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Fresh versus Frozen Turkey

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This year I will be doing Thanksgiving Day a little different.I will be cooking and donating turkeys for a homeless dinner.I have never purchased a frozen turkey,but since I will be purchasing several turkeys out of pocket (working on my own limited budget ) I'm wondering is there a big difference between frozen and fresh.

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  1. I think that if you're comparing brand to brand the difference is minimal. I usually buy Empire Kosher turkeys. I've bought them both fresh and frozen. Perhaps if they'd been side-by-side I would have been able to distinguish between the two. But neither I nor my guests thought the fresh turkey any better than the frozen ones we'd had in years past.

    Now, if you're going to compare a Butterball to fresh organic free-range bird, that's a whole other ball of giblets.

    1. The most direct answer is "it depends." How many turkeys and how big? (You said "turkeys" so assumed it was more than one.) Where are you preparing them? At home or in a "professional" type kitchen? If you are doing this at home I would have all sorts of food safety concerns. Having said that...

      If you can get fresh turkeys for about the same as frozen and you have a place to store them, I would go with the fresh for several reasons.

      First is storage. If you buy several fresh birds, you can usually have the store hold them for you until you are ready to prepare them. (Yes, they will hold frozen ones too, but they will still be, well, frozen when you pick them up.)

      Next is the thawing issue: where would you safely thaw several frozen birds? Butterball.com says about thawing a frozen bird: "Allow for at least 1 day of thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey" when thawing in the refrigerator...the really only safe way to do it.

      Third is flavor. Unless you buy a self-basting bird, frozen turkeys are notoriously dry, especially the white meat. If you are doing more than one I would suggest a self-basting bird only because you probably won't have time to brine and prepare them.

      Cooks Illustrated rated turkeys last November and rated a frozen Butterball and a fresh Jennie-O turkey fairly highly (3rd & 4th respectively), and they were the most economical.

      I hope this helps.

      1. The big difference is the time and planning it takes to thaw the frozen ones. You pay extra for the fresh because you don't have to remember to thaw it days in advance.

        1. For this purpose, no.

          Not to sound snobbish, but unless someone is always eating fresh turkey, there won't be any difference in taste to the target audiance. I have to imagine that the majority of turkey sold in restaurants start out frozen and who knows.

          Besides the time factor of thawing, one thing to do is to keep an eye out for drying out. Less expensive turkeys, be they frozen or fresh, seem to dry out easier when baking. While I personally ... to a Chowhound crowd ... will cheerlead for a fresh, good brand like Diestal, my extended family who are not foodies are just as happy with an inexpensive frozen bird and wouldn't know the difference. Sadly, I have personal experience in this area. Fancy-shmancy turkey one year didn't get any more accolades than a cheapo that was picked up for free with a purchase of $50 in groceries.

          This is nice of you especially in a year when charities are WAY down in donations. A food bank in the Bay Area can't even give out turkeys this year, so they are giving out chickens ... until they run out. Buy as many as you can cook at the lowest price ... baste and keep an eye on them.

          1. The quality of frozen birds has improved dramatically in the last twenty years or so. Not just in the freezing technology, but the storage and transport are better, too. I always brine my birds and roast them breast side down to start, and haven't had a dry one in years. I avoid the ones injected with basting liquid; it has a harsh chemical taste to me. Just allow enough time for thawing. For an eighteen pounder I put in the refrigerator on Sunday morning so it is thawed by Wednesday evening so I can brine it overnight.