Ask a Canadian: Where to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Rather, to be specific, two Thanksgivings are just around the corner - Canada’s is coming up in a couple of weeks and America’s pops up towards the end of November.

If you are recently here from the Great White North you may be surprised by the intensity with which the American holiday is celebrated.  In a country where holidays are only observed in the breach, particularly here in the Valley where an obsessive commitment to work means that emails are returned pretty much 24/7, this is the one holiday that everyone celebrates.  It is not allied with any particular creed or clan, but more so about family (which most of us have), and in the true American spirit, it is anchored by a major consumer event (Black Friday).

Folks travel all over the country to get home to family to “share the bird,” watch some football, and be reminded why they are glad that they see some family members only once a year.  American Thanksgiving is the busiest time of year for travel; last year air travel hit record numbers during the Thanksgiving week. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that in all likelihood this year will be very different and families will be forgoing travel for virtual gatherings. 

But let’s imagine for a moment the traditional Thanksgiving celebration that happens in many a dining room across America. Having an enormous table attended by family, extended family (even those you may be on the outs with) and various strays is an essential component of the event.  If Auntie Susan and Uncle Joe bicker and he ends up drinking too much, they will only do so before and after the meal and you can pour them into an Uber to get them home, and not have to deal with these tetchy relatives again for another year.

Like many things in our home and native land, Canadian Thanksgiving is a smaller, quieter version of the eponymous American holiday:  we have our turkey, enjoy some sides and some pumpkin pie, but in many ways it is just one of a number, non sectarian holidays we celebrate.  And, as with every other Canadian holiday, it is mostly about getting a 3 day weekend, something that is held as sacred in the Canadian psyche.

Canadian Thanksgiving is relatively new, being made a holiday by Parliament in 1957 and modeled after the Church of England’s harvest festival, which aligned with the country’s Commonwealth status and allegiance many (Anglos anyway) felt to the Queen.  This was about a century later than America, which made Thanksgiving official in 1863, and this also seems very Canadian.  Why rush things?  Let our neighbours try it out first to see if it works.

Central to both Thanksgivings is the turkey - that large, ill fated bird that is uniquely North American and each of which, through the miracles of breeding and industrial farming, represents a large amount of consumable animal protein. In 2018 America produced 224 million turkeys weighing about 5 billion pounds and these generated $3.8 billion of business.

If you’re making an American Thanksgiving meal, you have to have a turkey that is large - very large - and you can purchase one that is fresh, frozen, organic, brined, Cajun spiced, deep fried, smoked or fully cooked with sides and dessert.

And, if you’re jonesing for a little Thanksgiving right now, you can get a Pumpkin Spice Latte today, as Starbucks started making the insanely popular beverage available in late August.  If Aunt Susan and Uncle Joe’s bickering was super harsh, be careful: the drink’s smell might ignite some PTSD.

Where to Find a Good Turkey

Although everything in the American economy is tuned to giving you the consumer the ability to buy anything, anywhere at any time, purchasing a turkey in time for Canadian Thanksgiving (Columbus Day here) 5 weeks before American Thanksgiving may be challenging. Best to call ahead before you visit one of the following spots to make your purchase.

Here are some solid Bay Area located retail sources from whom you can source a fine turkey.

Belcampo

(510) 250-7810

Belcampo is a butchery focused on organic non GMO, humanely raised meat with 3 locations in the Bay Area (Larkspur, Oakland, San Mateo).  They stock turkeys raised on their own farms and last year offered these through Williams Sonoma as well. Sadly, these will only be available for American Thanksgiving.

Bi-Rite Market

(415) 241-9760

If you’re in San Francisco, you can pick up heritage and broad-breasted turkeys from Good Shepherd Ranch and Ferndale Market, plus free-range, organic turkeys from Mary's from anyone of BiRite Market’s 3 San Francisco locations--but only for American Thanksgiving 👎.

Honey Baked Ham

800-854-5995

Honey Baked Ham is a chain that got its start selling insanely delicious hams (Honey baked as the name implies) and offers these along with all the fixings for a Southern meal.  It also offers cooked turkeys and varieties like Cajun Smoked Turkey, Deep Fried Turkey and complete meals.  You can order online. *Make sure to place your order a week before you want it.*

Lunardi’s Supermarket

(408) 356-1655

Lunardis runs a custom run poultry counter, that offers locally sourced meats, and has 7 locations (Belmont, Burlingame, Danville, Los Gatos, San Bruno, San Jose (2)). They always have small frozen turkeys in stock (up to 10 pounds) for customers who want to cook a “practice bird”, but if you want a 12 to 14 pound turkey, you should call 2-3 days ahead. They get bonus points because they will also defrost it ahead of time for you if you ask them to.

Trader Joe’s

408-298-9731

Humble Trader Joes offers good quality turkeys for American Thanksgiving which (mercifully if you have a small crowd) are at the smaller end of what’s generally offered.  The quality is solid and the product is modestly priced. Alas, they do not stock these until mid-November, just in time for American Thanksgiving.

Whole Foods 

844-936-2428

Whole Foods offers organic, pasture raised turkeys that can be ordered online.  You can get them brined, pre-cooked or provided with the entire meal (the latter is a remarkably popular offering), but again, they are only available for American Thanksgiving.

Williams Sonoma 

877.812.6235

That snappy kitchenware store enables you to order organic “Willie Bird” turkeys online for pickup at their location nearest you. If you have deep pockets, you can order a nitrate-free 7-10 pound smoked whole turkey for a whopping $129.95, + $15 delivery, + tax. These are available year-round. Ask for item #5267982.

Zanotto’s Family Market

(408) 294-9151

Zanottos has a custom meat counter that offers organic products, with 4 locations (San Jose (3) and Sunnyvale). If you call ahead, they will order a bird for you and have it in 2-3 days.

Woodlands Market

(415) 457-8160

This local family-owned, independent grocery store has three locations in the Bay Area including one in Marin County. They are known to stock turkeys, which means you should be able to find one for Canadian Thanksgiving, but call ahead just to make sure.