Fresh or Frozen? Large or Small? How to Choose the Best Turkey
I don’t need a calendar to tell me when Thanksgiving is near. The dozens of questions in my email box on how to buy a turkey are a sure sign. And so back by popular demand (with a few new tips as well), here is everything you need to know to select the best turkey at the best price!
Go for cheap
Choosing the best turkey is easier said than done unless you fully understand the difference between a store brand or name brand bird. Just because a turkey is more expensive does not make it any better.
John Smith, professional butcher and author of Confessions of a Butcher: Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget advises, “Always go with the cheapest turkey and you’ll never go wrong. He says one turkey processor will slap many different labels on his crop of birds. The turkeys are all the same, only the labels are different.”
Roger Kutz, a butcher in Minnesota suggests we skip the turkeys that come “enhanced.” They’rere just loaded up with salty water and flavorings. Never forget that a turkey with 8-percent solution added is only 92 percent turkey.
Both of our butchers agree these days a frozen bird is best. By law, turkeys can be labeled “fresh” even though the moisture in the bird is frozen. If you press very firmly on the bird the meat is not frozen.
The turkey processors have it down to a science. They bring the temperature of the birds down to the very legal limit before sending them off to the store two weeks before Thanksgiving.
Frozen turkeys on the other hand are quick-frozen immediately after butchering. So the freshest turkey is really a frozen turkey. The freezing process has no noticeable effect on the quality or the taste of the bird.
Bigger is better
To get the best meat-to-bone ratio, opt for the biggest bird with the roundest chest. A bird of fewer than 16 pounds is going to have much less meat-to-bone, and one that is 12 pounds or less will be mostly bones. The designations of hen and tom, young or mature apply only to size, not to age or gender.
You must have an effective antibacterial solution in your kitchen when preparing poultry. But don’t spend $6 for a 12-ounce bottle of cleaner. Make it yourself: One quart of 70 F (cool) water plus one teaspoon of liquid bleach. Any warmer and the bleach evaporates; more bleach will harm some surfaces and fabrics. Regularly sanitize all surfaces with this bleach water, particularly those that may have come in contact with raw poultry including the inside of the refrigerator.
Do not stuff it!
Liz Tarditi, professional personal chef warns us that as the bird cooks, raw juices drip into the soft, absorbent stuffing. Turkey must reach an internal temperature of 165 F, and so must the contaminated stuffing. It’s nearly impossible to cook a stuffed turkey to perfection and also guarantee uncontaminated stuffing. Prepare your stuffing as you always have but bake it in a separate foil-covered pan while the turkey is roasting. Remember an unstuffed bird will roast faster and more evenly, too.
Fill the freezer
Frozen turkeys will be at rock bottom prices during the next weeks and through Christmas. This is a good time to fill your freezer. As long as the plastic packaging is intact, a frozen turkey is safe and delicious for at least a year if not longer. Stretch your food dollars by roasting cheap turkeys throughout the year.
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