You’re set on making your grandma’s sausage stuffing, green bean casserole, biscuits and your famous cranberry sauce. But the meal is incomplete without the beloved turkey. With so many on the market, how can you decide which bird is right for you? We’ll answer some of your biggest questions (fresh or frozen? brand name or generic?) and provide our picks for the best turkeys to buy for Thanksgiving, whether you’re looking for an impressive heritage bird or the notorious turducken.
What Is the Best Type of Turkey to Buy?
Try to buy a fresh bird over a frozen one when you can. You won’t have to wait days for it to defrost in the fridge and they’ll roast slightly faster than their frosty counterparts. (Since they don’t last as long as frozen turkeys, you’ll want to preorder one ahead and pick it up a day or two before Thanksgiving.) On the other hand, frozen turkeys can still turn out delicious—they’re usually cheaper than fresh ones, plus they offer more flexibility in case your plans change (meaning they won’t rot overnight in your fridge).
If you’re willing to spend a little more, look for a free-range turkey. Free-range birds are required to have continuous outdoor access for more than 51 percent of their lives. Because their lives are less stressful, free-range birds tend to taste better. On the flip side, they can be a bit more muscular than other birds due to all that extra movement, so they can taste a bit gamy compared to what you’re used to. But you can always soften that flavor with milk and/or a brine.
The ultimate splurge, though, is a heritage turkey. Heritage turkeys have been bred to stay just as they were many years ago, a far cry from the jacked-up birds of today that have been bred for consumption. Its flavor will be significantly gamy and intense compared to supermarket birds.
If it’s your first time cooking a Thanksgiving feast (or you’re worried about pulling off a brine on your own), opt for a pre-basted or pre-roasted turkey. Many are packaged in a butter and salt solution that makes cooking a moist, tender bird basically foolproof.
Which Supermarket Turkey Is Best?
In an Epicurious taste-test of six supermarket turkeys, a fresh Bell & Evans turkey was their top choice, due to its tender meat, authentic turkey flavor and attractive outer skin. (The birds are also bred to grow at a slower pace, causing them to have broad, juicy breasts.) Other top choices across various verticals include Organic Prairie and Honeysuckle.
Is a Butterball Turkey Better?
Not necessarily. Many reviewers and taste-testers complain about its off texture (no one wants mealy breast meat), excessive saltiness and lack of flavor (or worse, a chemical-like flavor). Butterball turkeys, like many others, are injected with additives for moisture, but some reviewers found the meat almost too watery. In its defense, some testers say it roasts to a beautiful golden brown and the cost is minimal compared to competitors, at $1.49 per pound. If your only option is a Butterball turkey, it’ll get the job done—but there are plenty of better quality birds on the market.
What Is the Most Popular Turkey Brand?
Butterball is among the most popular, likely due to its affordability and accessibility. Other common brands include Honeysuckle, Jennie-O, Boar’s Head, Perdue, Pilgrim’s Pride and Applegate Farms.
Ready to get cooking? Here are the best turkeys to order online for Thanksgiving this year, according to customer reviews.
The Best Turkeys to Order Online, at a Glance
Best Overall: Fossil Farms Whole Bird Turkey
Best Fresh Turkey: Meat N’ Bone Thanksgiving Amish Turkey
Best Free-Range Turkey: D’Artagnan Organic Turkey
Best Heritage Turkey: Elmwood Stock Farm Organic Heritage Turkey
Best Turkey Roast: Rastelli’s Oven-Ready Turkey Roast
Best Pre-Cooked Turkey: Harry & David Oven-Roasted Turkey
Best Smoked Turkey: Burgers’ Smokehouse Hickory Smoked Whole Turkey
Best Value: Mary’s Free-Range Organic Turkey
1. Fossil Farms Whole Bird Turkey
Every single customer review is five stars and it’s no surprise why. These high-quality Nicholas breed birds from sustainable Fossil Farms are raised in a free-roaming, cage-free environment in Pennsylvania by third- and fourth-generation farmers. They’re fed a vegetarian diet and are all-natural, meaning they’re free of antibiotics, steroids and hormones. What really seals the deal is the price, which comes out to about $5 a pound. It’s more expensive than your average Butterball, but only by a few bucks…and the quality beats it out by a mile. Order the week before Thanksgiving or earlier to get it in time for the holiday (or order the week of and opt for next-day air shipping).
Rave review: “As if the ease of ordering, exceptional customer service and the flawless, worry-free pickup wasn’t enough, the turkey was tender and delicious. Can’t wait to try some of their other vast array of products.”
2. Meat N’ Bone Thanksgiving Amish Turkey
Best fresh turkey
For about $7.50 a pound, you can savor an all-natural bird that’s minimally processed and free of additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients. The turkeys are raised sans-hormones and steroids on a vegetable- and protein-rich diet that’s free of animal byproducts. They live in a roomy, ventilated barn with free access to feed and water. Meat N’ Bone’s turkeys are de-feathered, cleaned and come with giblets. They’re shipped with a hard chill instead of frozen, so you can decide whether to pop them in the fridge or freezer upon arrival.
Rave review: “This is definitely a quality bird. You can taste the difference from the typical supermarket turkey. Make sure to take out the neck and giblets from the cavity before cooking and use them to make stock for stuffing and gravy.”
3. D’Artagnan Organic Turkey
Best free-range turkey
This brand is arguably most famous for its pricy heritage turkeys, but you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to try a D’Artagnan bird. Their turkeys are humanely raised with full access to the outdoors. They’re non-GMO and fed an all-vegetarian diet, supplemented with pure spring water. This particular pick is a white broad-breasted hybrid, so it’ll be loaded with meat for you and your guests to devour. Most reviewers are beyond satisfied with their turkeys, but a few felt that they were smaller than expected.
Rave review: “We have made many organic, free-range turkeys for holidays, but this is simply one of the best ever. It was lean but juicy. Cooked great! Had a ton of meat, all of it tasting wonderful. My family thinks it was me, but I think it was the turkey!”
4. Elmwood Stock Farm Organic Heritage Turkey
Best heritage turkey
Heritage turkeys are becoming more and more popular every year. If you’ve never tried one, it’s important to know that they’re significantly different than factory-farmed supermarket turkeys that you may have tried in the past. Heritage turkeys have longer, thinner bodies than broad-breasted ones, creating a more balanced ratio of light and dark meat. Its flavor is rich, velvety and, at times, gamy. Elmwood Stock’s heritage birds are free-range and free of additives, stimulants and synthetic inputs. They’re currently available for preorder in five different sizes and arrive frozen.
Rave review: “This turkey was ‘super tender and juicy,’ with white meat ‘so rich in flavor that it tastes like dark meat…The dark meat was even more tender and flavorful, prompting one taster to ask, ‘Is this dark turkey or pulled pork? So fall-apart tender that it’s almost shredding itself.’” (from Cook’s Illustrated)
5. Rastelli’s Oven-Ready Turkey Roast
Best turkey roast
We first fell in love with Rastelli’s, a butcher shop that specializes in sustainable beef, pork, poultry and seafood, after trying their iconic round hot dogs (which are delish, BTW). Now, we have a second reason to stan them. Case in point: this gorgeous turkey breast roast that’s ready to cook the moment it defrosts. Turkey breast roasts (and bone-in turkey breasts) are best for families that love white meat. Injected with a solution of water, salt and sugar for moisture, this turkey roast is rubbed with a flavorful Tuscan-style seasoning, so all you have to do is pop the bag in the oven for a few hours until it cooks through.
Rave review: “Nice seasoning and very good quality turkey; needed about 2 [hours] and 40 [minutes] to cook but check temperature regularly at the end, because it spikes pretty quickly in the bag with all that hot steam (and ideally target about 155 degrees to take it out of the oven and not overcook). Also watch out for the steam and scalding liquid when getting turkey out of the bag, but it turned out very juicy and tasty.”
6. Harry & David Oven-Roasted Turkey
Best precooked turkey
Behold: the brand’s most popular Thanksgiving bird. This ten-pounder arrives ready to heat and serve. It’s pre-seasoned and roasted, so you won’t have to fuss over a brine or dry rub. As if this Harry & David turkey wasn’t easy enough, your purchase also includes two-day shipping, so you can order close to the holiday and still get your main course just in time. Note that two reviewers felt the bird was too salty, but that’s the risk you take by getting a pre-seasoned bird. Consider if it’s worth it to you for the sake of convenience before purchasing.
Rave review: “This bird was delicious. Took a little longer to cook than directions indicated. But all worked out beautifully and had enough left to make pot pies.”
7. Burgers’ Smokehouse Hickory Smoked Whole Turkey
Best smoked turkey
This beauty has racked up 118 reviews, the vast majority of which are five-star. Burgers’ Smokehouse has been making smoked and cured meats for nearly a century, so they know a thing or two about smoking a killer Thanksgiving bird. It will arrive to you fully cooked with heating instructions included, so all you’ll have to do is reheat it. The turkey is smoked with real hickory, but don’t worry about the bird turning out dry: Burgers’ specializes in retaining poultry’s natural juices throughout the smoking process. But note that a couple of Amazon reviewers found the turkey to be tough, and another two thought it was too salty.
Rave review: “Succulent, moist, flavorful turkey. Hands down the BEST smoked turkey I have ever purchased. So hecking delicious! I can really tell the difference between this actual wood-smoked product and all the rest.”
8. Cajun Ed’s Specialty Meats Turducken with Cajun Cornbread Stuffing
Ah, the turducken: We’ve all talked about it, but have you ever actually tasted one? For the uninitiated, a turducken is a triple-threat main for the books—think a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey. Cajun Ed’s has become famous for its frankenfowl classics like turporken and sausage-stuffed turkeys, so if you’re going to try this three-way hybrid, they’re a solid purveyor to buy from. Not only will you savor tender roasted poultry in every bite, but a layer of Cajun cornbread stuffing is added between each bird, along with a special seasoning on the outside for maximum flavor. It arrives frozen and cooked, so simply reheat it for a few hours until it’s warmed through.
Rave review: “We have had the turducken before and LOVED it. Looking forward to having it again this year, plus the ham for Christmas.”
9. Mary’s Free-Range Organic Turkey
The Pitman family has been raising turkeys in California since the 1950s. You can rest assured that all Mary’s birds are free-range, free of preservatives, hormones and antibiotics and fed a vegetarian diet. The brand offers a whole slew of turkey options for the holidays (brined! smoked! pre-roasted! heritage!), but we like the affordability of their standard organic option. Find a shop that sells Mary’s turkeys near you using their handy online store locator.
Rave review: “Best Turkey EVER! So juicy and delicious! Mary’s is the BEST!”