markets that sell free-range turkeys:
Whole Foods Market, 3670 West Dublin Granville Road
- All natural, vegetarian fed, free-range turkeys for $2.49/pound
- Certified Organic free-range turkeys for $3.49/pound
Rife’s Market, 1417 West 5th Avenue
- Offering free-range turkeys from Jackson, Ohio for 25 years; $2.79/pound
North Market, 59 Spruce Street
- Antibiotic-free, cage-free, free-range turkeys for $2.99/pound
Trader Joe’s 6355 Sawmill Road, Dublin, Ohio
- Not technically free-range, but kept in an open facility, all-natural, antibiotic-free, already salt-brined for $1.79/pound
After you’ve selected the turkey of your choice, make it even juicier and more appealing by soaking your turkey in a brine the night before Thanksgiving. The salt in a brine breaks down the protein in the meat, making it more tender and juicy. Other spices and flavors can be added to the brine to further complement the turkey. A large pot, bucket, or cooler is necessary for this endeavor.
Honey Herbed Turkey Brine
This recipe is for a 12-pound turkey; for bigger birds, increase the water, salt, and honey accordingly. You will need a large pot or bucket and room in the refrigerator, or alternatively, a cooler and lots of ice.
1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup of honey
2 oranges, quartered
2 lemons, quartered
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sage leaves
2 bay leaves
1 gallon cold water
1 12-pound turkey, innards removed and clean
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, quartered
The night before: In a large pot, stir together one gallon of water, salt, honey, fruit, and spices and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Make sure the salt and honey has dissolved, remove from heat, and cool to room temperature. Once cool mix brine with ice water in desired container and submerge turkey slowly, cavity side down. If water does not completely cover the turkey add more at this time. Refrigerate or keep in cooler overnight.
Thanksgiving day: Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well and pat until dry so the skin can get crispy. Tuck wings under the turkey. Stuff cavity with the herbs from the brine, the onion and carrot, as well as the oranges and lemons if there is room. Roast in a 350 degree oven until the temperature, taken from the largest part of the thigh, reaches 165 degrees, approximately 3 hours. Make sure to baste the turkey every half hour. Remove from the oven and rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.