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November 21, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Don’t panic about the turkey shortage

Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times

Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times

So you saw the headlines about a shortage of big Butterball turkeys?

“If you’re planning on serving your family a fresh turkey this Thanksgiving, you may be hard pressed to find one available at your local supermarket,” Fox News warned, among others. The problem: Butterball’s birds didn’t gain as much weight this year as the company had anticipated.

No need to panic, though.

First, the company only cut shipments of birds larger than 16 pounds. Even if you are shopping for one that size, you probably wouldn’t be affected, because only about 20 percent of Thanksgiving turkeys are sold fresh, which is where Butterball had the issue. The majority are previously frozen birds, which aren’t in short supply, says the National Turkey Federation. Beyond that, Butterball produces only about about one-fifth of the country’s Thanksgiving turkeys, and other suppliers haven’t reported any problems, says NBC.

If you do wind up needing more bird than you can find, though, The Kitchn says not to worry. Actually, they say not to bother with 20+ pound turkeys at all. Big turkeys are so problematic to cook evenly, they recommend buying two smaller ones if you’re feeding a crowd, and roasting them side by side in one oven. (Commenters also suggested cooking one small turkey along with an extra bone-in turkey breast.)

My main question is why the Butterball turkeys were so slow to gain weight. Food politics writer Tom Philpott has some interesting thoughts about that.

Whatever you do, if you do have a frozen turkey (and even the “deep chilled” ones I’ve gotten in past years have been effectively frozen,) remember to allow them plenty of time to defrost. Butterball says you should allow at least a day’s thawing time in the refrigerator for every 4 pounds of meat. Small turkey or big, we’re starting to approach those deadlines.

Where are you getting your turkey this year? (Or are you getting a turkey at all? We have as many vegetarian guests as meat-eaters now. Last year we served them pumpkin stuffed with panade.)

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