When we think of Thanksgiving dinner there's almost always one food that comes to mind: turkey.  On Thanksgiving day, Americans consume 736 million pounds of turkey (yep, the weight of the Empire State Building), so its without a doubt that the turkey is an important part of the Thanksgiving experience.  

Before we can sit down and enjoy our favorite Thanksgiving dish, we need to go out and actually buy the turkey. Grocery shopping is hard enough, but shopping for a turkey for the first time is even harder.  

But never fear, I've answered your most asked turkey selection questions.

Thanksgiving Turkey

Jim, the Photographer on Flickr

What size turkey should I get?

Thanksgiving Turkey [327/366]

timsackton on Flickr

When choosing a Thanksgiving turkey, you must keep in mind what size turkey to buy. As a general rule, you will need 1 pound of bone-in turkey per person, 1 ½ pounds if you want enough for leftovers (because we all know leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving). When shopping for a turkey you should also consider the size of your oven (and the pan to roast the turkey) to make sure it’ll fit.

Should I get a turkey that’s fresh or frozen?

Roasted Turkey

kimberlykv on Flickr

Fresh turkey is a turkey that hasn’t been chilled below 26 degrees, while a frozen turkey is a turkey that’s been frozen. As a general rule, plan for 24 hours of thawing time per 5 pounds of turkey.

#SpoonTip: Submerge the turkey in cold water that you change every 30 minutes, the thawing time will be only about 30 minutes per pound.

What type of turkey should I buy?

You’re almost there, you know what size turkey to buy and the way its been stored, but now you have one more decision to make: what type of turkey should I buy? The different kinds of turkey vary in different flavors, textures and price.

Injected or Basted Turkeys: These babies are the least expensive, and most likely factory-farmed. They’re injected with a saline solution and vegetable oils to ensure that they have large and tender breasts. Injected turkeys taste more buttery and spongy compared to the other types of turkeys.

Natural Turkeys: Natural turkeys are regulated by the USDA by prohibiting growth hormones and antibiotics in the raising of these turkeys. These turkeys have no artificial ingredients or preservatives so their taste and texture is pretty natural. Unlike basted turkeys, natural turkeys can be brined because there’s no added salt.

Free-Range Turkeys: Free range turkeys are defined as turkeys who have had free access to the outdoors for 51% percent of their lives. Usually, these turkeys are raised with no additives but it is not guaranteed. Free-range turkeys are typically leaner than other types of turkeys.

Heritage or Wild Turkeys: Heritage turkeys are the most expensive type of turkey. Most heritage turkeys are free-range and contain no additives, since most heritage turkeys come from smaller, less commercialized farms. These turkeys have a lower fat content and don’t need to cook for as long a time.