Buyer Beware: "Natural" turkey may be injected!

Chris Allingham

Administrator
Staff member
For years, I have been telling people that they should choose a "natural" turkey for brining--a turkey that's not injected with a solution of water, salt, flavorings, etc.

I'm cruising through the supermarket tonight and I see a "fresh, all natural*" Butterball turkey that I've never seen in years past. It's a turkey that's not frozen and it says "natural" so I assume it's not injected.

But I noticed that little * next to the word "natural". And sure enough, in the fine print, it says, "Contains up to 4% solution of water, salt and spices to enhance tenderness and juiciness." And that little asterisk refers to the fact that this turkey contains "no artificial ingredients".

That 4% injection is about half of the injection percentage of the usual Butterball self-basting turkey, and it's lacking the food starch and sodium phosphates found in the usual Butterball...but I'm blown away by the fact that it says "NATURAL" on the label and yet it is injected!

So I run home and go to the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service website--the definitive source for the definition of turkey terms--and low and behold, it says that natural turkey may not contain artificial flavorings, coloring ingredients, chemical preservatives, or other synthetic ingredients.

This means that a natural turkey MAY contain a solution of water, salt, and other NATURAL flavorings to enhance tenderness and juiciness. As long as your injection solution is natural, it's still a natural turkey!

It just proves once again that you have to read the fine print on the label. To ensure you're buying a non-injected turkey--one that contains only turkey and water--you want to make sure it does not say "Contains a X% solution to enhance tenderness and juiciness" on the label.

Do not be tricked by the word "natural" on the label!

So from now on, I am revising my turkey terminology. I'm going to use the phrase "regular turkey" to describe a turkey that's not been injected with anything. I will be recommending "regular turkey" to those that want to brine a turkey.

Learn more: Enhanced Meat

Regards,
Chris
 

Bruce Bissonnette

TVWBB Guru
Chris, I agree wholeheartedly with your post, however, for the past several years I have been buying the Butterball "Natural" turkey and using a normal ratio brine and have had excellent results. I don't know how much 4% is but it has to be a fairly small amount. But as I said I agree with your sentiment.
 

Scott Dallal

TVWBB Member
Interesting! I think you found that the same time I did!

My dad brought me a 16lb frozen turkey to use for thanksgiving. It is clearly a self basting bird and marked 8% injected.

Since I had not decided if I was doing self basting or a full on brine, I looked next time I was at the store. They had gotten in some "fresh" (not frozen) birds that said "natural". Didn't say "all natural" but did say "natural". I read the print at the bottom and it showed 3% injection with a description as you noted. I don't remember the brand but sure it was not a Butterball.

I looked around a little more and found a fresh "all natural" bird that was also marked as Kosher. I could find nothing about injection on it and the fine print simply said "all natural". They actually had it marked on sale (which made me a little nervous) but the bigger issue is it was small. Right at 10 lbs. So I passed.

But your right...read those labels!!!
 

Chet Kreidler

New member
Just in case any of you didn't under stand what they mean by 4% or 8%, it is this. 4% of the birds weight or 8% or 3% or what ever percent is stated. So if you have a 20 pound bird it is 20 X 16 ounces x the 4% stated on the label = 12.8 ounces of the broth has been added to the bird.
Chet
 

Dave/G

TVWBB Emerald Member
Originally posted by Chet Kreidler:
= 12.8 ounces of the broth has been added.
Chet
Thanks
Each year at this time I give thanks that I'll be cooking our traditional Thanksgiving chickens.
 

JimK

TVWBB Olympian
Did an inspection at the store today. There were several different "kinds" of turkey available. Sadly, only one of them was not enhanced in some way; though one was with only 4%. What's really scary? The only one that wasn't enhanced was $3.99/lb. And it wasn't organic.
 

Phil Perrin

TVWBB Honor Circle
Well %#@&)%$ !! I just looked at the Butterball "premium" bird I bought yesterday. 7% injection.
I repeat,%#@&)%$ !! I guess I'm just gonna rub it and forget the brine.
 

JimK

TVWBB Olympian
While we're on the subject, what would the term "4% retained water" indicate? I had the butcher tell me that all it is is water, and no brine or brine-type ingredients.
 

Chris Allingham

Administrator
Staff member
Originally posted by JimK:
While we're on the subject, what would the term "4% retained water" indicate? I had the butcher tell me that all it is is water, and no brine or brine-type ingredients.
From the article Turkey Selection & Preparation:
The label on a regular turkey may include the phrase, "Contains up to X% retained water" as shown in Photo 1. Do not confuse this with a self-basting turkey. Retained water is water that is absorbed and retained by the skin and meat as a result of washing and water-immersion chilling during processing. The USDA requires that poultry producers prove that the retained water is an unavoidable consequence of the process used to meet food safety requirements and that they list the actual or maximum percentage of retained water on the label.

Regards,
Chris
 

danmarks

TVWBB Fan
yes, i was supermarketing about 4 times the past three weeks, at 2 diff. markets and all i've ever seen (this yr) are basted/natural birds... shadybrook farms, butterball... could not find any true natural (I dont mean organic) birds.
 

Larry Powers

TVWBB Member
I have purchased a bird that has not been injected but it still says contains up to 3% aborbed water. This was a previously frozen bird and the butcher explained that the freezing process will cause the bird to absorb water. I figure that the salty brine should still be absorbed pretty well. Also I will unwrap the bird the day before I will brine it and let it dry in the fridge.

Better then injected but still....
 

Chris Allingham

Administrator
Staff member
Originally posted by Larry Powers:
...the butcher explained that the freezing process will cause the bird to absorb water.
Butcher is wrong. See the text I quoted in my earlier reply. It's water from washing and cooling the turkey after slaughter, not from freezing. Seeing "X% retained water" on the label is fine...seeing "X% of a solution to enhance" means injected/self-basted, which is fine if you want a self-basted bird.

Regards,
Chris
 

Darrell O

TVWBB Fan
I solved the problem for myself this year. I usually buy a natural non-injected Bell Evans turkey. However I read that a local turkey farmer had only sold 3/4 of their turkeys and so I decided to pick one up from him. It's not injected, it's got some fat on it since it was raised in New England, and it lived eight miles from me. It's currently in an apple brine on the back porch. Man I hope it isn't terrible.
 

David Munson

TVWBB Super Fan
I did a trial butterball a month ago and was disappointed. The cook was good. The turkey was ... poor quality. Strange fat where it should be none. Off texture on the meat. I think it was a low quality bird (no exercise, no real turkey food, the equivalent of a confinement hog) and basted with industrial waste.

For tomorrow, I got a 'fresh' bird that promised nothing added. The label did mention retained water. I feel wrong some how paying extra so they don't add junk to the turkey.

May everyone's cook be good.
 

JimMcG

TVWBB Member
I just noticed this the other day. Was in BJ's looking for a turkey (hard enough to find on 12-14lbs) and had picked up a Butterball "Natural" turkey. Pushing the cart away I thought I'd look at the label just in case and found the notice about it being injected with a flavor solution. Went back to the turkeys and found a lesser known (but more expensive) brand that came right out and said on the label that they didn't inject the turkey with anything. So I swapped em out.
 

elliot

TVWBB Member
I was afraid of all the salt talk and all of my options were "natural" butterballs in the case. I used a flavor injector of my own and only injected fresh chicken stock that I made myself from left over bones and giblets. It was a 20+ pounder and I knew it would be on the grill for at least 5 hours and I didn't want it to dry out. Worked out quite well and not overly salty at all which might have been the case if I brined it normally. I now have stock from this bird that I'll use for the next turkey get together.

Fun Thanksgiving with good food and a Jet win to boot.

Thanks and be well,

elliot
 

Bob Sample

TVWBB Diamond Member
Well finally I think I'm luckier than you guys when it comes to meat selection. I have a small grocer in a small town near me that takes orders before any turkey type occasion and brings in fresh turkeys from local farms. He actually buys them and has them butchered by the butcher I usually buy my meat from. No injection no nothing. You can even say gizzards or no gizzards.
 

Phil Warren

New member
I bought three of these "Natural" Butterballs and thought it was strange they were advertised as being "all natural" even though it was clear they had been injected. Unfortunately it was the closest I could find to all natural here in Wichita, KS without spending $5/lb. Two of the turkeys were brined for Thanksgiving using the Jack and maple and the apple brine found on the forum. I must say that both of these birds turned out great! So, in my opinion if this is your only option it will work out just fine.
 

A Powell

TVWBB Member
Yep, they are here as well. Were last year, but I brined--at 4%--little to no effect (was better on 22.5 kettle indirect, than one's I've done even on hh on smoker), that I could tell. But "natural" is is misleading. It'll be okay at that low percentage but dang, "natural" honesty?
 

Kent

TVWBB Member
Originally posted by Chris Allingham:
For years, I have been telling people that they should choose a "natural" turkey for brining--a turkey that's not injected with a solution of water, salt, flavorings, etc.

I'm cruising through the supermarket tonight and I see a "fresh, all natural*" Butterball turkey that I've never seen in years past. It's a turkey that's not frozen and it says "natural" so I assume it's not injected.

But I noticed that little * next to the word "natural". And sure enough, in the fine print, it says, "Contains up to 4% solution of water, salt and spices to enhance tenderness and juiciness." And that little asterisk refers to the fact that this turkey contains "no artificial ingredients".

That 4% injection is about half of the injection percentage of the usual Butterball self-basting turkey, and it's lacking the food starch and sodium phosphates found in the usual Butterball...but I'm blown away by the fact that it says "NATURAL" on the label and yet it is injected!

So I run home and go to the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service website--the definitive source for the definition of turkey terms--and low and behold, it says that natural turkey may not contain artificial flavorings, coloring ingredients, chemical preservatives, or other synthetic ingredients.

This means that a natural turkey MAY contain a solution of water, salt, and other NATURAL flavorings to enhance tenderness and juiciness. As long as your injection solution is natural, it's still a natural turkey!

It just proves once again that you have to read the fine print on the label. To ensure you're buying a non-injected turkey--one that contains only turkey and water--you want to make sure it does not say "Contains a X% solution to enhance tenderness and juiciness" on the label.

Do not be tricked by the word "natural" on the label!

So from now on, I am revising my turkey terminology. I'm going to use the phrase "regular turkey" to describe a turkey that's not been injected with anything. I will be recommending "regular turkey" to those that want to brine a turkey.

Regards,
Chris

Chris, in the “Whole Turkey - Salted” recipe you say to not brine a water added turkey. You also suggest looking at the Butterball site for more brine advice. http://www.butterball.com/tips-how-tos/how-tos/brine Butterball turkeys have 8% added water. Their own brine recipe is a pretty basic brine recipe.

If think that because the concentration of the added salt in the Butterball turkey is quite low, the addition of salt in brine results is OK, as Butterball says on their site. When I do brine I do use a slightly lower salt concentration brine. I’ve generally had very good results brining water added turkeys.
 

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