7 Tips for Buying the Perfect Turkey This Thanksgiving

Cooking a turkey can be daunting; shopping for one definitely shouldn't be.

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Don't be afraid to buy frozen


There's no real quality difference between fresh and frozen, says Norma Farrell, a consumer-education specialist at the National Turkey Federation, since the latter are flash-frozen after processing to preserve them. "Fresh" turkeys can be many days old by the time you buy them—and can cost up to 50 percent more. (Looking for a stress-free Thanksgiving? Get our FREE guide for an unforgettable Thanksgiving. You'll get easy recipes, kid-friendly crafts and games, inspiring traditions, and more ideas for the best holiday yet.)

Go generic


Store brands are cheaper than well-known ones, and both birds may even have come from the same place. One of the main differences: Some brands use a unique seasoning on theirs. Check the ingredients to see if it's something you might like.

Check the shape


Look for a turkey with a well-rounded breast—it's juicier. Beware of flat spots, which can indicate thawing and refreezing. This raises the risk of food-borne illness.

Size matters


Smaller turkeys tend to be more tender. Consider cooking two small birds instead of one larger one.

Buy it early


Purchase your turkey far enough in advance to allow it to thaw properly: one day for every five pounds, according to the Food Network. (Related: Consider this your ultimate guide to Thanksgiving table setting.)

Use this weight formula


For a larger party (and therefore a larger bird), aim for one pound per person. For a small party and smaller turkey, figure one and a half pounds for each person. Keep in mind that smaller birds will have smaller meat-to-bone ratios.

Basted or self-basting?


According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a bird labeled “basted” or “self basted” has been “injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock or water plus spices, flavor enhancers and other approved substances.” This can add flavor and moisture to your turkey. If you prefer to do things yourself, avoid those basted labels.

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