Fresh? Frozen? Free range? What to know about buying your turkey -- and how much more will it cost

  • Americans are bracing for a costly Thanksgiving this year, with increases in the price of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, canned pumpkin and other staples.

    Americans are bracing for a costly Thanksgiving this year, with increases in the price of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, canned pumpkin and other staples. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/20/2022 8:14 AM

Oh for those days of yore when the central Thanksgiving quandary was fresh or frozen turkey. Come 2022, the turkey angst is whether there will be enough birds and why are they more expensive?

Supply chain disruptions, inflation, avian flu and fewer turkeys domestically are all affecting the market, experts said.

 

In Illinois, however, "the supply of turkeys available should be more than adequate to meet consumer demand this Thanksgiving," Illinois Farm Bureau spokeswoman Sierra Henry Henry said.

But if you've procrastinated, it's go time, College of DuPage Culinary Arts Professor Timothy Meyers said.

"We are finding there is a turkey shortage and the cost is substantially higher than what the average consumer was paying last year," said Meyers, chef at COD's acclaimed Waterleaf restaurant.

He's optimistic shoppers heading to stores after the weekend should be able to find a turkey. "But it may not be that fresh one and you may have to pick a frozen one. Or if you want a specific size, perhaps you may not be able to get that specific size or get that specific brand."

A quick check of major groceries and high-end food stores Friday showed turkeys ranging in price from bargain frozen ones, costing 99 cents a pound, at suburban Jewels to $2.99 a pound for organic versions at Whole Foods in Hinsdale.

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The USDA reported Wednesday a large fresh turkey will cost 2 cents more a pound than in 2021, but a frozen one will be 9 cents more.

Cost isn't the only factor complicating turkey selection. While some people swear by a frozen Butterball, others will opt for a free-range, organic bird.

Which is better? It depends on whom you ask.

Food writer Don Mauer once paid $125 for a heritage free-range turkey and has no regrets. "I want a turkey that tastes like turkey, and it does," he said.

Still, ubiquitous grocery store turkeys are prebrined, and "in terms of moisture and tenderness, they are exceptional," Mauer said.

As for what's healthier, Harper College adjunct faculty member and dietitian John Athamanah said "nutritionally, they're all the same. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins that come in a chicken or a turkey that is free-range versus one that is in a cage, it's the same."

Athamanah did note that free-range turkeys have a more varied diet with plants that can yield higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help improve cardiovascular health.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Meanwhile, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Daisy Freund noted turkeys' conditions on farms.

"Turkeys raised on factory farms -- industrial facilities that raise large numbers of animals in intensive confinement -- are so packed together in barren sheds that they cannot run, explore, socialize or engage in almost any of their natural behaviors," said Freund, farm animal welfare vice president.

"During Thanksgiving and any time of the year, the most impactful dietary change we can make is to shift from conventionally produced, factory-farmed animal products to smaller amounts of pasture-based meat, eggs or dairy and more plant-based protein sources."

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