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Is fresh organic turkey worth the price?

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It's my first year ever to have thanksgiving and I'm excited and nervous about doing it right. I ordered a turkey from the turkey farm stand at Grand Army Plaza farmer's market in Brooklyn, at 2.99/lb. I told some people the price and they thought it was very overpriced. Having never bought a turkey, I didn't know any better. My question is, is there a big difference between frozen and fresh? I'd prefer organic, both in terms of hormones and free range (like to think the poor guy had a decent life until, well, until I had him slaughtered), but I can probably get a decent priced frozen organic turkey at Fairway. What do you think, is fresh worth the expense?

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  1. If you're a person who pre-disposed to it; there can be a lot of pressure on making and serving your first Thanksgiving meal. Keeping it simple and using recipes form sources you can trust, and/or from people who's food you have eaten and loved will really help. Because we almost always ate "all together", I never minded making my home Thanksgivings a half-potluck, where I asked and encouraged the people who were coming to bring whatever dish they weren't gonna be able to live without haha.
    As far as the bird goes; assuming you're gonna by an organic turkey (good for you!);
    fresh will be easier and more delicious, but frozen will be great too - it's all up to the recipe and the cook ;o) I do think a digital read-out temperature gauge (oven and bird) with a long probe is a must. Just remember to keep it as simple as you can. make as much as you can ahead of time, and ask for help (especially with the gravy!!) from people who love you and who aren't control freaks ;o)

    1. One thing to keep in mind is that organic does not entail that the turkey is free range. It'll have more room than an industrial turkey, but won't necessarily be wandering idyllic pastures. If you haven't yet, you might want to ask the farmer that sold you the turkey about his/her farming practices, and the conditions the turkey's been in. And if you're considered a switch to Fairway, ask there as well. Not all organic birds are created equal - not just because of the fresh/frozen thing, but also because of the conditions in which they are raised.

      Personally, I'd take a frozen pastured turkey over a fresh barn-raised one, even if both were organic. But that's a reflection of my particular concerns and tastes. The more you know about the birds you're considering, the more comfortable you'll be making a choice (whatever that choice is).

      1 Reply
      1. re: chloe103

        True. Many birds touted as "free range" never leave the coop/barn. Regulations state that they have to have access to the outdoors (like a tiny doorway through which many never pass), not that they actually roam in open pastures.

      2. The Whole Foods where I live has organic turkeys for upwards of $4.49/lb. No way I'd pay that. Yours sounds much more reasonable.

        1. I don't want to seem unresponsive BUT at 72 as a
          VERY experienced cook i think the following:
          i have never had a fresh organic turkey that compared in quality (eating wise) to a frozen Marval or Butterball at 47 to 97 cents per lb. These are pre basted/ brined birds.
          For years i got as a gift fresh organic birds. Until i started brineing them, friends and family were unimpressed.
          In serving food, i frankly and shamelessly don't care if the bird, lamb or veal calf was " happy"
          before it's demise.
          Of course, if this factor is important to you, fine.
          We pursue the industrial production of critters because most of us prefer the eating quality of the resulting product.
          I enjoy in my varied social circle a broad range of individuals ranging from those most concerned with animal welfare or healthful preparation to those more concerned with palatibilty.
          If one is less interested in the eating quality of an animal product than in it's welfare or eating quality ,that is your choice but don't invite me for an "evolved" dinner.

          2 Replies
          1. re: mr jig

            I promise, Dick.

            I am hardly as strict about source and practice in my food as I'd like to be; but knowing the practices of the top US animal food manufacturers, I have mostly chosen to stop buying theirs product for use in my kitchen. I think most people have no idea how their Butterball turkey, or any of their industrialized food creatures, gets to table; and that their appetite for the products might change if they did. Companies pursue their fast, cheap and easy, non-humane and almost exclusively non-union practices to improve the bottom line for the company, not because people prefer how a Hormel pig product tastes. What I want to know is why you would continue to accept and serve a gift you thought was so heinously second rate - is it because you are a gracious friend? I hope so.

            1. re: EmoryJ

              I've cooked both fresh and frozen organic turkeys with good results. If you do get a frozen turkey, be mindful that it requires a good long time to thaw. Have a lovely holiday.

          2. If you can afford it. Local. Organic. Every time! It is always better in so many ways. Good for you.

            1 Reply
            1. re: keith2000

              You are going to have to brine it yourself however.

            2. A frozen bird is fine - just remember that it takes longer than you might think to thaw it. I like to take my bigger birds out of the freezer and put them in the refrigerator on Sunday night before thanksgiving so it is thawed in time to brine it.

              If this is the first time you are doing the Big Meal, keep it simple. Nothing wrong with olives, nuts, cheese and so on for starters, a purchased dessert, and then you can focus on whatever sides which are important to you and your guests. If someone offers to bring something say yes. And have fun - this is my favorite holiday and I've never had a bad one...

              1 Reply
              1. re: sheiladeedee

                yes and you're right about the time to thaw. Sunday into the refrigerator is what I do also.

              2. Lately I've started buying a fresh, local turkey from a specialty grocer, and giving my free frozen supermarket turkey to the food pantry. But I have to admit that I really can't tell the difference in taste. So ethically, the price may be worth it *to you* but don't be disappointed if it isn't the "turkey to end all turkeys" taste wise. It's just a decision you are making. And like everyone says, keep it simple, don't try to do too many complicated idshes.

                1 Reply
                1. re: DGresh

                  The quality of frozen turkeys has really improved over the past 20 years or so. So has the handling along the line, so you are less likely to get one which hasn't been frozen rock solid ever since processing. A properly frozen, thawed and brined supermarket bird can be very good eating.

                2. Yes, its worth it. Both from the perspective of taste and from the perspective of animal welfare. It sounds like you're getting the turkey from the people who run/own the farm where the turkeys are raised. That's great. Ask them about how the turkeys live, what they eat and so on. To me its worth more money for the animal I'm going to eat to have been treated well and humanely. The best turkeys I've had have been local and free range. Organic is a good start. As a few have noted, organic doesn't necessarily mean the turkeys have been treated well but it does serve as an indicator of something positive within the context of what else you can learn.

                  I'm also totally sold on fresh versus frozen from a convenience standpoint (don't have to have the bird in the fridge for 4 days thawing out). I'm not sure it matters much from an overall quality perspective so long as you defrost the turkey slowly in the fridge.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ccbweb

                    Not all fresh, organic, free-range turkeys are alike. I raise heritage breed, pasture raised turkeys. One thing about the heritage breeds is they are about twice as old as the commercial breeds of turkeys when they are harvested. This makes a huge difference in flavor. Your commercial breed of turkey would be too big for most ovens if it was allowed to grow for so long. Taste testing showed that the longer lived bird, even if a broad breasted white, the most common commercial breed tasted far better when it had lived longer. But even your organic, free range bird is likely to be only four months old at best when it is a commercial breed. It costs more to grow a turkey longer and that adds to the buyers cost but you do get a big return in improved flavor. Pasture raised also makes a huge difference. My birds run and play and even fly-- something the commercial birds are too heavy to manage. That changes the texture of the meat to firmer -- more like a game bird. They eat all kinds of things -- lots of grass and they are bug eating machines. They not only grow up to be thanksgiving dinner, they improve the soil in my pasture and keep the weed and bug population under control. Their meat is healthier to consume, with far more balance in long chain fatty acids than an indoor turkey will have. Now that it is fall, my birds are also fed apples, a favorite of theirs. Nothing goes into these turkeys that you can't find in nature and they get to live the way nature intended. They are moved constantly so they don't live in their own droppings but in fresh, clean pasture.

                    Don't contact me for a Thanksgiving turkey as these turkeys are my pilot project in turkey raising and my breeding stock for next year. But next year, hopefully, I and many other small farmers will have superior heritage breed, pasture raised turkeys available to make your Thanksgiivng meal special.

                  2. Mr Dick was reputed to sing: "We pursue the industrial production of critters because most of us prefer the eating quality of the resulting product."

                    Actually, I find the exact opposite to be true, just to demonstrate the counterpoint.

                    Chickens or turkeys from industrialized factories do not have nearly the flavor (and texture is often really different too) of a bird raised in a pasture (see susanl143's post above for a great description).

                    Animals that are raised in non-industrial environments of course have more variance in flavor as well due to differences in diet, time of the year, age of the animal, etc. The american food industry has spent billions of dollars trying to convince us that an assembly-line cheeseburger that is JUST LIKE the billions and billions sold like it is superior to a real cheeseburger made from a grass-fed cow raised on a pasture and actually treated like an animal rather than a product. They've done a good job too, in getting people to think they prefer something that always tastes exactly the same rather than enjoying the natural variances in the taste of food raised naturally.

                    I specifically found my way to eating local, humanely-raised meat because it tasted better. I had no ideological investment (specifically I sneered at the notion of "happy food animals"), and frankly the prices are extremely high compared to industrial foods. So we eat less volume of meat, but get the "good stuff", down to buying local lard and schmaltz.

                    It is an interesting side effect of eating this way for the past couple of years that without any other changes in my diet except purchasing local produce and meats that my blood pressure, cholesterol, and general health have improved to the point that my doctor was flabbergasted by the improvements.

                    Now admittedly I grew up on a rural farm in the 60s, and all of our meat as a child was local, often to our farm (we had chickens and pigs, the guy down the road had cows, another had sheep and goats). We also hunted local animals: rabbit, deer, turkey, squirrel, wild pigs, duck, etc., all found their way onto our table. Do I prefer the extra flavor because I grew up eating "real" animals rather than stuff from a factory-farm? Maybe.

                    So to answer your question, I think the closer you can get to the original wild animal, the more "worth it" it is. btw, $2.99 / lb for a good turkey is cheap, we ordered our pastured fresh heritage-breed turkey this year for closer to $6 / lb.

                    1. Jeez, if you think you might be overpaying at $2.99/lb, I won't even tell you what we paid for our heritage-breed pastured turkey (Bourbon Red). Suffice to say it was significantly more.

                      This was my first thanksgiving cooking too, and while the overall results were good and the bird came out tasty, I didn't find it to be worth the extra cost -- and this is coming from a person who eats 95% local organic food. It just didn't taste that different from any regular old turkey. This was very different from my experience with heritage-breed pork, which is worth every damn extra penny it costs, for it's eye-poppingly extravagant flavor.

                      Next time I do this, I'm going to go for organic and pastured, but only because I believe in humanely raised food animals, not for the taste factor. I'll skip the heritage part and save some cash.

                      1. I have been buying fresh natural turkeys for the last 3 years and I couldn't be happier with the results. One thing I want to say is my son and I always seemed to get indigestion from eating turkey until I started buying the fresh natural locally grown turkeys. I'm surprised I haven't heard any discussion on this subject. They are very tasty and very tender along with being easy on our digestive system. We do brine it and I think that helps make it more tender because it seals in the natural juices. As for me and my family it will always be fresh natural turkey dinners.

                        1. I was kinda in a situation where I had to look up different types of turkeys this year. In any case my turkey dilemma has been resolved (I found my fresh, happy roaming, Narragansett, boy). $2.99 a pound from a farm in New York doesn't sound bad to me at all. You don't want to know how much my boy's going to be.

                          1. Being organic doesn't always mean free range, it only means their feed is organic.
                          2. Being free range doesn't mean they necessarily get sunshine - they're just not caged.
                          3. Of course just free range itself has nothing to do with organic.
                          4. Fresh means they can be stored at as low as 26F. Ice crystals can form at this temperature. If they aren't being stored properly, the ice crystals melt and re-form way easier than deep frozen ones.

                          If you're used to tender meat, fresh turkey may taste tough to you.

                          Free range turkey has a stronger taste since the muscle got used more often to develop flavor. Some people call it gamey. Depending on who you talk to, they may find it off putting while the others can't get enough of that taste.

                          1. I don't know if it's worth it. Worth can be measured in so many ways. Taste, environmental impact, what value you put in happy birds. I am going to pay $10/lb, free range, organic, heritage and I'm going to kill it myself. I've already written on other threads about this. It's a turkey processign class. I will pay attention to how this bird tastes, but it's value, in large part, is the experience. Very hard to measure.


                            1. Agreed that organic does not mean free-range. We raise chickens and ducks. Our birds are not organic but they are free range. It's just too much work to get the organic certification and organic feed is really expensive. I'm not sure our market would support the cost we'd have to charge to go completely organic. We do however carefully formulate what they eat which we believe is healthier than industrial birds.

                              Next year we are raising turkeys. Our birds have access to 7 acres of land when we are home (we have too many predators to let them out all day long) but we still aren't going to market as free range. If anyone cares we can let them know our birds are humanely treated but that really doesn't mean anything because there are no standards for that label.

                              Also because our birds free range they do have a different flavor than store birds. Not everyone likes the taste (because they are used to mass produced birds).

                              BTW, in our area heritage free-range turkeys sell for $7/lb! I think folks have to decide for themselves if it's worth paying more for a bird raised on a small farm.

                              1. As the owner of an online organic meat shop that sells virtually all of our meats frozen, I would have to say that most people cannot tell the difference between a high-quality organic meat product that has been frozen and one that has never been frozen. Theoretically, the freezing process can have a small impact of the cell structure of the meat (organic whole turkey, in this case) but freezing also ensures freshness. In the peak of Thanksgiving turkey season many fresh turkey sellers are forced to kill their birds 7 to 15 day before Thanksgiving. This unfortunately can cause the bird to be not-so-fresh and you risk high levels of bacteria growth. A frozen turkey, on the other hand, is generally frozen to -10F within 48 hours of slaughter. This ultimately mean that a frozen organic whole turkey is often "fresher" than a fresh organic whole turkey.

                                Attached is a photo of one our our frozen organic whole turkeys: http://www.grassfedbeef.org/Organic-W...