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7 Thanksgiving turkey facts you probably didn't know

Impress your family and friends with your knowledge of America's favorite fowl

Published: November 10, 2014 12:45 PM
Photo: Grant Cornett/Hello Artists

Nov. 27 will not be a good day to be a vegetarian—or a turkey. Before you carve up the holiday feast, here are some facts to take to the table.

1. The turkey is a cousin of the pheasant.

Turkey got its name from early European explorers to the Americas. It reminded them of a “Turkey bird” from back home, which had been brought there from Turkey.

2. Some parts might cook faster than others.

Those pop-up timers aren’t always reliable because they measure the temperature in only one spot, plus they aren’t accurate, according to our tests. No bird should be served until all parts have been cooked to a safe 165° F. Our advice: Use an instant-read thermometer in the inner thigh, wing, and thickest part of the breast. A good choice is the Polder Stable Read THM-379, $18.

3. Corn and soybeans are the staples of most turkeys’ diets.

They are supplemented by vitamins and minerals.

4. They’re not all gobblers.

Only male turkeys can make that distinct ‘turkey gobble’ call; female turkeys make clicking sounds.

5. The secret to tasty turkey is to cut it up.

It’s called spatchcocking: Cut out the backbone, split the bird in half, and lay it flat on a rack. When cooked at 450° F, a 12-pounder roasts in about an hour. Because everything cooks evenly in one layer, it’s cooked to juicy perfection.

6. White and dark meat are different muscles.

The darker the meat, the more myoglobin, a protein that ships oxygen to the muscles. Because turkeys run around more than they fly, their legs and thighs get more oxygen and are darker than breast meat.

7. America has three top turkey processors.

They are Butterball, Jennie-O, and Cargill.

Turkey by the numbers

46 million: The number of turkeys served on Thanksgiving; 88 percent of us will eat the birds that day.


15.6 pounds: The estimated amount of turkey Americans eat each year, an amount that has declined by 2 pounds since 2008.


2,000: The average number of residential fires doubles to about 2,000 on Thanksgiving Day. Most are related to cooking. About 3 percent involve deep fryers, so remember: Turn off the burner immediately if the oil begins to smoke.


18 weeks: The amount of time it takes a turkey to grow to maturity. And that’s when most are slaughtered. (Turkeys younger than 8 months can be labeled “young.”)


3 percent: The maximum amount of weight added to a “basted” or “self-basted” turkey by an injection or a marinade of a slurry of broth, stock, butter, or spices.


0: The amount of hormones in a turkey, even if it isn’t organic. But turkeys can be fed antibiotics daily. (Not organic birds, though.)


Editor's Note:

A version of this artcle also appeared in the November 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.



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