The mystery of the skinny turkey

Roast Turkey

The blogosphere is full of stories about the fat turkey problem - or, more accurately, the lack of fat turkeys problem. Apparently, Butterball - the company that produces the largest number of turkeys for national sale - has announced that they've had problems getting turkeys to plump up for Thanksgiving. Therefore, the number of fresh, fat (over 16 pound) turkeys available for sale will be down.

According to this article in the Boston Globe, "CEO Rod Brenneman says in an interview with the AP that it's the first time it happened and that the company is investigating what went wrong. Butterball had announced last week that it will have a limited supply of large, fresh turkeys that are 16 pounds or heavier for the holidays.

''It's a really good question. We don't have an answer yet,'' Brenneman said when asked about the cause. But he noted that turkeys are ''biological creatures'' subject to a variety of factors. ''For whatever reason, they just didn't gain quite as well this year,'' he said."

However, there is no reason to panic. The problem seems to be exclusively with Butterball, and specifically only with their fresh turkeys (the frozen ones were prepared awhile ago). As a result, there has been much speculation as to what has befallen Butterball (which as a private company is not required to release information).  Theories include a possible change of feed (driven by the high price of corn); a change in additives, especially regarding antibiotics which are being increasingly discouraged; and even wondering if this is just a way to hype the market.  If you'd like to dig into these theories further, Mother Jones has a speculative article, Is the Butterball Turkey Shortage for Real?

But, again, there isn't a major problem. While Butterball is certainly the largest turkey purveyor, it still only sells one of every five turkeys. And we should note that two other large producers, Whole Foods and Cargill, are not reporting any issues. But here's a thought - maybe this is a good incentive to scout out a local supplier. Or you can always roast two smaller ones. 

And while we're on the subject, don't forget to check out our Thanksgiving Pinterest Board for some great inspiration.

Photo of Roast Turkey from Annie's Eats, based on the recipe by Alton Brown


  • Eurydice  on  11/20/2013 at 11:33 PM

    Is this a problem or an improvement? Isn't it better to eat leaner meat?

  • sir_ken_g  on  11/21/2013 at 9:16 AM

    Duck is better anyway. No fat? You either have a very dry bird or you baste - a lot.

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