When Should You Buy Your Thanksgiving Turkey?

Thanksgiving is already less than a week away, which means it’s time to start strategizing. And beyond choosing how you’re going to cook your turkey and what type of stuffing you’re going to make, there’s one critical logistic that you need to consider: making enough room in your kitchen.

Our ovens are on a tight schedule on Thanksgiving, and the same is true with our refrigerators. There needs to be enough space to store all the ingredients for our holiday appetizers, sides, cocktails and desserts. But, most importantly, there needs to be room for the turkey. No matter how small your gathering is this year, you can expect the turkey to take up a large portion of your refrigerator real estate. You might even be cooking multiple birds if you’re hosting a large gathering.

So you probably want to wait before filling up your fridge with several pounds of poultry. But when exactly should you be buying your holiday turkey? The answer ultimately depends on the size of your turkey and whether you’re buying it fresh or frozen. So we’re breaking down everything you need to know so you can be confident in your turkey timeline this Thanksgiving.

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Fresh Turkey

dry brine full turkey sitting on a white platter on top of fresh herbspinterest

Buying a fresh turkey is fairly straightforward. Since you don’t need to fuss with defrosting, you can start working with the turkey the second you bring it home from the store. The only factor you need to consider is the prep time for your preferred turkey recipe.

Most recipes for Thanksgiving turkey call for brine. Unlike simply sprinkling salt over the surface, this technique allows the salt to permeate the entire turkey over a prolonged period of time. That means you should buy your turkey at least a day or two before the holiday to allow for ample prep time. If you’re submerging your bird in a traditional wet brine, you should allocate at least 24 hours for the salt to season the meat. But our dry brine recipe requires two whole days of seasoning before you pop the turkey in the oven.

Frozen Turkey

a plate of foodpinterest

The perks of a frozen turkey include its longevity. Butterball says you can store an unopened package of turkey in the freezer for up to two years! This makes it a great choice for cooks who like to plan their Thanksgiving far in advance. It’s also generally more cost-effective to buy a frozen turkey over a fresh one. But there’s a catch: it takes much longer for a frozen turkey to be ready for cooking. Thawing a whole bird takes time.

Butterball’s recommended thawing method is to keep it in the fridge and allow it to gently defrost. It’s the most foolproof and food safe method, but it’s also the most time-intensive. The general rule of thumb: allow 24 hours for every four pounds of frozen turkey. So if you’re making a behemoth 20 pound bird, expect to set aside five days just for thawing alone. Then, once you factor in the extra brining time, that means you should be buying a turkey at least a week in advance.

If you’re planning to buy a frozen turkey, grab your wallet and head to the grocery store ASAP. But for those willing to spend a little extra for a fresh turkey, you can wait until the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving to buy your bird.