Understanding the Labels on Your Thanksgiving Turkey


There’s a lot to consider when shopping for your Thanksgiving turkey. Use this cheat sheet to help you navigate what the labels mean and ask the right questions so you’re bringing home a bird that suits your needs.

1. USDA-certified organic turkey

This means it was raised without antibiotics or pesticides, fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are usually more expensive than grocery store turkeys and they need to be ordered a couple weeks before Thanksgiving.

RELATED: When Going Organic Matters Most for You

2. Heirloom or Heritage turkey

Specific breeds of turkey that are naturally raised outdoors without hormones or antibiotics. This slower-growing turkey has a little more fat marbling, meaning a richer flavor and texture. These also need to be ordered a week or two ahead of Thanksgiving Day.

3. Conventional grocery store turkey

These are factory farmed turkeys known as the Broad Breasted White Turkey. They are bred to have more white meat and typically raised with antibiotics to promote growth.

4. “Enhanced,” “prebasted” or “marinated”

These labels mean the turkey has been injected with a solution to enhance flavor, increasing its sodium content from 75 mg to as much as 710 mg. Read the fine print so you know all of the ingredients.

5. “Hormone-free” or “No hormones added”

This is a misleading label you can ignore. It implies a healthier choice, but federal regulations already prohibit the use of hormones in poultry.

6. “Natural”

A turkey labeled natural can still be enhanced or prebasted and fed antibiotics. It is supposed to mean minimally processed, containing no artificial flavoring, coloring, ingredients, preservatives or other artificial ingredients. Read the fine print to know all of the ingredients and talk to your grocer.

7. Final Tip

If you’re buying a bird from a local poultry farmer, be sure to ask how it was raised and whether or not it’s been enhanced with a solution to add flavor.