Everything You Need To Know For Buying a Halal Turkey

[Photo: Slice of Chic / flickr]

Want to buy a Halal turkey? You’ve come to the right place for the information you need.

Buying a Halal turkey can be easy for some but difficult for others. Where can you find one? What should you be looking for in a bird? And how can you know if it’s really Halal?

Here is insight into these questions and more for all your Halal turkey dinner needs.

Halal Questions

Q: How can I know my turkey is Halal?

This is important to know first and foremost. If you trust your butcher, you should be good to go. If you find a new or unfamiliar supplier, kindly talk to them and ask about the Halal process the turkeys they’re offering are slaughtered by. It should involve a Muslim slaughterman reciting the traditional prayer, the tasmiyah (bismillah, Allahu akbar), then cutting the neck and through the blood vessels of the bird with a sharp knife followed by a full draining of its blood. If you find a turkey like this, you’re good to go. The only way to know is to ask so talk to your butcher or supplier.

Q: What about “Zabihah” Halal turkey?

The term zabihah is a confusing one. It comes from the Arabic word dhabh which essentially means to cut. Turkeys sold as Halal can be slaughtered in different ways but all of them involve cutting the throat of the bird. This explains why there is confusion as to what exactly zabihah is. We recommend ditching the term zabihah altogether and instead looking into how the meat was slaughtered: hand-cut or machine-cut?

Q: What is hand-cut and machine-cut and which one should I get?

Poultry sold as Halal is generally slaughtered in one of two ways.

1. Hand-cut. A Muslim recites prayer on each turkey individually then slaughters using a sharp knife by hand.

2. Machine-cut. A Muslim recites prayer while operating a machine that slaughters multiple turkeys at once with a large rotating mechanical blade.

All scholars are cool with hand-cut poultry while others consider machine-cut to not meet the requirements of Halal. To accommodate all guests we recommend finding a hand-cut Halal turkey. Plus, more humanely raised and farm-sourced turkeys tend to be slaughtered by hand giving you even more reason to opt for a hand-cut turkey over one slaughtered by machine.

Q: Is Butterball Turkey Halal?

Apparently, they went Halal in 2011. But after Islamophobes attacked the company for providing meat slaughtered according to Shari‘ah Law, they stopped for 2012. Even if Butterball was Halal, though, you can find a better sourced Halal turkey for your family and friends.

Q: I can’t find Halal turkeys near me. Is Kosher turkey an option?

Yes! Some Islamic scholars consider Kosher meat as Halal while others are on the fence. If you and your guests are comfortable with eating Kosher (be sure to check with them beforehand) then you may have access to a bird just yet. Supermarkets around the country will stock Kosher certified whole turkeys in their coolers. Select Whole Foods stores carry Kosher Valley and Trader Joe’s sell their own better price Glatt Kosher turkeys, as well. Since Kosher turkeys are treated with salt as part of their ritualistic process, you may want to cut back slightly on the salt you use to cook your bird. Just be sure to search for Halal first before going Kosher, so as to support Muslim businesses.

Q: Can I order directly from a Halal slaughterhouse?

Yep. Cities like New York, Chicago, and Detroit have Muslim run slaughterhouses that you can order your turkeys directly from. In Chicago, you can try Aden Live Poultry or Chicago Live Poultry, both in the Devon area.

Q: Can I Halal slaughter my own?

Absolutely. If you find a farm owner that lets you slaughter your own turkey, then bismillah. Just be sure to speak to the farm owner and, if you’re unfamiliar with the process, your imam on the correct procedure of Halal slaughter.

Organic and Feed Questions

Free range organic turkeys from Halal Pastures. [Photo: Halal Pastures]

Free range organic turkeys from Halal Pastures. [Photo: Halal Pastures]

Q: Where can I find organic Halal turkey?

Believe it or not, there are organic Halal options out there. If you’re interested in ordering an organic, pasture raised turkey shipped anywhere in the US, check out Halal Pastures based out of New York. For New York only area only consider Honest Chops. Other cities may have organic Halal options as well if you ask around.

Q: How about hormones, antibiotics, or animal byproducts in the turkey’s feed?

This all depends on where ever your turkey is coming from. If you have a way to contact the supplier of the turkey, you can find out exactly what the turkey was fed, or even how it was raised. Be prepared, however, to not get very many answers.

Q: The turkey I’m looking at says it’s “enhanced”, pre-brined, or injected with a solution. What does that mean?

Many turkeys, including some Halal ones, are sold pre-brined, that is they are injected with a solution made up of broth, salt, sodium phosphate, sugar, and some flavorings that works its way into the meat. In addition to slightly seasoning the meat the salt in the brine rearranges the protein structure of the meat so that it retains moisture better while cooking. This is the same brining or salting the turkey yourself, only the processor is taking care of this for you and adding sodium phosphate along the way. If you prefer to handle the seasoning yourself look for a bird that wasn’t injected with any brine.

Turkey Size and Planning Questions

Q: When should I buy my turkey?

Halal turkeys are always limited in quantity. So, if you’re going to make turkey then make plans for where you’ll be getting yours at least a week or two in advance. That way, you won’t be freaking out trying to find the right bird near or even on the day of cooking. Turkey can take a while to cook, so you’ll want to take care of getting one and seasoning it before the day of actual cooking. This may mean getting you turkey a day or two or even three in advance of cooking.

 Turkeys in the Midwest are even more limited in 2015 due to the bird flu.

Q: How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey?

If you’re getting a frozen turkey you’ll need to get one even earlier than a chilled turkey to accommodate time for thawing the bird in the fridge, as well. There are two methods to thawing. The first is to thaw in the fridge, which The Kitchn and Serious Eats says will take 24 hours for every 5 lbs of turkey (a 15 lb bird will thaw in 3 days). The other way to is to submerge the still wrapped turkey in a giant bucket of cold water replacing the water every 30 minutes. Serious Eats says this will thaw at a rate of 30 minutes per lb. Figure out when your recipe says to start seasoning your turkey with salt or in a brine and shoot to have your turkey fully thawed by then.

Q: Is frozen turkey worse than fresh turkey?

There’s a misconception out that that is meat is frozen, it’s terrible. That’s not always true. The quality of frozen meat depends on a number of things.

1. When the turkey was frozen. Meat that’s frozen soon after slaughter will maintain freshness surprisingly well. Check with your supplier or butcher to find out when it was delivered and at what point it was frozen.

2. How the turkey was frozen. If done right, meat suppliers will freeze the turkey using extremely cold freezers or blast chillers that freeze the meat extremely quickly. This results in smaller ice crystal formation vs. freezing in weak freezers slowly that cause large ice crystals that literally rip up the cells of meat tissue causing juice leakage after thawing. If you find a frozen bird and are unsure, ask about how it was frozen before buying.

3. How long the turkey’s been frozen. Meat maintains its freshness after freezing for about three months. If you find a frozen turkey that was slaughtered weeks, a month, or even two or three months ago, it should be totally fine. Any turkeys older than that you may want to look for another bird. In November, however, you’ll most likely find turkeys that were slaughtered just within the week or month and that’s totally fine.

Q: How big of a turkey should I buy? How many lbs should it weigh?

Shoot for about 1 lb per diner, says The Kitchn. With the bones removed, that tends to equal about ½ lb of meat per person which is nice and generous amount. Even though there are almost always sides served with turkey dinner people tend to bring their appetites to the party. If there is too much, that’s what turkey leftovers are for!

Q: My Muslim family gatherings are huge with a ton of people. Should I get a massive 20-22 lb bird?

You could, but because turkeys are shaped in such an oblong way, you’d have to adjust the way you cook it. What’s better is to get two smaller turkeys going, instead. Smaller birds cook more evenly and thus can be juicier with crispier skin. Alton Brown recommends a 14 lb-er as the ideal size. Since turkey dinners are usually so potluck oriented, anyway, split up turkey tasks. Since a roast turkey should rest for at least 20 and up to 30 minutes out of the oven, whoever is roasting the second turkey can finish roasting their turkey and carefully bring it over to the main house within that resting time. If you have two ovens (you’re probably hosting, right?) you can totally cook both at once in the same kitchen. Just leave any other oven use to before turkey cooking time or for the guests who are bringing side dishes.

Q: My (insert family member paranoid that thinks you may will starve the guests if you get small turkeys here) is insisting that we get a 20-22 lb bird, how differently should I plan to cook it?

For seasoning or brine times, you’ll have to adjust accordingly. As for cooking, Serious Eats says for large birds near the 20 lb range, to “reduce the oven temperatures suggested in our roast turkey recipes by 50°F and increase cooking times by up to 40% (make sure to use a thermometer to tell when the turkey is done),” so plan to add extra cooking time on the day of.

Q: Are there any additional guides on buying a turkey?

Check out this turkey guide from Serious Eats.

Q: What’s the best way to season or prepare a turkey?

The answer to that, insha’Allah, is coming soon. Stay tuned!

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