Serious Eats / Madeline Muzzi

Thanksgiving is a holiday stuffed with traditions. Across the U.S., families gather to cook, enjoy a football game, and indulge in a little Champagne while watching the National Dog Show (that’s not just us, right?). Whatever your family’s tradition may be, the most iconic symbol of Thanksgiving is undoubtedly the turkey. It’s the centerpiece of the table, the source of endless leftovers, and the sun around which your favorite side dishes orbit. 

Nostalgia aside, cooking a turkey can be a little tricky. These are big birds, and achieving the ideal combination of juicy white meat, tender dark meat, and crispy skin takes some planning. Starting with a high-quality bird can make this ceremonial task significantly easier. Standard supermarkets tend to stock turkeys from industrial farms and large producers, but ordering a turkey online allows you to have more control over the type of bird you’re working with. 

To that end, we tested 10 mail-order turkeys, ranging from $66 to $310, to find the best birds for your holiday tables. (Yes, this means we spent weeks defrosting and cooking birds to land on our three favorites.)

The Winners, at a Glance

Grassland Beef’s pasture-raised turkey makes a worthy centerpiece for any autumnal feast. Once roasted, the skin turned golden and crispy while the meat remained tender and juicy. This bird also scored bonus points for arriving fully frozen in recyclable packaging. It’s available in a larger size, too, which is currently sold out.

This bird was tasty, easy to carve, and well-proportioned. Roast chicken fans will appreciate the mild flavor of this bird. 

A flavor-packed heritage turkey from a legacy brand. Turkey people will appreciate the slightly more gamey profile of this hand-processed bird. 

The Tests

Serious Eats / Madeline MuzziPackaging Test: Upon delivery, we inspected each bird to make sure that it arrived fully intact and at a food-safe temperature. We disposed of the packaging according to its instructions, evaluating the associated waste. Preparation Test: We thawed and roasted each turkey using the same method. We dry-brined each bird by rubbing it with salt, allowed it to sit uncovered overnight in a refrigerator, and then had it come up to temperature for one hour before roasting. Each bird got an olive oil rubdown and then went into a 425°F oven for one hour. Then, we reduced the temperature to 375ºF and continued roasting until the deepest part of the thigh reached 165ºF using an instant-read thermometerTaste Test: After roasting we carved and sampled each turkey, evaluating the taste and texture. 

What We Learned

There’s More Than One Way to Ship a Turkey

Serious Eats / Madeline Muzzi

Shipping raw poultry is a delicate affair. The packaging needs to prevent its cargo from getting bumped or bruised while also keeping it sufficiently cool. The majority of the turkeys we tested arrived in good condition and at a food-safe temperature. The primary difference was the packing material itself—the products all took different approaches to packing and cooling. Our overall favorite, the Grassland Beef pasture-raised turkey, produced the least packaging waste. It arrived with recyclable paper and cardboard lining for insulation and dry ice for cooling—it was easy to dispose of all of the materials in an environmentally friendly way.

Serious Eats / Madeline Muzzi

The Fossil Farms turkey came in second. It included ClimaCell lining, which is fully recyclable alongside paper and cardboard, along with EnvrioIce ice packs, which can be emptied down the drain before you dispose of the plastic casing. Other turkeys, including the D’Artagnan Green Circle Turkey and the D’Artagnan Heritage Turkey, shipped in styrofoam containers. Although these containers offer solid protection, they can only be disposed of in the trash. 

Plan Ahead for Thawing Time 

Serious Eats / Madeline Muzzi

The Farm Foods Market Jaindl Grand Champion and the Organic Prairie Whole Turkey both arrived fully frozen—we mean rock solid. Thawing a fully frozen bird takes multiple days—the USDA recommends allowing a full day for each four to five pounds of meat. The Organic Prairie Turkey was just under 15 pounds and after three days in the refrigerator, there was still some ice in the cavity. During testing, we found that it was harder to get the fully frozen birds to dry out. Even after thawing, salting, and leaving uncovered overnight in the refrigerator, the meat was still leaking a lot of juice and the skin was still moist. As a result, the skin didn’t get quite as crispy, even in a high-heat oven.

The Fossil Farms turkey arrived partially frozen and thawed fully within two days and roasted up into a crispy-skinned beauty. Fully frozen turkeys can be stored indefinitely in the freezer, while partially frozen birds should be prepared within a week, so be sure to adjust your delivery and preparation plans accordingly. 

Understand Farming Practices 

Serious Eats / Madeline Muzzi

Food labeling is notoriously confusing—terms like “USDA organic,” “free-range,” and “natural” all have specific legal definitions that aren’t immediately clear. With turkeys, you may also encounter additional classifications like heritage or vegetarian-fed. Our favorite birds took slightly different approaches to farming, but all of our winners are considered free-range birds.

To use this label, animals must be given access to outdoor space. The Grassland Beef Pasture Raised Turkey takes things a step further, as pasture-raised birds are given more space and must be allowed to graze. Heritage birds, like the D’Artagnan Heritage Turkey, are a special breed of turkey more closely related to wild turkeys. These often have a slightly gamier, more complex flavor. Our winners are also all raised on antibiotic-free diets.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Mail-Order Turkey  

Serious Eats / Madeline Muzzi

Choose a turkey that aligns with your desired eating practices, whether that means organic, free-range, or conventional. If your schedule allows, a partially frozen turkey will be easier to thaw and prepare. 

The Best Mail-Order Turkeys

What we liked: This bird was delicious and easy to handle. It arrived pre-trussed with the giblets packed up in a neat little bag. It thawed quickly and dried easily in the refrigerator. Once prepared, the skin was crispy while both the white and dark meat remained juicy. The meat was fork-tender, but firm enough that it was easy to carve without shredding. 

What we didn’t: At around $13/pound, this was one of the more expensive birds that we tested. It arrives partially frozen, so you’ll need to coordinate delivery to make sure it arrives within a week of cooking.

Price at time of publish: $187.

Key Specs

Weight: 14-16 lbsFeeds: 8-10 people  Style: Pasture-raisedPrice per pound: Approximately $13.36/lbSerious Eats / Madeline Muzzi

What we liked: This is a juicy turkey with a good balance of light and dark meat. It was easy to carve with a pleasantly mild, chicken-like flavor. D’Artagnan offers three sizes—you can choose turkeys ranging from 12 to 22 pounds. This is ideal for those hosting smaller gatherings, or for anyone who plans to live on leftovers all week. Green Circle turkeys get special treatment: These free-range birds are raised on a diet of grain and vegetable scraps provided by nearby farms. (The practice is certified by Humane Farm Animal Care.)

What we didn’t: This turkey shipped in a styrofoam container. Although it provided adequate protection and inclusion, the non-recyclable material must be disposed of in the trash. 

Price at time of publish: $75 to $160.

Key Specs

Weight: 8-22 lbsFeeds: 6-18 people  Style: Pasture-raisedPrice per pound: Approximately $7.27/lb Serious Eats / Madeline Muzzi

What we liked: As a heritage bird, this turkey was raised free-range on a small farm. It was more flavorful than its industrially-farmed counterparts, but not so gamey as to alienate your more choosey relatives.  

What we didn’t like: This was the most expensive turkey that we tested—it’s priced at an average of $19/pound. This turkey shipped in a styrofoam container that arrived slightly damaged. 

Price at time of publish: $176 to $310.

Key Specs

Weight: 8-16 lbsFeeds: 5-13 people  Style: Pasture-raisedPrice per pound: Approximately $19/lbSerious Eats / Madeline Muzzi

The Competition

Fossil Farms Turkey: This bird arrives partially frozen and roasts up nicely. It’s packaged well but produced just a bit more waste than our top choice. If our top choice isn’t available though, this is a great option.Organic Prairie Whole Turkey: This was a great fully-frozen bird. It remained fairly juicy after roasting, but we didn’t like that the tail was trimmed off or that the included trussing device was plastic.Farm Foods Market Jaindl Grand Champion: After four days of thawing and drying, this still seemed a little soggy. The included band didn’t keep the thighs trussed in the oven, and the resulting meat was quite dry. D’Artagnan Organic Turkey: This turkey was less flavorful than the other D’Artagnan birds we tested. It also arrived slightly beat up in a cracked styrofoam case. Allen Brothers Heritage Black Turkey: This bird was big and flavorful but arrived in damaged packaging. Crowd Cow Ferndale Market Whole Turkey: An underwhelming flavor and hard-to-find giblets bag kept this turkey out of the top spots. Porter Road Whole Turkey: This turkey arrived slightly too thawed for our liking. Although it roasted up well, it failed to justify the price. 

FAQs

How far in advance should you buy a turkey for Thanksgiving?

The ideal timing depends on the type of bird that you order. A fully frozen turkey can be stored in the freezer for months, partially frozen turkeys should be cooked within a week. Depending on the service, it may be possible to order your turkey in advance and request delivery for the week of your meal. 

Can I keep a fresh turkey in the fridge for a week?

Plan to prepare your bird within a few days of thawing. Fresh turkeys can be safely kept in the refrigerator for up to two days before roasting. 

Is it OK to leave a frozen turkey on the counter overnight?

The FDA recommends thawing frozen turkeys in the refrigerator. If a turkey is left to thaw at room temperature, the surface of the bird will reach an unsafe temperature before the interior thaws completely. This can create serious food safety risks.

Why We’re the Experts

To find the best mail-order turkeys, we tested 10 of them—spending weeks thawing and roasting birds.Madeline Muzzi is a freelance writer, editor, and video producer.She has written many reviews for Serious Eats, including wine decantersmini mortar and pestles, and flatware sets.

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