The wild turkeys of yesteryear have largely been replaced on our tables by domestic turkeys, which are farm-raised birds bred for their broad breasts and juicy, flavorful flesh.
Domestic turkeys weigh 6 to 24 pounds and have large breasts in relation to their legs and wings. They are so out of proportion, in fact, that domestic turkeys cannot fly more than a few feet at a time.
Most of the turkeys found on the market are young and will have tender meat. The most common types of turkey are:
Fryer/roasters: The youngest and most tender turkeys available, fryer/roasters are under 16 weeks old at slaughter. Their small size—5 to 9 pounds—makes them good choices for small families. They can be roasted, broiled, or grilled.
Hens: These female turkeys, 5 to 7 months old, weigh between 8 and 18 pounds. Some cooks believe that hens have a larger proportion of white to dark meat. Hens can be roasted, broiled, or grilled.
Toms: There are those cooks who believe that the only relevant difference between a male tom turkey and a hen is size. Young tom turkeys weigh up to 24 pounds. Others, however, insist that toms have tastier meat. Like hens, toms can be roasted, broiled, or grilled.
Mature hens or toms: These are older turkeys and are not often found on the market. They are best stewed or poached.
Turkey parts: All-white-meat breasts come in whole or half form, with the bone in or boneless. Breast steaks are crosswise cuts 1/2 to 1 inch thick. Breast steaks that are 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick are called turkey cutlets. Tenderloins are the whole muscles on the inside of the turkey breast. Tenderloins are also sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick steaks, called tenderloin steaks. Thighs and drumsticks are all-dark-meat sections sold separately or together as hindquarters. Wings are white-meat sections sold with the bone in.
Ground turkey: Provided that it’s made from mostly breast meat, ground turkey can be a leaner substitute for ground beef. Packaged ground turkey often contains skin and dark meat, however, and may derive 54 percent of its calories from fat. Some processors do sell turkey ground from breast meat only, but be sure to check the ingredient label. You can be sure of very lean ground meat if you buy fresh turkey parts—breast cutlets or tenderloins, for example—and have the butcher grind them for you. Or grind them yourself if you have a meat grinder.