Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can feel overwhelming, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a total beginner. Thinking up a menu full of delicious and impressive (but not too difficult) dishes that will wow your guests is intimidating, but so area all of the other details that come into play: decorating, thinking up ways to entertain everyone, and buying all of the food, especially the turkey. You really have to know exactly when to order your Thanksgiving turkey by to ensure you get a good one. This is key to a great dinner. After all, what is Thanksgiving without turkey?
If you wait too long, you may be left with the turkeys no one else wanted, something too small for the amount of people you’re having over, or, even worse, you might not find one at all. If you buy one too soon, you’ll have to find the proper space to store it, and if you don’t have a lot of extra refrigerator or freezer space, this can be a challenge. Figuring out the best time to order your turkey can help the holiday run a little more smoothly and maybe even relieve some of your stress about how the day is going to go. Here’s some helpful info on exactly when to order your Thanksgiving turkey.
What to keep in mind when ordering your turkey
Buying or ordering a Thanksgiving turkey isn’t quite the same as buying any other food — you typically don’t just go to the grocery store, grab whichever seems best, and call it a day. Here are some things to think about before making a purchase.
- The size you’ll need: Before you start shopping for a turkey, you need to know what size you need. First, figure out how many guests you’re having. It’s typically recommended to buy 1-1/2 pounds of turkey for each person attending. So, if you’re having six people over, you’ll want a 9-pound turkey. But you should also take what you know about your guests into consideration. Do you have some vegetarians or vegans coming? Obviously don’t include them in the count. Does your family tend to eat a ton of turkey? Get some extra. Do they only pick at it? Order a smaller one. In general, though, it’s always a good idea to order a little more than you think you need if you’re unsure. Even if it doesn’t get eaten, you can always have Thanksgiving leftovers.
- How much space you have: Buying a turkey far in advance means having a safe place to put it. Consider whether your freezer is big enough to hold a large turkey for months or weeks before doing that.
- Fresh or frozen: Whether you order a fresh or frozen turkey is totally a matter of preference. Most of the time, you can’t taste a difference.
- The size of your oven: Yes, you need to buy enough for your guests, but if your oven is too small to accommodate a large turkey, then you won’t be able to cook it. If you need a big turkey that can’t fit in the oven, buy two smaller turkeys and cook one the day before.
You may not realize that there are different types of turkeys available for purchase. The type of turkey you buy will make a difference in how it tastes and how much it costs, so it’s good to be aware of what you’re looking at and what you might want to look for.
- Self-basted or pre-brined: These have been injected with broth, salt, and other seasonings and flavorings. They’re the least expensive kind of turkey to buy and were likely factory-farmed. They do not need to be brined or salted any further, as that can dry them out, and some may find them to be too salty.
- Pre-stuffed turkeys: These are fresh turkeys that have already been stuffed, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not recommend them buying them because of how perishable a pre-stuffed item is. They create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
- Natural turkeys: In this instance, natural basically means they have no non-food products in the turkey, like artificial flavorings. However, they can still be seasoned with salt and other “natural flavorings.”
- Organic turkeys: Certified organic turkeys have to have been fed organically grown feed their entire lives and they have not been treated with antibiotics. Because of this, they’re more expensive.
- Kosher turkeys: Kosher turkeys are usually raised to roam freely. They have been prepared by a Jewish butcher according to kosher laws and are usually pre-brined, so they can be salty.
- Free-range turkeys: These turkeys are allowed to live part of their lives outside. They generally don’t contain additives.
- Pastured turkeys: These turkeys are raised outside and are allowed to hunt for their food and are also given feed. This versatile diet gives them some added flavor.
- Heritage turkeys: The most expensive type of turkey, heritage turkeys are all about the breed. Their breed has to have been originally raised on farms before large commercial meat processing plants came about. They are generally free-range and humanely raised, and the meat is said to taste better and more lean.
When to order Thanksgiving turkey from a farm
Whether you’re ordering your thanksgiving turkey from a farm or from a store, you really need to pay attention to whether it’s fresh or frozen. Fresh turkeys from the farm should be purchased one or two days before Thanksgiving and kept in the refrigerator. Frozen turkeys can be purchased weeks or even a few months before Thanksgiving and can be kept in the freezer.
If you’re ordering a turkey from a popular farm, you may be able to pre-order it for pickup or shipping. In October or early November, check the farm you’re interested in and try to do some research (or call them) to find out if you need to order far in advance to ensure you get one.
When to order Thanksgiving turkey from the store
Again, pay attention to whether your turkey is fresh or frozen and go by the above rules. However, if you’re buying from a store and you’re trying to buy a frozen turkey, make sure you buy it at least a week before Thanksgiving, especially if it’s a large turkey. In generally, it’s recommended to plan for 24 hours worth of thawing for every four or five pounds. Make sure you have plenty of time to thaw out your turkey before Thanksgiving. If you waited until the last minute and need to grab a turkey from the store, buy fresh.
Best farms to order Thanksgiving turkey from online
You don’t have to head to a farm near you or go to the grocery store to get a great Thanksgiving turkey. You can conveniently order it online to get it shipped to your doorstep just in time for the holiday — it’s one less thing to think about. Here are some of the best farms to order turkey from online:
- D’Artagnan: This is a popular option that is known for its heritage turkey. If you don’t want to spend that much, they have organic, free-range, or wild turkeys as well.
- Fossil Farms: This is another popular option for cage-free turkeys (they also have a lot of other different types of foul available). They recommend delivery for the week of 11/14 for Thanksgiving.
- Harry & David: Don’t want to cook? Harry & David sells a reasonably priced oven-roasted turkey that just needs to be heated.
- Williams-Sonoma: It’s not a farm, but this popular kitchen store sells pre-brined turkeys that cut down on prep time and come in a variety of sizes.
- Crowd Cow: Their pasture-raised whole turkey is a popular pre-sale purchase. Note that one of the options is already sold out.
When in doubt, order a frozen turkey a few weeks in advance — that way you know you have it and don’t have to stress over it. If you’re buying fresh, wait until one to two days before Thanksgiving, although many farms will offer a pre-sale option so that it’s waiting for you. If you’re ordering from a local farm, be sure to call and ask when you should get your order in so you don’t miss out.