By EatingWell Editors
Turkey may be the go-to meat to roast for Thanksgiving but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy it year-round. Turkey is high in protein and many cuts are low in fat. Plus its mild flavor makes it endlessly versatile—try substituting turkey for chicken in your favorite recipes, or swap ground turkey for ground beef when you make chili, burgers or meatloaf. Here are some guidelines for choosing the healthiest turkey at the supermarket.
The best way to ensure you’re buying the freshest turkey is to look at the fat—it should be white to deep yellow, never gray or pasty. Make sure the package is well wrapped and free from leakage. And don’t forget to check the date on the package.
A turkey tenderloin is an all-white piece that comes from the rib side of the breast. Tenderloins typically weigh between 7 and 14 ounces each. Try it grilled or roasted. Check the label carefully to avoid those that have been “enhanced” with an added sodium solution—they’re higher in sodium than those without added solution.
Ground turkey is a mild-flavored alternative to ground beef. Opt for 93%-lean, made from light and dark meat, and 99%-lean, made from turkey breast only. We prefer 93%-lean because it’s juicier and more flavorful. If you use 99%-lean ground turkey, you’ll save 30 calories, 5 1/2 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat and 20 milligrams cholesterol per serving.
Turkey cutlets and scallopini are thin, quick-cooking cuts of turkey breast. Scallopini are usually thinner than cutlets, though one brand’s cutlets can be as thin as another brand’s scallopini. Quickly sauté them and top with a pan sauce or make them into a sandwich topped with sautéed spinach, prepared marinara and melted part-skim mozzarella.
Hot and sweet Italian turkey sausage links can be found with other poultry products in most supermarkets. Both are normally seasoned with garlic and anise or fennel seed, but the hot version has an added kick from hot red peppers.
When buying a whole bird, consider that conventional birds are often “pre-basted” or “self-basting,” meaning that the turkey is injected with a solution that can contain broth, stock, water, seasonings, salt and/or other flavor. This can account for up to 3 percent of the net weight of the bird. The label must include all of the ingredients in the solution.
What Labels Mean
Free Range: While this term might imply more, this USDA-regulated term means only that the birds are granted access to the outdoors.
Certified Organic: This USDA-regulated term means that all feed given to turkeys must be certified organic, which means no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, animal by-products or other additives. Turkeys raised to meet certified organic standards also must have access to the outdoors.
Raised Without Antibiotics: This term indicates that the turkey was raised without antibiotics for health maintenance, disease prevention or treatment of disease. Medications not classified as antibiotics may still be used.
No Hormones: The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in poultry, so while the label “hormone-free” is accurate, it doesn’t set one turkey apart from another.
Natural: 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 fine print if this is a concern). “Natural” has absolutely nothing to do with standards of care, type and quality of feed or administration of medications.
Percent Retained Water: To control pathogens like Salmonella, producers must quickly lower the temperature of birds during processing. Most do this by immersing the slaughtered turkeys in a cold bath, which causes them to absorb water. The USDA requires producers to list the maximum amount of water that may be retained.
Certified Humane Raised & Handled: Overseen by a nonprofit endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, this label ensures your turkey received basic standards of care. For instance, CHRH producers must provide at least eight continuous hours of darkness per 24-hour period (unless a period of natural darkness is shorter). Guidelines require producers to provide 2 to 5 square feet of space per turkey, depending on their size.
Refrigerate or freeze turkey as soon as possible after purchase. If refrigerating turkey, be sure to cook it or freeze it by the “Use By” date on the package. If freezing turkey for longer than two weeks, wrap in heavy-duty foil, freezer paper or freezer bags to prevent freezer burn. Frozen turkey should be defrosted in the refrigerator—never at room temperature—to prevent bacterial growth.