Decorate, Celebrate and Enjoy a Merry Holiday Season

How to Decode a Turkey Label

Let's talk turkey—turkey food labels, that is. Use our guide of common terms to better understand your bird before your add it to your cart.

holiday sip 2014 turkey labels

Basted or self-basted: These turkeys have been marinated in—or injected with—a solution that might contain butter, broth or water, and spices. The maximum added weight of 3 percent (for bone-in birds) is included in the weight of the bird, and there must be information indicating that percentage and the ingredients in the solution. Brining is not recommended for basted turkeys, because the solution might already contain salt. Brining would introduce more, so the result could be overly salty and dry meat.

Free-range/free-roaming: Any turkey given this label must have had access to the outside.

Fresh: The bird has not been kept below 26°F, which is the temperature at which poultry freezes.

Hen or Tom: A hen is a female turkey, a tom is a male. When compared with birds of the same age, hens are generally smaller than toms. There isn't a difference in the tenderness of the meat, but toms' bones are larger, so less of their mass is edible.

Heritage: Turkeys designated "heritage," such as Bourbon Red and Jersey Buff, are bred from birds that more closely resemble wild turkeys than the broad-breasted white turkeys that are commonly sold in supermarkets. They're generally gamier and have smaller breasts and darker leg meat than conventionally raised turkeys. They are considerably more expensive than supermarket turkeys, too, costing up to $8 per pound.

Kosher: These turkeys are raised and slaughtered using methods that follow Jewish law, under rabbinical supervision.

Natural: Buy this type of turkey if you want to steer clear of artificial ingredients (such as added flavors, coloring or synthetic preservatives) and go with something that is minimally processed.

Organic: Producers of organic turkeys meet animal-health-and-welfare standards that are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Their birds are not given antibiotics, they're fed food that's 100 percent organic and they're provided with access to the outdoors.