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Supermarket brand turkey

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I know organic/free-range/pasture-raised/heritage/domesticated "wild"/etc. birds are better, but I'm very low on cash this year and have to get a supermarket turkey. I know the consensus is that Butterball sucks, but are all the other brands (Perdue, Shady brook Farms, etc) equally bad? Is it true that turkeys must be organic and free-range in order to be certified Kosher? Hey, I feel grateful to be able to have turkey period, so please don't tell me I'm completely missing out by not getting one of the $9 a pound birds from Quattro Farms or whatever. Thanks a bunch.

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  1. Read something recently saying that Butterballs were actually not bad as they are essentially brined for you.

    While some of the "fancy" turkey's may be nice, you can do just fine with the garden variety supermarket turkey.

    My one big secret is cooking it breast side down for the first hour or two. Breast stays VERY juicy.

    Other tricks include brining (a bit of work) or delicately peeling the skin up and putting bacon underneath!

    Good luck.

    1 Reply
    1. re: StriperGuy

      Through the years I've cooked free range turkey from the farm, fresh from the supermarket, fresh from the butcher and for the past few years have been getting the Empire kosher frozen turkey. IMO its the best tasting bird and its never dry. The only thing that bothers me is that I have to go over the entire thing and remove the excess feather tips that were not removed. I agree with the other posters that its all in the seasonings/herbs and the temperature that its cooked at.

    2. I understand your situation. More years than I like to remember, budget was a prime consideration during turkey season--and one nice thing about turkeys is they do give you a lot of value in terms of price per pound because so many supermarkets use them as loss leaders. What's more, in my memories, I can't recall the differences in the meals that were made with expensive or with cheap turkeys (maybe it's all that holiday wine?)(or maybe it's my limited cooking skills?).

      Anyway, I would suggest buying the turkey frozen (it's a lot cheaper usually) and then be sure to let it thaw completely in the fridge before cooking--it'll take days. I usually thawed the bird breast down, but cooked it breast up as I've marred the look of a couple breasts by starting them upside down. The one thing I would recommend, if the bird doesn't come with one of those pop-outs, is buying a meat thermometer so you can be sure not to overcook it.

      As far as brands go, the last time I read a report, Butterballs were right near the bottom. Perswonally, I can't recall that much difference between the various "minimally processed" cheap birds that I've purchased, though I will say that some years they seem to cook better than others.

      Anyway, don't despair. You can have good holiday eats on a budget.

      5 Replies
      1. re: e.d.

        It's a good investment to keep a thermometer in the oven (I prefer the Tyler mercury to the spring type). Together with an inexpensive probe, it will insure good results.

        Remember that you have to take the bird out when it is about 5 degrees less than your final desired internal temperature, allowing it to rest under tented foil for at least 20 minutes.

        Also, be sure to read Peter Hertzmann's very useful article on roasting temperatures and resting times.

        Link: http://www.hertzmann.com/index.php

        1. re: saucyknave

          Thanks for the link. I tied to get through the Peter Hertzmann article, but my short attention span won over.

          At what tempurate do you take out your turkey? I usually take mine out when the thigh measures 165 F. Should I do it at 155 F instead?

          1. re: 1,2,3

            Does your turkey seem overcooked? Cook it less.

            Is it to your (and your family's) liking? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

            You don't want this to be the year everyone remembers as the year you served a half-raw turkey.

            I will never forget the time my ex-mother-in-law served a turkey that looked like it had been napalmed. She wasn't into newfangled appurtenances like thermometers.

        2. re: e.d.

          If your market has a great price on loss-leader birds, buy a 2nd one and save it for Christmas or New Year. That's what I do.

          Or, you can use the second one at a later date for a big party with turkey mole or turkey tacos or BBQ turkey or ???

          1. re: Sharuf

            or turkey soup - it was always a tradition when I was growing up and I do it now too. Use that large carcass with any meat left on - onions, celery, carrots, parsley, thyme, lots of peppercorns, add barley and alphabet noodles (do they still make them?)- yum -

        3. I usually buy a fresh store-brand turkey on the week they're on sale, they tend to be less processed/injected than the frozen ones. You can brine it with the solution of your choice.

          Sometimes the price of the frozen birds is too good to pass up, though. Last year I found a case of them after the holiday for thirty nine cents a pound and stocked up.

          1. Hey, more power to you. It's nice to be grateful for having a turkey at all. Since I tend to run with vegetarians, I don't have a lot of turkey advice, but as for sides, the less processed stuff is, usually the cheaper it is. A big bag o' russet potatoes is way cheap,and makes awesome mashed potatoes (which everyone loves). Making your own gravy isn't hard, and it's infinitely better than any mix. Likewise apple pie--just apples, flour, sugar, some cinnamon, and some butter or shortening. Baked squash is also cheap and festive. Stay simple, be grateful, and enjoy!

            1. s

              Especially in the last few years, I have never had a "bad" frozen supermarket turkey. They are a bit bland, but simple saltwater brining takes care of that, and given the huge turnover at holiday time, they are apt to be in good condition. Go to a big, busy supermarket with lots of turnover and you should be fine. Frozen turkey is wonderful for people on a budget even at non-holiday time. I deliberately don't get the more expensive butterball birds because I prefer to control the brining myself.

              I do like to cook turkey, especially large ones, with the breast side down for the first half of the cooking time - it keeps the breast juicier and cooks the skin on the back brown and crisp. I also think it helps cook the thigh meat faster. It is true that the indentations made by the roasting rack on the soft breast meat are unsightly, but I carve in the kitchen and no one has complained yet!

              Another tip, if you stuff the turkey, have the stuffing HOT, really really hot, before you put it in the bird just before cooking. It cuts down the cooking time and leads to more even cooking overall.

              3 Replies
              1. re: sheiladammassa

                You are not concerned with putting hot stuffing inside a raw turkey that can possibly stimilute bacterial growth?

                1. re: Wendy Lai

                  I seem to remember hearing about this too. If the stuffing is very hot it raises the temp inside it to that "unsafe" area where bacteria thrive. I'll try and find some reference to it....

                2. re: sheiladammassa
                  Caitlin McGrath

                  The current Cook's Illustrated has a solution for the "unsightly" marks the rack puts on the turkey breast: Cover the rack with foil, and then poke holes all over the foil with a knife so the juices acn drip through.

                3. Cook's Illustrated rated Marval brand as the best frozen turkey...and it's cheap too. Butterball frozen also ranked well (the fresh not so)...apparently both frozen ones are already "brined" for you. I'm trying the Marval this year, if I can find it.

                  1. In answer to your Kosher question, they don't have to be free-range and organic, but they are slaughtered in a slightly more humane manner which reduces stress on the bird, and they are rigorously inspected inside and out for any blemish, scar tissue, or other defect. If there is any question as to the perfection of the turkey's health or injury, the bird is rejected. Also, the koshering process involves treatment with salt, to draw out any blood. This makes a kosher turkey essentially be lightly brined, which will save you time/effort.

                    Link: http://www.empirekosher.com/chicken.htm

                    1. Kosher turkeys are the only ones I have ever bought, and they are quite the tasty bird. The secret to their tastiness is that kosher turkeys -- and all kosher poultry -- are soaked, salted, then rinsed, before being packaged and frozen. (This is all according to the Jewish laws of what is called "kashruth.") Thus, a kosher turkey is, in essense, already "brined." And, no, it is not true that a kosher turkey must be organic and/or free range in order to be certified kosher, though some may very well be. You can find Empire frozen turkeys in supermarkets. They will be a bit more expensive than non-kosher turkey (probably about $1/lb), but I think it's worth it. Some supermarkets in my area offer free turkeys (kosher or non-)at this time of year if you buy a certain dollar amount of groceries within a specified time period. I almost always end up being able to get that free kosher bird.

                      1. Honestly, IMO so long as you prepare the turkey right there's little difference between the more expensive ones and the cheaper. The biggest turkey hit I've ever had was the store brand turkey made the way Emeril instructs for fried turkey (except I roasted it in the oven). People seem to really dig all the spices... I know I'm not a real huge fan of turkey, and I liked that one best of all as well. It's now established tradition in my house. Plus, the gravy that comes from a bird spiced like that is outstanding.

                        I have tried all sorts of things - fresh ordered special from the butcher, fresh from the store and the frozen kind and if you do a brine or rub yourself I don't see the need to spend the extra $$.

                        Alton Browns' tip on breast meat always works for me - before the turkey goes in take a piece of tin foil and mold it to the breast, then remove. Blast the thing at 500 for 30 min to sear in all the nice juices, then turn it down to 325 and put that piece of foil on, then roast to completeness (as was already said, pull it out early enough for it to coast up to the proper temp as it rests). You want to mold the foil to the correct shape before you put it in because if you tried to do it once the turkey had been in there for 1/2 hour you'd burn yourself.

                        1. I don't think you need to buy a organic free-range kosher turkey to have a yummy Thanksgiving. It's all in the preparation I think. You have got to brine! Brining will carry flavor and juiciness throughout your bird. My holy grail is Alice Water's turkey brine recipe...do it every year, and I think it's the best turkey I've ever tasted :)

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Wendy Lai

                            Can you tell me Alice Waters's Brine Recipe? Thanks in advance for your help.

                            I just came across a Beer Brine Turkey Recipe from Emeril Lagasse. He also used this brine recipe for roast chicken on his Food TV show. Let me know if you would like it.

                            1. re: Norm

                              Here's a link to Alice Waters' brine recipe:

                              Link: http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/spe...

                            2. re: Wendy Lai

                              I cannot imagine brining an already sodium-injected turkey?

                            3. "I know the consensus is that Butterball sucks..."

                              Actually, Cooks' Illustrated just tested 7 (I think) supermarket brand turkeys and, to their surprise, 3 of them tasted almost as good as organic/free-range, at a fraction of the price. The winner was Marvel (79c/lb) and runnerup was Butterball. Both were frozen and 'basted' (i.e. injected with brine) which probably contributed to their superior flavour and juicy-ness. The Cooks' people liked these 2 as much as Empire Kosher brand, which is brined.
                              They also tested 3 pre-cooked turkeys and the winner was the one from 2nd Ave Deli in NYC at a whopping $12/lb!
                              Other tests included Gravy (most stank, Butterball was the only decent one, though it still couldn't compare to homemade) and Cranberry Sauce (Ocean Spray Cranberry Jelly with whole Cranberries was the winner).

                              I got this from Christopher Kimball's column in today's Brookline Tab.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: ju

                                When they tested the turkeys, did they mention if they brined the Butterball?

                                1. re: Scagnetti

                                  They didn't have to, because it was already basted (injected with brine).

                                  1. re: Scagnetti

                                    They specifically warn against re-brining self-basted birds

                                  2. re: ju

                                    Cook's Illustrated has sung the praises of the Marval turkey before. As soon as they did, my supermarket stopped offering the Marval brand as the "free" turkey. Who says these foodie specialty magazines don't have any effect! Unfortunately, the effect was not to our advantage in this case.

                                  3. I too must rely on supermarket turkey due to lack of cash. In fact the turkey I'm going to roast is the store brand they're giving me free for shopping there all year long. I was in the same predicament last year and it turned out fine. I didn't even go along with the extremely vogue thing of brining the bird. I have a nice recipe that includes basting the bird with a maple syrup-butter mixture and the results have been delicious every time. I don't really like Perdue anything and, if I had a choice, I'd opt for Shadybrook Farms or Bell & Evans. But whatever brand you buy, use a simple recipe and add your own personal brand of personal loving care. It will be wonderful, I'm sure.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: christina z

                                      I hope that by 2013 you know you can't put Shadybrook and Bell & Evans, with their fine poultry, in the same sentence. Shadybrook is ok. Another Cargill product.