Is one kind of turkey really any better than another? Probably. When the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine cooked traditional frozen turkeys (labeled as self-basting) and "natural" turkeys, they discovered big differences. The vast majority of frozen turkeys are labeled as self-basting because they've been injected with fluids to make them juicier. These fluids, usually salt and broth, but occasionally artificial flavors, do indeed make a moist turkey. But Cook's Illustrated's taste-testers said they could taste some weird and unnatural flavors. You know how turkey deli meat doesn't taste anything like roasted turkey even though it's technically roasted turkey? That's what we're talking about here.
All-natural and organic birds often have the best flavored dark meat and release the best juices for gravy. But the problem with these birds is that without being self-basting, they can seem comparatively dry. The secret to cooking an organic bird right is brining. Soak your turkey in a salty solution prior to cooking and it'll be moist, juicy and taste like real turkey.
Generally speaking, frozen self-basting turkeys can cost as little as 40 cents per pound; all-natural birds about $2 per pound and organic turkeys as much as $3.99. The stores who carry them order a limited number of the more expensive birds so they take orders in the weeks preceding Thanksgiving. Calling and reserving a turkey of your desired weight is a good idea.
La Montañita Coop (Central and Carlisle, 265-4631) sells organic turkeys raised in Northern New Mexico (from Embudo Valley Organic Farm) for $3.99 per pound; Mary's organic birds (from California) for $2.99 per pound and Shelton all-natural turkeys for $1.99 per pound.
Keller's Farm Store (2912 Eubank NE, 294-1427) sells free-range turkeys from their ranch in Pueblo, Colo. for $1.69 per pound.
Whole Foods (Wyoming and Academy, 856-0474) has Diestel range-grown, all-natural turkeys for $1.69 per pound. Diestel's organic line, Heidi's Hens, cost $2.49 per pound, as do Heritage Farms organic turkeys.
Don't want to bother with cooking your own turkey? No problem. Several local businesses are happy to do it for you. Just call ahead and ask them to set one aside for you.
Rudy's Barbecue (Carlisle and I-40, 884-4000) will sell you a fully smoked 12 to 14 pound bird for $26. It comes with its own pan. All you have to do is heat is up for about 45 minutes and you're good to go.
Powdrell's will do a 12 to 14 pounder for $30 or an 18 to 20 pounder for $40. You can also bring your own bird and they'll smoke it for $1.25 per pound. They've also got sweet potato pies, cornbread dressing and giblet gravy.
La Montañita Coop is offering a full Thanksgiving dinner for $140. It serves four to six people with a 14-pound free-range turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, eight dinner rolls and pumpkin pie. You must call and reserve in advance because they can only do a limited number of full dinners. The Coop will also have available a wide range of side dishes and desserts.