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Turkey History & Trivia
From the first Thanksgiving to today's turkey burgers, turkeys are a part of the American tradition dating back hundreds of years. However, many of us still know little about these wonderful birds. The following are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about turkeys.

Turkey Lore
Early explorers to the New World quickly acquired a taste for turkey and took birds back to Europe. By the 1500s, turkeys were being raised domestically in Italy, France and England. When the Pilgrims and other settlers arrived in America, they were already familiar with raising and eating turkey and naturally included it as part of their Thanksgiving feast.

Some experts think the first Thanksgiving dinner was served by the Pilgrims in 1621. Others credit the settlers of Virginia's Jamestown with celebrating the first Thanksgiving as their version of England's ancient Harvest Home Festival.

President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, supposedly as a response to a campaign organized by magazine editor Sara Joseph Hale. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving Day forward one week, as it is presently celebrated.

A Bird of Courage
Benjamin Franklin, who proposed the turkey as the official United States' bird, was dismayed when the bald eagle was chosen over the turkey. Franklin wrote to his daughter, referring to the eagle's "bad moral character," saying, "I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country! The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America."

A Visit to the White House
Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation (NTF) has presented the President of the United States with a live turkey and two dressed turkeys in celebration of Thanksgiving. The annual presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey to the President has become a traditional holiday ritual in the nation's capital, signaling the unofficial beginning of the holiday season and providing the President an opportunity to reflect publicly on the meaning of the Thanksgiving season. After the ceremony, the live bird retires to Mount Vernon to live out the rest of its years.

Holiday Turkey
In 2010, more than 244 million turkeys were raised. More than 226 million were consumed in the United States. We estimate that 46 million of those turkeys were eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter.

Nearly 88 percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey at Thanksgiving. The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 16 pounds, meaning that approximately 736 million pounds of turkey were consumed in the United States during Thanksgiving in 2010.

Fried Turkey: A Tasty Treat
Deep fried turkey originated in the southern United States but is popular today throughout North America. Quickly cooked, deep-fried turkey is rich in flavor with a golden brown crispy exterior while moist and fork-tender on the interior. It's a perfect twist for barbecues, block parties, tailgate parties, holiday feasts and informal wedding receptions. In fact, some charitable organizations have replaced traditional holiday dinners with deep-fried turkey extravaganzas. Commercial catering operations offer deep-fried turkey and restaurants feature the golden crisp bird during the holidays. But throughout the year, more and more folks are setting up 30-40 quart pots on concrete, filling kettles with high smoke point oils, patting the turkeys dry, putting on long heavy-duty gloves and cooking juicy turkeys.

A Deep Fried Delicacy: The How-To on Deep Frying Turkey

Ready for a Nap?
Many people report drowsiness after eating Thanksgiving dinner. While turkey often receives the blame, recent studies suggest that carbohydrate-rich meals may cause sleepiness by increasing the number of tryptophans in the brain.

Therefore, the unusually large, multi-coursed, carbohydrate-rich meal most people eat on Thanksgiving is more likely the cause.

Compare the White and Dark Meat

  • White meat is generally preferred in the United States while other countries choose the dark meat.
  • A turkey typically has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat.
  • The two types of meat differ nutritionally. White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat.
  • The rich flavor of dark meat is especially valued in soup and stew recipes. Dark meat holds up well in rich marinades and is a perfect choice for grilling and barbecuing.

Moon Food
When Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin sat down to eat their first meal on the moon, their foil food packets contained roasted turkey and all of the trimmings.

One of the dinner options for Commander Christopher Ferguson aboard Atlantis, the last NASA shuttle to fly into space, was smoked turkey and turkey tetrazzini.

For Your Eyes Only
Turkey is listed among the top 10 foods for your eyes because it’s rich in zinc (plus the B-vitamin niacin protects against cataracts).

Turkey Feathers and Fluff
It's estimated that turkeys have 3,500 feathers at maturity. The bulk of turkey feathers are composted or otherwise disposed of, although some feathers may be used for special purposes. For instance, dyed feathers are used to make American Indian costumes or as quills for pens. The costume that "Big Bird" wears on "Sesame Street" is rumored to be made of turkey feathers. Turkey feather down has been used to make pillows. For commercial use, turkey skins are tanned and used to make items like cowboy boots, belts or other accessories.

America Gobbles up Turkey
Turkey consumption has nearly doubled over the past 25 years. In 2010, per capita turkey consumption was 16.4 pounds compared to 8.3 pounds in 1975. It's easy to see why when you consider the many benefits of turkey.

The naturally mild taste of turkey combines readily with different seasonings, making it an ideal choice in spicy ethnic dishes, as a substitute for higher-fat meats in favorite recipes and as a complement to other foods on the plate.

USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 offer good direction for health. Of particular interest is the principle that advises, "Go lean with protein." This guideline recommends selecting the lower fat options with "lean meats and poultry." Turkey is a perfect choice. The "Protein" section of the MyPlate recommends choosing lean or low-fat meat and poultry. Turkey is a nutrient-rich protein that is lower in fat and calories than many other foods within this group.

Want to see how to “upgrade” your diet with turkey? Click here!

Turkey can be used in so many cooking methods, including stovetop, oven, microwave and grill. The wide range of cuts and products available such as ground turkey, turkey ham, turkey franks, turkey pastrami, turkey sausage and deli turkey make this protein easy to incorporate into any meal. Turkey is increasingly packaged in smaller portion sizes that are perfect for singles or small families.

The variety of turkey products available makes it easy to prepare meals quickly. Pre-cooked turkey products, such as turkey breast and turkey ham, can be sliced and heated for dinner, used in sandwiches, or cubed and added to pasta dishes, chili and soups. Turkey cutlets, tenderloins and ground turkey are quickly browned, grilled, sautéed or stir-fried.

Did you Know?
Only tom turkeys gobble.

Hen turkeys make a clicking noise.

Domesticated turkeys cannot fly.

Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour and can run 20 miles per hour.

June is National Turkey Lovers' Month!

Famous Peoples Favor Turkey Dishes

President Andrew Jackson ranked turkey hash #1 among his favorite foods. 

The following celebrities claim turkey as their favorite:

  • Oprah Winfrey:  Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burger at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club
  • BB King: BB King’s Special Chef Salad (uses chopped smoked turkey breast)
  • William Shatner (Star Trek, Turkey Burgers by Elizabeth Shatner

Who's a Turkey Lover? Everyone!

  • Americans of all ages love turkey because of its healthful, "comfort" food profile. A national study on turkey consumption found: Nearly half of U.S. consumers eat turkey at least once every two weeks with more than a quarter eating turkey deli meat.
  • Ground turkey has high appeal among all ages, genders and economic levels.
  • Away-from-home consumption of turkey sandwiches continues to grow, appealing to about everyone: eaters between 18-64 years old, dual-income families and employed singles.

© 2010 National Turkey Federation
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