Thanksgiving is a few days away and in the United States this means one thing: turkey. Few other foods seem to dominate this particular holiday with a mind-boggling demand of 45+ million turkeys each Thanksgiving.
Going to the grocery store and trying to buy any poultry can be confusing. Learning to interpret all the labels and exactly what to look and ask for will give you the tools to choose poultry that is fresh, free of unwanted additives and raised using the standards for sustainability and humane treatment that are aligned with your Paleo principles.
The Meaning of Labels – A Brief Overview
While it might seem to imply more, this USDA-regulated term means only that the birds are granted access to the outdoors. This is not the same as pastured. Essentially, this label indicates that the birds were not raised in cages. According to USDA rules, free range denotes a mere five minutes of open-air access per day, which could mean a small gate was open to a paved lot. Unless you know your farmer and his/her raising methods, this label means very little.
One of the most widely used labels, the term means that no additives or preservatives were introduced after the poultry was processed (although certain sodium-based broths can be added; read the ingredients on the package label if this is a concern). "Natural" has absolutely nothing to do with standards of care, type and quality of feed or administration of medications.
Vegetarian-Fed or All-Vegetable Diet
The birds were fed a diet containing no animal products. This is a controversial practice because chickens and turkeys are not naturally vegetarian, and poultry feed usually includes some meat and poultry by-products. The birds naturally like to forage for insects when they are able.
This label does not refer to the quality of the feed. Chicken houses, especially large industrial farming structures, are subject to the infestation of all kinds of bugs, vermin and small animals. As a result, repeated doses of insecticides are part of most poultry birds’ existence.
Raised Without Antibiotics
This term indicates that the birds were raised without antibiotics for health maintenance, disease prevention or treatment of disease. Farms asserting this claim are supposed to remove sick animals from the herd and refrain from selling them under this label. Medications not classified as antibiotics may still be used.
The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in poultry, so while the label "hormone-free" is accurate, it doesn't set one poultry product apart from another. Consider this another useless label.
Percent Retained Water
To control pathogens like Salmonella, producers must quickly lower the temperature of meat during processing. Most do this by immersing the slaughtered birds in a cold bath, which causes them to absorb water. The USDAA requires producers to list the maximum amount of water that may be retained.
Some producers lower the temperature of meat during processing using an extremely cold blast of air. This process does not result in any retained water.
Certified Humane Raised & Handled
Overseen by the non-profit group Humane Farm Animal Care, this label ensures the birds received certain basic standards of care and were encouraged to engage in natural behaviors, such as perching, pecking and scratching, and foraging for food in their bedding. Poultry labeled "Free-Range" or "Pasture-Raised," must have been raised to these standards as well.
This is not a regulated label, so it can technically be used on almost any poultry products.
This is not a regulated label, but Humane Farm Animal Care has created a standard for the term that it guarantees. Birds must be outdoors year-round, with access to housing where they can go inside to protect themselves from predators or extreme weather
This USDA-regulated term means that all feed must be certified organic: no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, animal by-products or other additives. Certified organic poultry must also meet "free-range" criteria. Farmers who are in the process of converting to fully organic practices can use the term “transitional.”
Jumping through the hoops for organic certification/recertification is a huge undertaking. As a result, some farmers have chosen to run their farms with fully organic practices – oftentimes stricter than organic but without USDA certification. They opt, instead, to go by individual relationships with consumers and businesses and by their reputation in the region. Other farmers associated with the label purposefully relinquished their certification to protest the shifting “culture” of the organic label as large industry-owned farms make up an increasing percentage of USDA organic certifications.
- The best way to ensure you're buying the freshest poultry is to look at the fat-it should be white to deep yellow, never gray or pale. Make sure the package is well wrapped and leak-free.
- Check the label carefully to avoid poultry that has been "enhanced" with an added sodium solution-it's higher in sodium than those without added solution. The word "natural" on the label does not guarantee a non-enhanced product. To determine if poultry is enhanced, scan the ingredients on the label for any added solution that is not plain water.
- Refrigerate or freeze poultry as soon as possible after purchase. If refrigerating, be sure to cook it or freeze it by the "use by" date on the package. If you're freezing poultry for longer than two weeks, make sure it is wrapped tightly, either in a vacuum-sealed package, heavy-duty foil, freezer paper or in a freezer bag. Frozen poultry should be defrosted in the refrigerator, never at room temperature, to prevent bacterial growth.
As for purchasing sources, your regular grocer might not be the best way to go. Even if the store carries pastured and/or organic chicken, you could pay a premium and not get the freshest poultry. If you prefer the convenience of a traditional grocery store or are limited to this kind of source, be sure to let the management know you regularly purchase the “specialty” product and offer to buy it frozen and/or in bulk. Choose to buy whole birds as they stay fresher longer and are generally a better deal.There are many other purchasing options available in all parts of the country.
Local co-ops, farmers’ markets and CSAs are all great places to look for reasonably priced pastured and/or organic turkey. Join forces with a friend or family member to buy in bulk and save even more. Although some pastured/organic poultry farms don’t organize their own turkey shares, they frequently partner with larger CSA farms in the area and advertise their poultry deals through those memberships and websites. Be sure to check out resources like EatWild.org, LocalHarvest.org and the American Grassfed
The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
The biggest deal on Thanksgiving Day is the turkey. Yet, we all aim for the ham because 9 times out of 10 that turkey is one dry bird. Chef Pete has you covered with his perfectly brined and roasted turkey and stuffing:
Let's start out with a brine recipe. This will work on most birds around 15# or so. Don't get too worried if your bird is a little less or more.
One cooler that will fit the bird and liquid
- 2-7# bag of ice
- 1-gallon water boiling
- 3 lemons halved
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 1 cup honey
- 2 T black peppercorn
- 4 cloves crushed garlic
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- On Wednesday, boil all ingredients together in water for 15 minutes, pour boiling water into cooler with one bag ice already in cooler. This should cool the brine down quickly. Add bird to mixture, add extra ice and water as needed to cover bird and keep cool. It will be fine over night.
- Take out Thursday morning, pat bird dry with paper towels
- Place the turkey in the oven on the lowest oven rack for about one hour, then check the skin. If the skin is beginning to brown too much, you can place a foil tent over the breasts but it shouldn’t be necessary. Pastured birds can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes per pound to cook, while regular turkeys can take 15-20 minutes. The best way to ensure the turkey is cooked properly is to use a meat thermometer. If you do not have a thermometer probe, check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast and thigh around the 1.5 hour mark and go from there.
- Once the thermometer reaches the desired temperature, remove the turkey from the oven and tent it with foil. Allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes. Carve the turkey and pour any reserved juices on top.
Having turkey is traditional, even usual….what won't be usual is how juicy that bird will be. Enjoy!
Next after the bird is the ever-important stuffing.
Well, we can't use bread so here is a paleo version.
- one heart celery
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 1-pound fuji apples
- 1-pound parsnips
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 medium sized rutabaga
- 2 T fresh sage chopped
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 2 T olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dice celery, apples, parsnips and onion into small dice. (1/4"x1/4") Sautee all veg until tender adding a pinch of salt, then finish with garlic.
- Peel rutabaga into chunks and boil in salted water until fork tender. Mash with whisk, then add to sautéed veggies into bowl. Toss veg, mashed rutabaga, lemon juice and sage in bowl. Add pepper and salt to taste.
- Add to casserole dish, roast at 325F for 20 minutes and you’ve got stuffing.
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Feasting