Turkey vs Chicken: 7 Main Differences Explained

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: July 28, 2021
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A turkey gobbles and a chicken clucks. They also look completely different from each other, even though these two ground-feeding heavy-bodied birds are in the same order, Galliformes, and the same family, Phasianidae. But while the turkey is from the genus Meleagris, the chicken is from the genus Gallus, which includes all junglefowl.

What about eating them? Which meat is more nutritious? When are they interchangeable in meals and when are they not? Why do we eat chicken eggs but not turkey eggs? We’ll get into the details below!

Comparing Turkey vs Chicken

Size & weightUp to 2.3ft L, 5.5lbs3.3-4.1ft L, 24lbs
AppearanceColorful has wattle and combDarkly colored has a bright wattle, snood, featherless head, and neck
OriginSoutheast AsiaMexico, North America
TaxonomyGenus Gallus; species G. gallus domesticus & 5 wild species; 53 recognized breeds & 39 varietiesGenus Meleagris; species Meleagris gallopavo; 6 wild turkey species; many varieties including 9 heritage ones
Flavor & textureRich, mellow flavor that takes spices well; easy to digestDark, juicy, rich flavor and texture; savory, lean protein; tougher to digest
NutrientsProtein, fat, potassium, calciumProtein, vitamin B, zinc, selenium, phosphorus
Cost50c/lb live-weight73c/lb live-weight
Commercial useCooked various ways; salads, broths, stews, soups, casseroles, sandwiches, deli meat, ground chicken, an alternative to beef burgersRoasted or deep-fried for Thanksgiving & Christmas; deli meat, ground meat, an alternative to bacon

The 7 Key Differences Between Turkey and Chicken

Turkey vs Chicken : Physical features

Turkey and chicken are complete opposites in almost every way, with the main similarity being that they both have wattles which they use to release heat excess from. The turkey has dark feathers with a featherless head and neck, plus a snood over its head. The chicken has colorful feathers with the male being even more colorful. And when it comes to size, even the smallest turkey easily weighs 10-15lbs more than even the largest chicken.

Turkey vs Chicken : Origin

Both of these fowls have been domesticated and introduced into the Americas, but they originated from countries that are oceans apart. The chicken was first domesticated from the junglefowl species in Mexico, while the turkey was first domesticated from its forest-dwelling ancestors in Southeast Asia.

Turkey vs Chicken : Taxonomy

Both feathered creatures share the same order and family, being ground-dwelling heavy-bodied birds. But the chicken has been domesticated for far longer and in several more countries than the turkey, making Meleagris gallopavo’s common name the domesticated or wild turkey, and Gallus gallus domesticus being the scientific name for only the domesticated chicken.

Turkey vs Chicken : Flavor & texture

It’s hard to describe the differences in taste and texture between the two fowl. However, turkey definitely has a more unique flavor, especially considering it’s been domesticated less than chicken. There’s also the fact that the flavor of chicken depends on the breed. Although what you’ll find at the typical grocery store will be fairly consistent everywhere, small farmers have different breeds than the large-scale commercial ones. Turkey has several varieties and most are classified as heritage varieties, but these too are more common among small farmers. Both have occasionally changed their main popular commercial type by replacing or crossing with other breeds.

Turkey vs Chicken : Nutrients

Turkey is always the leaner white meat of the two, making it a good low-fat alternative to red meat. Both are high in protein and in about equal amounts, and both contain all of the essential amino acids. Chicken is somewhat higher in calories, fat and cholesterol, but it’s a good source of vitamin B, phosphorus, niacin, and selenium. Turkey has all of that, too, plus iron, zinc, and riboflavin. Chicken has slightly more potassium and iron, and turkey has slightly more magnesium and phosphorus.

Turkey vs Chicken : Cost

When comparing the price per live-weight pound of bird, the chicken is 50 cents and the turkey is 73 cents. As for buying either at the grocery store, the breast meat of both is always going to be more expensive than the thighs or drumsticks. Plus, turkeys are much larger than chickens, so you’re going to pay more for a whole turkey than for a whole chicken based on both the differences in the price per pound and turkey being heavier than chicken.

Turkey vs Chicken : Commercial use

Turkey and chicken can be interchangeable in some dishes, sure. But whereas chicken is ubiquitous, turkey is reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both take on savory seasonings very well, but chicken can take on many other flavors, too. Turkey also takes more space and feed to raise turkeys than chickens.

Next Up: Haddock vs Cod – 5 Main Differences Explained

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About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How is turkey different from chicken?

It’s in a different genus, is much larger and heavier, has darker feathers and a featherless head and neck, a snood, costs more, and needs more space and feed to raise. It’s also not as popular or widespread as chicken.

Why does nobody eat turkey eggs?

Turkey eggs are unfamiliar to most people. They are most similar to duck eggs. Plus, they’re expensive and turkeys take a longer time to lay eggs, laying only about 100 a year and mostly during the spring.

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