Free Turkey: 12 Ways To Get One For Thanksgiving

cooked turkey

I recently received an email asking me if I could give some pointers on how to get a free turkey for Thanksgiving since I’d managed to buy and cook a full Thanksgiving meal for six people for under one dollar (this is what it looked like). One of the biggest obstacles that I faced with the challenge was how I was going to obtain a free turkey. I had to sit down and brainstorm a number of different options, and hope that one of them worked out (luckily, one of them did). The fact that I actually spent quite a bit of time considering possible options kind of makes me as close to an expert as they come. For those who are looking for a way to get a free turkey this Thanksgiving, here are some of the options that may be out there for you.

Grocery Store Buy A Certain Amount, Get A Free Turkey Promotions

Probably the easiest way to get a free turkey is through one of the many grocery store promotions. The most common of these is the promotions where if you spend a certain dollar amount in the store, you get a free turkey. The dollar amount is usually fairly high. A typical amount would be if you buy $75 worth of food, you get a free turkey or if you buy $100 worth of food, then you get a free turkey. If you were already planning to purchase this amount of food, then it’s an easy way to get a turkey at no additional cost. This, however, is not a good option if you aren’t already planning to buy $100 worth of food, as this makes the turkey anything but free.

It’s difficult to get creative with these promotions as well. Most exclude alcohol or gift cards to count toward the amount needed, so it really does need to be everyday food in most cases. The one way that you can reduce the price is by using coupons (the amount to trigger the free turkey is calculated before coupons are used), but getting $100 worth of free food is a challenge even for the best extreme couponers which makes this option unfeasible for most.

I must admit that I did have a secret plan if all my other efforts had failed. I figured that I could have done a shopping spree for one of my friends or relatives (since it is a hectic time of the year, most would appreciate the offer of doing shopping for them) and keep the free turkey as the prize for doing them the favor.

Grocery Store Buy 1 Turkey, Get 1 Turkey Free

Another popular promotion that grocery stores often have around Thanksgiving is a buy one turkey, get one free promotion. Sometimes it will be some other type of food such as buy one ham, get one turkey free. Now, this doesn’t get you a free turkey if you actually have to buy one in the first place to get it. But as I was doing my challenge, I received an e-mail from someone who had figured out a way to use this grocery store promotion to their advantage. Much like my secret plan above, she offered to do the Thanksgiving shopping for several of her relatives, and she was able to score 3 free turkeys by shopping at a store with a “buy on get one free” promotion.

Discount Store Promotions

It’s good to think beyond the typical when trying to get a free turkey. Most people instinctively consider the grocery stores, but more and more discount stores such as Target and Wal-Mart also have food sections in them. To compete with the grocery stores, they will often have promotions for free turkeys similar to those of the grocery stores. It’s well worthwhile to check out there newspaper advertisements in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to see if there is an opportunity to get a free turkey similar to the two options mentioned above.

Local Contests

One of my other plans was to try to win a free turkey. I actually entered a number of Thanksgiving contests to win one, including a local radio call in contest, but in the end I didn’t manage to actually win one. That being said, your luck is probably a lot better than mine and there are usually a number of decent opportunities to win free turkeys from these contests, especially if you’re motivated. It’s well worthwhile looking through your local paper and keeping your eyes open for local businesses that are doing free turkey giveaway promotions.

Junk Mail Promotions

The year before I did the challenge, I had received a direct promotion offer in the mail (sent to me by name) that offered a free turkey if I went down to a local car dealership to test drive one of their cars. Remembering this, I religiously checked the mail as soon as it came the few weeks before Thanksgiving. I hoped that I would receive another such offer to make things really simple for the challenge, but none ever came. If you want a free turkey, it’s definitely worthwhile to look a little more closely at the junk mail coming through rather than to simply throw it into the trash as there may be an offer similar to this if you happen to get on the right mailing list.

Craiglist Trade

When I was doing my Thanksgiving challenge, I asked people to guess how I was planning to get my free turkey. One of the more interesting responses I received was from a guy who had gotten a free turkey from Craigslist. Basically, he was short on money, but had a number of things lying around the house that he no longer needed and he decided to try to trade them for a turkey. To his surprise, he was successful, and quickly successful at that. If you have something that you no longer need or a service that you can provide, offer to trade for a turkey might get you a turkey without having to spend a dime.

Catalina Coupons

Many people aren’t familiar with catalina coupons, but they are the secret coupons that make it possible for the extreme couponers to get all the great deals that they do. Basically, they are the coupons that come out of a small box next to the cash register and are handed to you with your receipt. What most people don’t realize is that some of these coupons are for a certain dollar amount off of anything you buy on your next purchase, and not knowing this, throw them away. I have often found them left in shopping carts, on the ground in grocery store parking lots, and if you are willing to look, in the trash cans by the exit doors at the grocery store. In fact, this was how I ended up getting my free turkey — one of the many catalina coupons I found was for a free $10 gift card that allowed me to get a turkey at no cost. This is something that you can look out for anytime during the year (another great place is the trash cans near the self check out lines if your grocery store has them). I usually find coupons for a couple of hundred dollars worth of free food this way every year.

While I wasn’t allowed to get a free turkey through charity for my challenge, doing so is a legitimate way to try to get one for those that don’t have the means to buy one on their own. With that in mind, here are some other places that you might be able to have a turkey given to you at no cost if you simply can’t afford one:

Food Bank

Your local food bank will likely have turkeys that they are giving away. Many grocery stores that offer the buy one get one free turkey promotions will have a place where you can donate the second turkey to the local food bank. Grocery stores know that most people don’t need two turkeys, so it’s a great service. You may even have a better chance to get a turkey at the food bank after Thanksgiving. Stores that over ordered turkeys and don’t have the freezer space to store them all will often donate them once Thanksgiving is over, so some food banks may have an abundance of them at this time.

United Way

Another good place to go to find where you can get a free turkey is the United Way. The United Way should be able to connect you to social service organizations or corporate partners that are giving away free turkeys, as well as a lot of other basic social service help that you might need.


You can also make a request on sites like Craigslist or Freecycle that you are in need of a free turkey. If you decide to go this route, giving a detailed story of why you need it will greatly increase your chances of having someone help you out. There is no guarantee that it will work, and you will need a little luck that someone who relates to your predicament sees your post, but it’s worth a try if you have nothing to trade or offer in return.

Local Agencies

Check out the local social service agencies and churches (or other religious organizations) that may be able to help you get a free turkey for Thanksgiving. Many of these will have contacts of where you might be able to get one if they can’t offer you one themselves.

Social Media

Social media is beginning to play a bigger role in helping those in need. Random Acts of Pizza is a place where you can request a free pizza when you are hungry, and there is a list of other groups on Reddit that offer random acts of kindness where requesting a free turkey might be appropriate. A request to your Facebook friends or over twitter may be able to help you locate a place where you can get a free turkey as well.

Has there been another way that you have been able to get a free turkey? If so, I would love to hear about it!

(Photo courtesy of Shannon Clark)

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9 Responses to Free Turkey: 12 Ways To Get One For Thanksgiving

  1. Rory says:

    Thank you for posting the information about the turkeys. We have already picked up two turkeys, each at under $6.00 per each. We will use the turkeys for Thanksgiving, and then utilize the leftovers for sandwiches.

  2. SeanIsPissed says:

    Right, so you go to a food bank and get a “free” turkey? The food at food banks are for people who are needy, not people are cheap. With the downturn in the economy, food banks all over the country are routinely running short on donated food, and you advise cheapskates to go scam food donated by good people to help those less fortunate. What an asshole you are!

  3. jeffrey says:

    If you taken the time to read the paragraph above the food bank in italics, you would have seen I said that for those people that don’t have the means to get a turkey, that the following five options were acceptable. While I knew that most the the regular readers would be focused on the first 7, I also know that there might be some people who were down on their luck that might make their way to this article, and wanted them to know their options as well.

  4. Gailete says:

    Last year one of our local churches gave away a bunch of turkeys to anyone who showed up–income didn’t matter. The also do free car washes and other things like that. Another church just went around their neighborhood giving out free replacement batteries for smoke detectors. The last two aren’t about free turkeys but thoughts for other things you may see or want to participate in.

  5. redheadjennieo says:

    Churches are a wonderful place to get a turkey for families in need! I don’t belong to a church but last week I had a church near by; call me! They asked how many people lived in my household so they could put the right amount of food (including a turkey) together for my family! I asked what made them choose my family and they said my kids school! The church called the schools asking for any family in need of a basket with food to make a whole thanksgiving dinner! I am unemployed raising four children and I am very low income, I survive on coupons and am so grateful for this church for doing this! I pick up my wonderful donated basket Monday!

  6. Becca says:

    I was looking for this exact information. We have fallen onto hard times and I recently “shopped” at my local food pantry to help fill the gap. I was impressed. I asked our family if they think its crazy to try and make a totally free thanksgiving dinner. They are into it but don’t want to sacrifice a full meal. I have everything figured out except for the cranberries and the turkey. I’m still a little concerned about the turkey. I envision showing up at the pantry on Wednesday and getting some huge frozen turkey. That would not work. My favorite of your solutions was that car test drive for a turkey – I’m currently in the market for a car, so I could “kill two birds” so to speak. Thanks for the tips

  7. Ellen Medina says:

    You have some good ideas. I ran low on money every month this year. So for this Thanksgiving I am one of those people who is in need of help with a Turkey. Being disable makes it even harder, but I won’t give up til I have to. Thanks again

  8. Lisa Clayton says:

    My family is going through extreme financial problems that will be worked out sometime early next year, but there are few provisions for us because we always had just enough money for everything, and due to a divorce, we can’t make ends meet at all. I went to my local food bank and because I didn’t qualify for food stamps for welfare (by $50 a month) I was not allowed services from the food bank. I do not belong to a local church. I figured we’d just cook what we have for the rest of the year and when times get better we can have a “Thanksgiving and Christmas” dinner.

  9. Jaz says:

    1. hold a sign saying you need a turkey for thanks giving while you and your children is on a corner begging for change

    2. stand at a grocery store with your kids begging for food

    3. stand in line for the free turkey give way in your home town

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