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Smart Spending: How to shop for a turkey

White HollTurkeys mill around their coops Esbenshade Turkey Farm Paradise Pa. last November. | AP~File Photo

White Holland Turkeys mill around their coops at the Esbenshade Turkey Farm in Paradise, Pa. last November. | AP~File Photo

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Updated: December 26, 2010 4:36PM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Hosting a holiday dinner is no small feat but buying the turkey for Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be difficult.

Here are tips to help you cut through all the turkey talk.

PREPARE: First, figure out how many people will be eating turkey and calculate how big a bird you need. You’ll want to buy 1 to 1.5 pounds of turkey per person to produce a bountiful meal and leftovers.

You can always buy extra legs, breasts or other parts if you have last-minute guests or if your guests prefer dark meat or include a lot of children, who love drumsticks. Consider buying two small turkeys instead of one very large one because smaller birds tend to be tastier.

It’s always good to check at least a week ahead what turkeys your butcher will offer, and some may recommend reserving or pre-ordering a bird by then to ensure you get what you need.

FRESH VS. FROZEN: This is your biggest decision in picking a bird. Fresh turkeys don’t need any thawing and are ready to cook, saving you time, but they cost more. Frozen turkeys can be purchased well in advance but require several days of thawing — in a refrigerator that’s likely to be crowded with many other holiday-related foods.

Mary Clingman, director of the Butterball brand’s turkey hotline, which advises thousands of consumers in cooking quandaries each year (including more than 12,000 on Thanksgiving day), recommends allowing one day of thawing for every four pounds of turkey.

If you are having a smaller gathering, consider buying a turkey breast but you will also face the fresh versus frozen issue.

TURKEY TALK: The terms you need to decipher when shopping may be new but they don’t have to be confusing. Here’s a primer:

— Free-range: The turkey producer has allowed the bird outdoors while raising it.

— Organic: The producer has raised the bird under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic standards, which require organically grown feed.

— Kosher: This term means only that the bird was raised and butchered under Rabbinical supervision.

— Heritage or Heirloom: These breeds of domestic turkeys are predecessors to the white broadbreasted turkey most Americans eat. They are grown at a slower rate and cost several times more. They are prized for darker, firmer meat with richer flavor.

— Self-basting: These turkeys have been injected with a solution of water, stock, seasonings and possibly other additives so you don’t have to baste the turkey. But some cooking methods also let you skip the basting.

— Self-brined or pre-brined: This means the bird has been soaked in salted water or other liquid, a step that some say provides extra flavor and moisture.

— Oven-prepared or precooked: This refers to a fully cooked bird that is ready to eat (or reheat and eat).

— Oven-ready: This means the bird is prepared for cooking, sometimes already stuffed.

— Hen/Tom: Hens are females and toms are males. A turkey’s sex doesn’t affect its meat’s quality, just the size of the bird.

— Giblets: These are the turkey’s gizzard, heart and liver. Many processors place them in a bag with the neck inside the body, in case you want them for making broth or gravy. They are typically removed before cooking. Some producers keep the giblets so make sure you’ll get them if you want them.

PRICE: Turkey prices do not go up around the holidays. In fact, grocery stores tend to offer specials on turkeys — including free birds and other promotions — to draw customers who will buy other holiday goods. Some experts suggest buying extra if you find a great deal on whole frozen turkeys because they should keep for up to two years.

So keep an eye out for deals and coupons. The average retail price was $1.16 per pound for a conventionally raised turkey, $7 to $10 per pound for a heritage bird and a range of prices in between for free-range and organic turkey, according to the National Turkey Federation, which says Americans consumed some 45 million turkeys last Thanksgiving.

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