Thanksgiving turkey isn't a wait-until-the-last minute sort of entree.
Citrus and Butter Turkey
For extra-crispy turkey skin, be sure to pat your turkey dry with paper towels before it goes in the oven. This is especially important if you’re wet-brining your turkey. Any excess moisture on the surface will prevent the skin from browning and crisping.
| Credit: © Nicole Franzen

It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is coming up quick. In our household, there’s always a mad dash to the grocery store the week before Thanksgiving to prep for the occasion. Now, by this time, we’ve already picked out most of our sides for the menu and decided which of my Aunt Linda’s pies and 10-layer cakes we want to serve. We take our sides and desserts very seriously in my family. But the one thing we don’t take seriously enough (thus the mad dash the week before to the store) is the turkey.

Sure, we spend a lot of time throughout October and the first half of November discussing how we’re going to cook the turkey. Do we deep-fry it? Is it better to put butter under the skin for a crispy finish? Does brining the turkey actually give it more flavor and help it to retain moisture? But all this talk never leads to action so far as procuring and prepping the turkey in a sufficient amount of time beforehand We always end up rushing and stressing. Really, I'm encouraging you to learn from our yearly mistake. Setting yourself up for a great Thanksgiving feast is not just about tips and tricks to make the turkey taste better (although, that's important, too). No, there’s only one thing you can do to start planning your best Thanksgiving holiday affair to date: Order yourself a good turkey and do it now.

So let’s talk turkey, ladies and gents. Ordering a free-range, organic turkey several weeks ahead will save you some time and panic attacks when you don't end up having to rush around the grocery store the week of, only to find a 20-pound, previously frozen (and mildly disappointing) bird that no one else wanted. For those of you who know not just any old turkey will do for your main food holiday's main course, we’ve narrowed down the best sources to find fresh, local turkeys for your Thanksgiving table before it’s too late.

But first, if you’re wondering what exactly an organic, free-range turkey is... it basically means a turkey producer has proven to the USDA that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it's a little more complicated. While many of these locally sourced turkeys are raised in a more humane fashion than your typical bird, with arguably more flavorful and tender meat, "free-range" doesn’t indicate exactly how much time the turkey spent outdoors or what they were treated with and fed. But by all accounts, free-range, organic turkey is the preferred choice for a cleaner (and many a turkey connoisseur would claim exceptionally delicious) Thanksgiving. This guide to free-range turkeys will give you a solid overview of the major players you can source from.

Local Farmers

Good news: This is the best option if you want to go directly to the source to pick up your turkey. Bad news: It can be difficult to find free-range turkeys the closer it gets to Thanksgiving, since many farmers start taking orders in the spring when the birds first hatch. Still, it’s worth a shot. Visit LocalHarvest to find a farm near you, or if you’re in California, check out Bristol Farms for fresh, organic turkey finds.

Local Grocery Stores

If the local farmer route turns out to be a bust in your area, sometimes regular grocery stores do carry free-range turkeys, albeit in small quantities with a hefty price tag. Be careful about the labels, though. An organic turkey in your grocery store could simply mean they were fed with organic feed, not that they were necessarily free-range. Keep in mind the best selections are typically available seven to five days before Thanksgiving, but you can pre-order by calling the meat department at your local grocery store and requesting the size and type of turkey you want. Two of the best stores we found that carry free-range and/or organic turkeys are Whole Foods and family-owned business, Mary’s Free-Range Turkey, which has store locations primarily in the Midwest.

Online Ordering

Ordering online is safe and easy--and the absolute best part is: no lengthy check-out lines. You can pre-order an organic, free-range turkey or organic bone-in turkey breast at D’Artagnan as early as October 24, 2016 for Thanksgiving.

Remember that the best birds tend to fly off the shelves quickly at butcher shops and markets. If you want to secure the bird of your turkey day dreams, you should start seeking it out now.

By Michelle Darrisaw and Michelle Darrisaw