There are a few reasons why you might be shopping for a kosher turkey. If this is the case, can you expect to spend more money? And if so, why do retailers charge more for this particular type of bird?
Are Kosher Turkeys More Expensive Than Natural Turkeys?
Yes. Since turkeys have to be slaughtered and processed in a certain fashion in order to qualify as kosher, they usually cost a great deal more than natural ones. At online retailers, kosher turkeys sell for as much as $8 to $9 per pound.
What Are Kosher Turkeys?
A kosher food item is one that’s been prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary rules.
Since these rules are both numerous and complicated, it’s impossible to tell if the bird is kosher or not just by looking at it. That’s why all kosher turkeys should carry a label or some other form of endorsement from a kosher agency.
In order to qualify as kosher, turkeys need to meet a stringent set of criteria.
Turkeys themselves are considered edible according to Jewish law. But kosher turkeys need to be slaughtered and prepared in accordance with the rules presented in the Torah.
The process begins at slaughter. A specialized sharp blade is used to sever both the esophagus and the trachea, thereby speeding up the bleeding-out process and minimizing the bird’s suffering.
A person needs to be trained by rabbinic authorities in order to perform this slaughtering ritual, which is called shechita. Moreover, the ritual must take place with religious intent, which is typically demonstrated through prayer.
Once the slaughter is complete, a trained individual known as a bodek inspects the turkey’s internal organs. The lungs must be unblemished, with no lesions or perforations. Called bedika, this inspection is one of the most important steps in the process.
The turkey’s feathers are removed using cold water instead of warm or hot. After removing the loose internal portions, processors soak the turkey in cold water for at least half an hour before applying a measure of coarse salt to the skin and internal cavities.
At this point, the turkey is placed on a surface that allows the blood to drain out and away from the carcass. This can be done by using a surface with a slight incline, or one that has holes punched in it.
After the turkey has drained for an hour, processors soak it in water again to remove the excess salt. The packaging is supervised to ensure quality. When this process is complete, the package may be marked with the symbol or tag that marks it as kosher.
There’s one other caveat that we should mention. The turkey must be inspected, treated with salt, and packaged within 72 hours of slaughter. Otherwise, it won’t qualify as kosher.
Are Kosher Turkeys More Expensive?
As you can imagine, it takes a great deal of time and effort to merit a kosher label. So are kosher turkeys more expensive as a result?
The short answer would be yes. Since kosher turkeys require special treatment and handling—not to mention the support of religious officials—they tend to carry higher price tags than non-kosher ones.
If you don’t need to eat kosher for religious reasons, you might be better off sticking with natural turkeys. That way, you can save a bit of money—or perhaps a lot, depending on how much turkey you need to buy.
We should point out, though, that you may notice an increase in quality when you buy kosher turkeys. The bedika inspection alone ensures that these turkeys are held to a higher standard than “regular” ones.
How Much Does a Kosher Turkey Cost on Average?
When shopping for a kosher turkey, a specialty online retailer may be your only option. Unless there’s a shop near you that’s dedicated to selling kosher products, try a website like Glatt’s Kosher Store, which should have everything you need for your meal.
Like many online retailers, Glatt’s sells turkeys in various sizes, but they’re priced out by range rather than by the exact weight. For example, you can choose from 12-14 pounds, 14-16 pounds, 18-20 pounds, and so on.
At the time of this writing, a turkey in the 12-14 pound range was priced at $113.39. Birds in the 22-24 pound range were going for $194.39.
Considering that you can buy a natural turkey around Thanksgiving for as little as 50 cents per pound, there’s little reason to select a kosher turkey unless you’re required to do so. While you might notice an uptick in quality, it’s unlikely to be worth it.
Do You Need To Salt a Kosher Turkey?
As we mentioned, a kosher turkey is generously salted both inside and out during shechita. Though it may be rinsed afterward, this salting process mimics brining (see below) in the way it allows the meat to retain moisture.
When you apply salt to meat and let it sit for awhile, the salt will loosen up the muscle fibers. This keeps the meat from losing too much natural moisture as it cooks while contributing to a tender and tasty finished product.
We would caution against using much salt when preparing a kosher turkey. Like pre-brined birds, kosher turkeys will already have a flavor boost from the salt.
This helps keep the meat from drying out as it cooks, which is why kosher turkeys are often juicier than their natural counterparts. However, the meat might taste a tad too salty if you’re not used to it.
If you plan on smoking the bird, consider using a salt-free seasoning rub. For roasting, slather the skin with olive oil.
Can You Brine a Kosher Turkey?
Brining a kosher bird is not recommended for the same reasons we’ve outlined above. The meat was essentially brined to begin with, and may retain a salty taste as a result.
That said, you can attempt to brine a kosher turkey if you cut back on the salt. Instead of using 1 cup of kosher salt for each gallon of water, reduce the amount of salt to 1/2 cup. That should allow the brine to do its work without rendering the meat inedible.
Try experimenting with other flavors when soaking the bird in a reduced-salt brine. Add aromatic vegetables, halved apples, citrus fruits, brown sugar, or fresh herbs to the mixture. Whole spices, such as peppercorns and juniper berries, also make fine additions.
Those of you who opt not to brine their turkeys can still improve their flavor by stuffing fresh herbs beneath the skin. You can mix the herbs with olive oil to help them adhere better (see below).
Can You Use Butter as a Binder For Kosher Turkeys?
If you’re buying a kosher turkey because someone at your table adheres to Jewish dietary laws, you’ll also need to avoid putting butter anywhere near the bird.
Mixing dairy and meat is forbidden to those who keep kosher. That can make it challenging to put together a Thanksgiving feast, especially when it comes to side dishes.
Instead, opt for a non-dairy binder, such as olive or canola oil. Remember to pat the turkey dry with paper towels before applying the binder and seasoning rub, or the skin won’t brown up properly.
Although a kosher turkey will put a sizable dent in your wallet, you can rest assured that the bird was prepared according to the rules outlined in the Torah. For many, this peace of mind is worth the extra dollars.