Turkey Talk: Is Free Range Or Organic Worth It?

by in Thanksgiving, November 11, 2009

Herb-Roasted Turkey
My mom still tells the story about the year she ordered a free-range turkey. She almost choked when she went to pay for it because it was more than six times what a regular turkey cost! Now that I have Thanksgiving at my house, I’m faced with the same dilemma — is it worth it to get these extra pricey birds?

Get The Facts
The appeal of free-range turkeys is that they are raised with access to outdoor space so they can roam — many folks believe that this makes for better tasting meat. Farmers also raise these turkeys in a more human environment (no messy, cooped-up quarters), which wins extra points with food advocates. Add to that list the fact these turkeys get fed higher quality food and farmers don’t use hormones or antibiotics on them.

As for organic turkeys, they are certified as being raised following strict parameters (though they may not be free range) and are only fed organic food. Usually free-range birds are also organic, but make sure you ask your meat provider or read the store packaging carefully.

What About a “Local” And Other Labels?
Local poultry ranches are usually smaller operations and take more care in raising their animals. Many use free-range and organic practices (even if they aren’t certified organic). If you’re interested in keeping your feast local, call up the farmer to ask for details ahead of time.

Poultry also often has other labels such as “natural,” “grass-fed” or “no added hormones” — check out our eco-friendly label decoder to help make sense of these tags.

Yes, these more specialized turkeys cost more — in many cases, A LOT more. We priced out options from various online grocery stores and the costs varied. Some turkeys were more than $10 per pound. Here’s what we found on average:

Regular turkey = $0.89-$2.99 per pound
Organic = $5.50-$6.20 per pound
Free Range = $4.59-$6.93 per pound

If getting a free-range or organic bird is important to you, you can save some money by picking a smaller size. Yes, this does mean fewer leftovers, but most people buy way more turkey than they need anyway. In this case, you’d be splurging on quality, not quantity.

What To Look For
Pay attention to the labels on fresh or frozen birds or ask your butcher or local farmer for more details. Free-range and organic turkeys are often in high demand; so if you choose to get one, you should order it now (if you haven’t already).

TELL US: What kind of turkey are you planning to get this year?

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Comments (741)

  1. Hilde Jonson-Hoskin says:

    we live in Lakewood Wa. where is a good place to purchase a Turkey ,besides the Supermarket.
    P.s maybe a heritage bird
    thanks Hilde

  2. Leticia says:

    Will definitely get a free roaming turkey than a hormone engrossed one. I believe since the turkey has been given the freedom of a free range it will be happier and therefore healthier which means better meat :D

  3. michelle welter says:

    People who are interested in purchasing "fresh" and "organic" turkeys (or other meat, for that matter) can find local farmers through many venues. I know several farmers who advertise through everything from eatlocalonline.com, to local farmers' markets and even craigslist! All of these small farmers would provide you with not only lovely, fresh meat but knowledge, and the assurance that your animal was raised under humane conditions. Many will even let you come out and pick the animal you would like. The prices are VERY reasonable (less than any store!) and these small farmers would be grateful for your support!

    And all of you asking for "heritage" birds….they are widely available through these farmers…any of the breeds as long as they aren't broad breasted white or bronze turkeys can be considered heritage. I know, I have heritage fowl of my own!

  4. michelle welter says:

    Here are a couple sites for finding local farms for your meat:
    http://www.slowfoodusa.org http://www.localharvest.org

    or search "buy local + your location" and you'll find many!

    Happy Thanksgiving, all!

  5. trish says:

    Has anyone tried a kosher turkey? If so, what seasonings did you use?

  6. Gobbler says:

    Trader Joes Offers a turkey breast that is natural and free range if not orgaanic for about 3 bucks a pound if I remember right. We had it last year… lovely and moist. It is in a salt brine but no other added chemicals… turns out the whole facotry farm bird would have cost us about the same, and this will more than feed us quantity wise, so why not have the wonderful quality? They have uncured hams at Christmas, too.

  7. Noel says:

    I have ordered a free range organic turkey from a local farm every year for the past 4 years and every year I have had to increase the size of the bird because I never have any leftovers! I brine it a few days before Thanksgiving in organic apple cider, chicken/vegatable broth, and seasonings and then bake it breast side down. My family, only 5 of us, and occassionally a couple of friends devour it and there is rarely anything left after eating again later in the evening. Today I just picked up an 18 lb bird in hopes of having something left for the next day. We will see!!! I will never go back to frozen commercially raised birds – there is a HUGE difference in the flavor, texture, and moisture of the bird.

  8. joanieh says:

    I am going free range organic, and next year I plan to grow my own! Watch Food, Inc. and then decide….

  9. Tim says:

    Organic and free range are almost meaningless terms. It all depends on how the bird was raised. Organic may mean that the bird was kept in a cage and force fed organic corn. Free range could mean that it had access to a tiny dirt sideyard that it never used. A pastured turkey is what you want. The bird was allowed to roam and graze on grass, clove, wild legumes and eat all the worms and bugs it could find. Turkeys are omnivores and eat a wide variety of foods if left to their own device. A pastured bird costs more, but the meat is superior in both taste and nutrition.

  10. sandra78 says:

    if you are making a kosher turkey, don't add salt, there's already salt added

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