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Are "fresh" turkeys a sham?

  • c

Ok, this issue seems separate from my brining post, so I was wondering if others purchased a "fresh" turkey this year and what your experience was. By "fresh," I don't mean Heritage or other labels. As defined in Bon Appetit's T-giving issue, turkeys can be labeled as fresh as long as they are not stored in areas under 26 deg. F. So, technically a bird that was stored at 27 deg. could be labeled as "fresh" I suppose.

I got a "fresh" Porter Farms bird from Nob Hill Foods for .99/lb. When the meat clerk handed it to me, it was very cold and felt icy in some areas, so I immediately questioned him about why this was so and wanted to confirm that it was indeed ready for cooking. He assured me that it was ready to go and that it was not frozen.

Put it in fridge for a few hrs. before opening it up to brine. Upon unwrapping it, most of the fat parts of the bird were soft; however, the legs and surrounding areas were sealed together w/ thick ice which I had to run water on to defrost. The bird had a nice creamy pinkish-white hue which def. looked better than the slightly yellow birds from Safeway. Breast was in proportion to the rest of the body and legs and wings were nice and plump.

However, I actually didn't notice much of a flavor improvement from the frozen birds of my past. Given that co.'s these days have such great marketing techniques to hook in consumers, do you think that "fresh" turkeys are a sham?? Are they really any better than frozen ones? Although I like the idea of supporting Heritage farms, I just can't justify paying $4/lb. for a bird. Perhaps I should just go back to the good 'ole frozen turkey...

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  1. Maybe I'm just lucky my taste buds have deteriorated with age, but I cannot tell any difference between a frozen turkey and a "fresh" one. I have been told by those wiser than I that poultry freezes very well, that because turkeys are seasonal they are well wrapped and immediately frozen for storage. A fresh turkey, on the other hand, must be killed, plucked, cleaned, and usually shipped and stored before sale. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out which is more susceptible to spoilage.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jim H.

      I agree, the saying goes "frozen is fresher than fresh". I ordered a "fresh" turkey from my local supermarket, when I picked it up, could tell it was frozen inside altho outside was basically thawed. So I immediately took out giblet, neck etc from cavity and it was fine for Thanksgiving. Well, I wasn't expecting Shadybrook either,but that's what I got (COULD have been accidently put away with the frozen ones upon receiving?) but you know, at least they're pre-brined! All I know is, last year I spent $3/lb at the local turkey farm, this turkey cost 89 cents, and once you smother it in gravy, cranberries, for sandwiches, etc there's not that much difference!!! It was fine!

      1. re: coll

        I bought my first fresh turkey this year. I was always afraid that they would be spoiled. It weighed about a pound more than what I usually get. There was definitely not as much meat? I also felt the skin wasnt as thick. We havent had Turkey that much in the past and I swear this is my last year. Im going to try a Turkey Pot Pie tomorrow then the rest is going to the cats. I guess its just me, I happen to like most frozen veggies as opposed to fresh. Oh well

    2. Yes, fresh really means "no longer deep-frozen" at point of sale. You need to know your grocer and figure out whether to trust how they handle the bird. I have three in my area that I can trust to sell me a bird that is ice-free but cold and uncontaminated. I prefer that to trying to thaw it myself -- most home fridges are terribly unstable in terms of temperature (particularly in large households where the door is opened with great frequency) and I prefer my grocer to do the thawing in a comparatively more stable locker. I really hate trying to thaw a frozen bird over a few day and still discover frozen patches of flesh in, shall we say, la dinde profonde (someone is free to correct my French idiomatic paraphrase....).

      1. We purchased our first truly "fresh" turkey this year from a poultry farm. We live in California but were visiting relatives in Massachusetts and I shopped and cooked there this year. I treated it the same way I've always cooked turkey (brining, etc.) This was without a doubt the BEST turkey we have ever had. I will never go back to previously frozen turkey again if I can help it (assuming I can get my hands on fresh turkey here).

        5 Replies
        1. re: Mrs. Jake

          I am really dying to know just how did the fresh turkey taste so much better? I've had turkey in upscale restaurants, and I really can't tell the difference. I will, however, as an old country boy concede this: there is a difference in a bird raised on a small turkey farm, coddled by loving owners, and fed only the best table scraps, warmed mash, etc. But I really doubt that the freezing has that much effect on taste...there are so many variables: brining solution, brining time, cooking techniques, cooking time, effect of stuffing, etc. If you convince yourself that fresh per se is better than frozen, you are a turkey farmer's dream...and bring lots of money to the farm.

          1. re: Jim H.

            I'm a little bemused by all the comments about how expensive fresh/heritage turkey is. Yeah, it's quite a bit more expensive than frozen, but compared to the costs of other foods that you might serve as an entree to a dinner party of eight (a large cut of beef, for example), it's quite reasonable.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Sounds like Heritage fans believe the price is worth it, but for instance, in my area, a decent frozen bird cost .25/lb. while a Heritage was $4/lb. For my 18-lb. bird, that would have been $4.50 vs. $72. I wanted to do something more moderate so spent $18 on a "fresh" bird, but think I could have bought a frozen one and not have noticed much dif. I think of myself as having a relatively sensitive palate, but hey, I must admit that frozen suits me just fine as far as turkey is concerned.

              I don't usually spend $50+ on a dinner party main dish, and if I were to, I somehow wouldn't mind paying that much for a good cut of beef, lamb, pork loin, or fresh fish. Turkey is just a less flavorful big chicken to me and not really worth that kind of dough. It is tradition so I will continue to make it for T-giving, but there must be a reason why there isn't a big demand for turkey year-round.

              1. re: Carb Lover

                Perhaps people are bothered by the adage "you are what you eat."

            2. re: Jim H.

              Perhaps I am a turkey farmer's dream. This year's fresh turkey was incredibly moist and tasted dreamy. As I said - I brined and cooked it in the same manner as I have in previous years.
              I'm not sure what my options are for fresh turkeys next year but it certainly won't be from the same farm since I'll be back home in California. Based on this year's results - I will try to find a fresh a turkey. Only time will time if it can live up to my new expectations.

          2. Carb......sounds like you're in San Francisco? I've had really good luck with Diestel turkeys which should be readily available in your neck of the woods. They're raised in Sonora, CA and there's a little insert that comes with the bird explaining the temperature/handling process.

            I picked up my bird this past Tuesday, it was cold, but not icy and I seriously doubt it had every been frozen or overly icy. My grandparents owned and operated a poultry ranch when I was growing up, I've eaten a lot of turkey :-). As far as flavor goes, turkey is turkey and it lends itself to a lot of different flavors. Where I really notice the difference between fresh and frozen is in the tenderness of the meat and that's about it.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Gayla

              Yes, I'm south of SF, in Santa Cruz. My favorite local market was selling Diestel's for $1.99/lb. I was debating btwn. that and the "fresh" from NHF, and of course, my dominant cheapo side won with the latter. Nice to hear an endorsement for Diestel's though, since they seemed overshadowed by the Heritage ones this year.

              Although I enjoy a tasty turkey (which mine were the 3 years prior w/ frozen), you're right--turkey is what it is...def. not a juicy, tender steak or sweet Dungeness crab, which take very little wizardry for a brilliant result.

            2. The color of the skin is more due to the bird's diet and variety than whether it was frozen. I've cooked many a pinkish previously-frozen bird.

              1. I have never purchased a frozen turkey. Fresh is great because it is ready to be brined, etc. as soon as I bring it home. (defrosting a 25 lb turkey can take 4 days!)

                Henry's (div of Wild Oats) had fresh turkeys for $1.29/pound. The butcher said it was Foster Farms, it tasted great!

                1. I bought a fresh bird from an Amish farmer and my sister, an avowed turkey hater, not only ate it on Thanksgiving but had leftovers warmed in gravy the next day. She actually admitted liking it. Now that's success, and I did not brine the bird either. Oh, everyone else liked it too. Last year we bought a Plainfield organic turkey and that was noticeably better as well. There really is a noteable flavor difference between the locally farmed birds and those from the bulk frozen producers.

                  1. We have had Plainville fresh turkeys for the last few years, and they have been noticeably better in taste and texture than previous birds, fresh and frozen. From my experience, just as in most other things, all fresh turkeys are not created equal.

                    1. I was wondering the same. This year, I ordered a 'fresh' turkey from Fresh Direct, only to get it somewhat frozen - and the note on the package said "keep frozen" right under the Fresh Turkey sign! However, it defrosted in cold water in about 3 hours, so it could not have been too frozen.

                      I was shocked. But after brining it was an amazing bird!

                      1. I bought a free range organic turkey last year instead of my regular supermarket fresh freebee
                        My butcher assured me this is the turkey the president eats!! Not sure who, but the president (LOL)
                        So, I made it my usual way and I am a pretty good cook
                        We all hated it...
                        It was so gamey
                        Have any of you had a similar experience?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: LAURI

                          Couldn't help but chuckle when I read your post containing these words: president...turkey...gamey. Hee-hee.

                          Never had an organic turkey myself, but people do say they are more flavorful, which could be perceived by some to be more gamey. Since my tastebuds have been conditioned my entire life around the frozen type of bird, I honestly wonder if I would even like any other as much?

                        2. s
                          ShelleyKelly

                          Hi Carb Lover,

                          According to my husband, who, as a teenager, worked at a butcher's shop in OC in the late 60's/early 70's, here's the difference between "fresh" and "Frozen"

                          Frozen: obviously frozen as hard as a rock.

                          Fresh: Used to be frozen. The butcher's assistant (said now-husband) then stood over them for two days with a waterhose to thaw them out before selling them as fresh to those willing to pay a higher price for "fresh".

                          I don't know if this is a universal thing or not. Hope it helps. At least it's a bit of a laugh!

                          Cheers,
                          Shelley Kelly

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ShelleyKelly

                            Thanks for the insider scoop. That must have been great fun for your husband. That was a while ago, so I'm hoping that that is not necessarily the case these days. I did wonder if "fresh" meant that the store did the thawing; in that case, I'll do it myself for half the price, thank you very much!