More On Kosher Turkeys!…What’s the difference anyway? Free-Range? Organic? Kosher? What’s best for a Great Thanksgiving? Especially a great Jewish Thanksgiving?
It’s an amazing phenomenon to me… This time of year, markets around the country, even markets with no notable Jewish demography, get requests for kosher turkeys. So is it really true that kosher birds taste better? How about organic kosher turkeys and kosher Free-range turkeys, do they taste as good? We asked the experts, both kosher and non-kosher chefs and butchers and here is the summary.
According to rabbinic tradition, kashering a turkey demands not only a specific method of slaughter, but also the salting of the turkey before cooking. In other words, all kosher meat is brined before preparation.
So what’s brining? The process by which the meat is soaked in salted water, and yes, this creates a more flavorful and juicy product at the end of cooking. It's healthier than basting with oil or other fats, and actually far more effective at obtaining the desired juicy flavor.
Another big difference is "non-kosher" birds, are soaked in hot water prior to plucking (it makes them easier to pluck because the hot water loosens the skin), Kosher birds must be cold-soaked to avoid the prohibition of cooking before the aforementioned salting/soaking/brining process which has to happen after the birds are plucked. Also, the hot water process is drying and can be a health risk as it can generate additional bacteria that must be cooked out of the bird. So for a healthier, easier Jewish Thanksgiving, use a kosher turkey! Or, just consider this a bit of insider information on some of the lesser-known benefits of eating kosher.
Now that you have a sense of some of the differences between kosher turkey’s and non-kosher ones, let’s clarify the difference between the other types of birds.
Organic Turkey: Turkeys must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.
Free-range Turkey: Turkey producers must demonstrate to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service that the turkey has been allowed access to the outside.
FYI and good news: All turkeys are both hormone and steroid free. No hormones have been approved for use in turkeys. Genetic improvements, better feed formulation and modern management practices are responsible for the larger turkeys produced today.
Amongst the renowned experts we consulted for this blog, Tyler Florence, Emeril Lagasse from the Food Network, as well as chefs from Solo and La Marais in NY, and my mother-in-law, they all agree that a kosher turkey is the tastiest choice. They also agreed that using organic and free-range birds do not improve the taste but may appeal to your conscience. Either way, Roasted Turkey  is delicious and healthy for Thanksgiving dinner or as a Shabbos meal any week, so enjoy!