Commercial turkeys in cramped conditions
Saveur offers a short guide to buying turkeys. Though it's not online at this time, I'm posting it for you. They look at three types of birds:
Conventional: This perennial favorite--typically a Broad-Breasted White variety--boasts an ultraplump breast that has usually (but not always) been injected with butter, water, and salt; it will be labeled "self-basted" if it contains these ingredients. Though the flesh tastes appealing when spruced up with gravy and cranberry sauce, it can be bland on its own. The price is the real selling point: conventional turkeys go for about $1 to $2 per pound.
Natural: Our favorite turkeys (often described as "minimally processed") are those that haven't been treated with artificial colors or flavor-enhancing ingredients. (Higher priced "organic" turkeys are bred according to strict rules established by the USDA.) Like their conventional counterparts, natural turkeys are usually a Broad-Breasted White variety. Though you'll pay more (they run around $2.50 per pound), most have a clean, pure turkey flavor and moist flesh.
Heritage: This category of turkeys comprises a host of old-time varieties, like Narragansett and Bourbon Red, which were staples of the pre-World War II American turkey industry. These breeds mature slowly; thus, their flesh can be pleasantly flavorful and moist--or unpleasantly gamey and chewy. It's worth doing your research before buying: at an average price of $6 to $10 per pound, they're by far the most costly turkeys available.
A pretty disappointing guide, but a start I guess. I'm not sure why there's no mention of free range, humanely raised birds. Or why they don't talk about fresh vs. frozen turkeys. And I really can't believe they'd mention a "self-basted" turkey at all (especially when they don't discourage readers from buying it), that thing's an abomination! The best birds I've had are free range birds from local farmers. They tend to be fattier and more flavorful, and I feel better knowing the turkeys lived happy lives.
For more information about your Thanksgiving options, see What to Have for Thanksgiving: Fresh or Frozen? Wild, Organic, Free Range or Conventional? And check out your local farmer's market. Mine's been taking orders all fall for turkeys. You might still be able to order something.
What kind of turkey do you prepare?