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Fresh or Frozen Turkey @ your Thanksgiving Feast this Year [Moved from Home Cooking board]

Tomorrow I will be off to my local butcher shop to put in my order for this years turkey.

I am getting a fresh turkey for the first time this year, and am really looking forward to it. It is a local turkey from a farm in Northwestern Illinois, and the butcher is charging $2.19/Lb. Depending on the count I get of attendees tonight I will either get a 10-11 pound bird, or all the way up to a 20 pounder depending on who will be coming.

Who else is going the fresh vs. frozen route, and who are the really dedicated ones getting a heritage bird, or a turducken?

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  1. we usually don't eat turkey for thanksgiving. go the southern route of country ham, chicken livers, and roast beef. occasionally we'll have turkey. i've never had fresh, so im not sure im allowed to say this, but if it's anything like beef, or seafood..., the fresh should be very much better than the frozen.

    1. I thought that fresh turkey would be better than frozen, but Cook's Illustrated recently did a taste test and found that not to be true:

      "Our tasters consistently found the frozen birds to be moister than the fresh. This puzzled us until Professor Ahn explained that a "fresh" bird can actually be tougher and drier than a frozen one.

      Turkeys may be labeled as "fresh" if they have been chilled to as low as 26 degrees. But at this temperature, tiny ice crystals can form in the meat. If the temperature fluctuates (during storage or transport, at the supermarket, or on the way to your home), these crystals can melt, combine with neighboring crystals, and then refreeze. According to Ahn, "Eventually, irregularly shaped ice crystals will start to poke the cell membranes in the meat. They make holes and the cell tissues in the muscles will start to lose their internal contents. Then when they are cooked, those birds will be dry."

      So I guess if you can get a truly fresh bird that has never been chilled at a low temp, it might be better, but I'm going to try frozen this year.

      1. I cooked a frozen one from the supermarket for Sunday night supper today - bargain at 49 cents a pound. It turned out beautifully. Juicy and perfectly brown. Did it so I could make stock and gravy ahead and freeze it for Thanksgiving. We'll likely have a fresh one from the poultry market for the Big Day. We buy poultry from the same dependable vendor year round, his turkeys are always tops and they always come out great.

        In my life, I have cooked turkey about every way you can do it. Went with my aunt to buy the family turkey alive and waited while it was killed and dressed.
        We have fried them. Smoked them. Ballottine. Mail ordered them already cooked. Expensive "gourmet" birds. Cheap sale birds. Frozen, fresh. Brined, not brined, injected, natural, organic. Wild turkeys too.
        Formal table for 22 in the dining room. Tables in the back yard. Buffets. Ten turkeys for a shelter. One year, nobody wanted to miss a football game on TV, so I just put out the turkey sliced with sandwich fixings.
        We always cook a huge turkey so everybody goes home with leftovers for sandwiches.

        My conclusion: it doesn't make much difference. If you know how to cook the bird you get, your turkey will turn out great. If you don't know what you're doing, ask for help. If you can't get help, buy a Butterball. If you are really clueless, buy a cooked turkey and make terrific side dishes. If all else fails, make reservations.

        1. We used to buy only frozen. Then we experimented with fresh and kosher and brining. Ultimately, we decided each category is a crapshoot. Sometimes the bird is moist and tasty; sometimes just OK. So now we buy the cheapest bird out there.

          I will say this for fresh. I like not having to go through the defrosting process.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Angela Roberta

            other than being able to buy the fresh turkey from a local farm, the defrosting issue is also a plus.

            Not my first thanksgiving, but probably the smalles since much of my family is going out of town for Thanksgiving. Looks like it will just be my wife, my 1 year old daughter, my mom,and the 2 cats for the turkey. If I get any late minute additions I will probably get a Honey baked ham to complement the turkey.

            I was really tempted to try a turducken this year, either making it myself, of ordering one, but opted out... perhaps next year.

            1. re: swsidejim

              I always buy the largest bird I can find, even if nobody is coming. The carcass is the same size on all of the birds...

              and I am really good with leftovers...

              Oh and, always fresh.

          2. Fresh local bird this year, the real dilemna is Montessori or home schooled.

            1. My mother always used a fresh bird. I didn't realize how dry it was till I tasted the frozen bird that was cooked by former mother-in-law. The difference was in the cooking. My mother simply overcooked the turkey; my mother-in-law, having only one oven, was forced to take the turkey out early so she could bake other things. I've tried cooking birds a gazillion ways from Sunday and my main conclusion is : DON'T OVERCOOK any bird. Use a thermometer. Put butter between the breast meat and the skin. An injector is helpful, too.

              1. For us, a fresh one, which I usually get. Specifically a Wilie bird from Santa Rosa. I typically brine it, but we just moved into an apartment, with a very small refrigerator, so there is no room to hold the bird in the brine. The trade off is a really big oven.

                2 Replies
                1. re: lrostron

                  We had T'giving one year at my sister's vacation home and ran out of fridge space. Couldn't put the brining turkey outside, even though it was cold enough, because of marauding raccoons so we decided to stash it overnight in the back of the SUV. All was well until my 88 year old aunt, still sharp as a tack, asked where we were going with the raw turkey. When we told her we were going to put it in the car, she thought she had lost her marbles. A little glass of sherry fixed her right up...
                  Is it cold enough where you live? Do you have a car?

                  1. re: lrostron

                    Cooler. Blue ice packs. Moderate amount of vigalence.

                  2. Referencing Humbucker's November 11, 2007 entry: The key seems to be whether the fresh turkey is really fresh or whether it is the pseudo-fresh allowed to be called "fresh" by the U.S.D.A. If the turkey is really going to be allowed to be chilled down to below freezing (32 F) at 26 degrees Fahrenheit, then I don't care what the U.S.D.A. calls it. In my mind, it's frozen. The ice crystals will do their job, freezing, defrosting, and refreezing, poking holes in the cell membranes of the turkey flesh, letting out a substantial amount of fluid. Yuck! A frozen one is much better under those circumstances.

                    On the other hand, if you can obtain a recently slaughtered fresh turkey, kept above 32 degrees Fahrenheit (but not much above that temperature), then I say, "Go for it!" It's bound to be better.

                    I must admit that using a hard frozen turkey, I have had no complaints over the years. The cell walls seemed to have survived pretty well (the freezing, thawing and refreezing seems to be the real problem, according to Cook's Magazine), but it just makes sense that a fresh turkey would be better. At least, my fresh beef steaks, fresh hamburger, fresh sausage and fresh fish always seem to be better than their frozen counterparts.

                    The problem is lining up a place to sell you a truly unfrozen, truly recently slaughtered, and truly carefully refrigerated bird, considering the fact that the bird has recently had its--ahem--innards removed and no doubt is a virtual playground for bacteria.

                    1. jfood is sitting and watching a family of wild turkey walk past the back door thinking to himself, "hide guys"

                      but to your question.

                      jfood buys non-frozen, notice not using the word fresh. His grocer brings in a few varieties of Pennsylvania brands and it will be B&E or Round Hill this year. He grew up with Butterball and really liked it but is leaning toward the farm raised this year. We'll see how it goes.