Bill Yenovkian laughs as he attempts to describe the perfect Thanksgiving turkey “without sounding pornographic.” You want a “full, nice-shaped bird,” the longtime Foods of All Nations butcher begins. And then he stops, embarrassed, and tries again: “You want a rounded, plump breast…”
Why don’t we start with the number of people you’re serving and how big a bird you should buy, Yenovkian suggests. Ask yourself a few questions: How many adults will be at your table? How many children? What’s the makeup of men, women and college-aged boys? Are any of your guests vegetarians? Do you want leftovers? Are you big eaters? “It’s not as simple as buying a boneless piece of meat and guessing between six and eight ounces per person,” he says.
“One and a half to two pounds per person is a good rule of thumb,” Yenovkian says. “If you’re serving five people, you’ll want a 10- to 12-pound turkey—a 12-pound turkey is not a very big bird when you look at it. And you should err on the larger side because nobody wants to run short. It’s not that expensive to buy a couple extra pounds.”
The next step is choosing between fresh and frozen. A turkey is labeled fresh if it hasn’t been cooled below 26 degrees Fahrenheit, while a frozen bird has been chilled below zero degrees Fahrenheit (and needs plenty of time to defrost). There are also hard-chilled turkeys, which have been cooled below 26 degrees, but not below zero.
But fresh and frozen aren’t the only turkey differentiators you’ll encounter. You’ll also need to decide if you want your bird to be organic (raised on 100 percent organic feed, given access to the outdoors and no antibiotics); kosher (a grain-fed, antibiotic-free turkey that’s been processed under rabbinical supervision and soaked in a salt brine); free-range (a turkey that has access to the outdoors); or natural (a bird that’s been minimally processed and has no added artificial ingredients or colors). Then there are heritage breeds: Most store-bought turkeys are Broad Breasted Whites, but farmers such as Judd and Cari Culver raise historic breeds like the KellyBronze that can be found running wild at Heritage Glen, the couple’s Crozet farm. The pair’s slow-growing birds sell for more than $12 a pound and receive no antibiotics, feed additives or growth hormones, and they are hand-plucked, dry-hung and aged before being sold.
Among the three different birds Foods of All Nations carries are Polyface Farm turkeys, which are GMO-free and live in a paddock that is moved every other day to a new pasture that’s been “mowed” by cows, so the grass is shorter and the birds eat tender, fresh sprouts. And over on Garth Road at Timbercreek Farm, the birds are given GMO-free feed to supplement what they consume while grazing and foraging in mobile houses that are also rotated frequently.
Turkey, however, isn’t the only game in town. Yenovkian gets requests for goose, duck and the occasional turducken, a combination of turkey, duck and chicken. (“We have a hard time sourcing them,” he says. “And honestly, they’re a ridiculous amount of work.”) Some people do a Thanksgiving beef roast, a standing rib roast or a tied tenderloin, he says, but the vast majority of his customers go with turkey: Yenovkian estimates he sells about 400 birds, “which is a lot for a small store; it’s a week of chaos, but we try to keep it as organized and running as smoothly as we can.”
When asked about the centerpiece of his own Thanksgiving meal, Yenovkian says, “I like turkey. There’s a big difference between moving hundreds of pounds of turkey and sitting down and enjoying one with friends and family.”
The day after
Thanksgiving was fun, but the party’s over. Now what about all those leftovers? We turned to Mike Perry, the chef de cuisine at Harvest Moon Catering, for advice. He suggested these simple-to-make, all-inclusive turkey sliders. “They can be a bit messy,” he says. “But they’re worth it!”
8 soft rolls, cut in half and buttered
1 pound sliced or pulled, roasted turkey
1 cup turkey gravy
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 cup stuffing
½ cup cranberry sauce (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Arrange the bottoms of the rolls in a buttered casserole dish. Equally divide and spoon the mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy onto the bottom half of the rolls. Layer the turkey on top of the gravy and spoon the cranberry sauce (if using) over the turkey. Put the tops of the rolls in place and cover the assembled sliders with foil. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove the foil cover and let the sliders rest for a few minutes. Dig in!