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Nov 9, 2011 09:12 PM

Fresh vs. Frozen Turkey???

OK, so this Thanksgiving, I'm splurging on a fresh 14-16 lb. bird--to the tune of $100. I've had really good results in the past with thawed birds, brining, etc.

So... What--if anything--should I do differently with a $$$ fresh bird?


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  1. Nothing. Just treat it with the respect a hundred buck bird deserves and don't overcook it. Brine and season as usual. Don't expect it to taste much different than a regular bird -- or at least not twenty times better.

    1. We've always found that fresh turkeys are more moist and juicy than frozen birds.

      If it's a local bird that was raised free range, the difference is huge -- the meat has more texture, and the flavor is fantastic.

      1. I'm in a similar boat. I'm getting a 18-20 lb Heritage breed turkey this year, which is quite $$$. I had no idea they got that big (I hope they do or I'm running out of turkey). I have no idea what to expect from the breed but it is supposed to be fresh.

        i will be brining and cooking as normal. In a MAJOR moment of "DONT TELL ANYONE AND I"LL DENY IT IF YOU DO" - I like to cook my turkey in a . . . . . bag. Ugh, it hurts to type that. But I find that it gets brown, stays moist, and I actually like it. The skin isn't quite as crispy as oven roasted but I find that after I let my turkey rest under loose foil anyway (when not in a bag) that the skin ends up about the same.

        My grandmother (and mother) used to rub the turkey with mayo before roasting it to help keep it moist but I find the bag gives me a little extra wiggle room as far as cooking goes - so with an $$$ bird it is just a little extra insurance that it won't dry out. And it cooks faster in the bag than in the regular open oven.

        I know - I doubt anyone on here will give that advice - I mean come on - a bag - but there you go . . . .

        7 Replies
        1. re: thimes

          If it's any consolation, I will, once again, be deep frying a slightly smaller, fresh, free range bird myself - complete with the butter & hot sauce injections in the flesh. Folks seem to like it* and I am confident in the preparation, so . . .

          * I roast one too and the fried one is the one completely gone at the end of the meal - taste-tested for a few years now.

          1. re: thimes

            18-20lb isn't all that large..........we raised 12 turkeys last year and the bird we had for T-Day 2010 was 42lbs, the largest was 48lbs and the smallest was 35lbs.........

            Plenty of bone and meat......enjoy !!!!

            1. re: River19

              None of the heritage breed turkeys get this large. You most likely have a broad breasted white -- the kind the supermarkets carry. Of course, if it is pasture raised, it will taste better than the factory farmed turkeys but still, it won't have the flavor of a heritage bird. I raise heritage breed turkeys. The heritage breeds are smaller -- 25 lbs is the likely maximum weight and most are less than that -- but unlike supermarket turkeys they aren't swollen with added fluids and will feed more people per pound than the larger turkey as the meat is denser. The heritage turkey should be naturally juicy unless over cooked and shouldn't need brining. However, I do add some olive oil under the skin as they also have less natural fat than a turkey who isn't allowed out of its cage.

              1. re: susanl143

                Never claimed it was a heritage variety........but thanks for the information.

                I think it gets dangerous speaking in generalities when it comes to taste.........."tastes better" is largely subjective. If people are used to the standard Butterball (not saying there is anything wrong with that) they may think a stronger flavored bird closer to a pure gamebird might not "taste better". Taste is personal.

                I've killed several wild turkeys and some folks like them and some folks don't, depends on what they are used to and what they prefer. It doesn't get more organic free-range or natural than a wild turkey.

            2. re: thimes

              Heritage turkeys have very little white meat and dark meat doesn't dry out unless disasterously overcooked, so no need to bag it or brine it, really.

              1. re: magiesmom

                Hi, maggiesmom:

                My bird is not "heritage", but a broad-breast bird.


              2. re: thimes

                Nothing wrong with a bag. Growing up, my family used brown paper bags every year and they work wonderfully. I now do a brine and foil tent technique a la Alton Brown, but bags still work great!

              3. kaleo,

                I'd really reinforce what's been said by others and alluded to by myself - stick with what you know. You wind up with a comparison point that way and a reduced likelihood of something going wrong.

                We are lucky enough to have a turkey farm locally and I can pick up a fresh bird anytime the mood strikes. Consequently, I prepare a half dozen birds a year. I've barbecued them, fried them, and roasted them - each with great success. Execution of the technique is of greater import than the technique itself.

                9 Replies
                1. re: MGZ

                  Hi, MGZ:

                  Well, Thanksgiving 2011 and my $96 fresh, organic, free-range turkey are both history. It was actually $126 considering I felt I *had* to have a probe thermometer to protect my investment.

                  I brined, rinsed, dried and seasoned pursuant to's recipe, then roasted above aromatics at a steady 350F, tenting at the end. Out of the oven at 157F and carved right at 165F.

                  It looked beautiful, and was moist enough. And I am thankful that this bird gave its life to feed my family.

                  But I must say that this turkey was no better (and frankly no different) than frozen "regular" birds I've cooked which cost 80% less.

                  So, I'll ask any experts out there: Did I do anything wrong? Is there a different method that *would* have shown a significant difference in outcome/flavor?


                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    With all due respect, no. I've said all along there is no reason to spend more than 29 cents a pound for a flash-frozen supermarket bird, either all-natural or injected. Everyone yells at me but you are just one more data point from which I have based this conclusion.

                    I cook an average of 20 birds a year -- I've done ten this week alone, with probably three more to go before the end of the year -- and I've used all types and methods, and it all boils down to prep and not overcooking the beastie.

                    1. re: acgold7

                      29 cents a pound? You make me weep.

                      Granted, it's a specialty item here in France and takes a little searching, but I paid just an eyelash under 10 euros/kilo for my bird for tonight's celebration (we work on Thursday...) and it's the best price going. It is at least an organic, free range (bio - pleine aire) bird.

                      That works out to be about $6 a pound. We pay it once a year because it's Thanksgiving -- and they are really, really good.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        wow, my fresh, organic, free-range turkey (14 pounder) was only $20. I've roasted both fresh and frozen turkeys, brand-name and generics, toms and hens, and frankly, I've never tasted much difference. Maybe I don't have a very discerning palate, but it's just not worth the $$$$ to buy high-end. Only reason I even buy fresh over frozen is 'cause I don't want to take up all the fridge space to thaw a monster and pick up my fresh bird on Wednesday instead.

                        1. re: pine time

                          I don't think you caught the point that that's the best price out there for any turkey. (the butcher in my village wanted 20 euros a kilo -- more than $12 a pound, and I nearly fainted dead away).There are no other options. There are no Butterballs in the freezer section of the store.

                          There will be turkeys in the stores in a few weeks for Christmas, but at Thanksgiving, it's high-end or not at all.

                      2. re: acgold7

                        I followed acgold’s advice on not dropping more coin than I needed to this year. In previous years my in-laws raised the turkeys and they were huge (40-45lbs) birds that were outstanding, but this year I was cooking for friends instead.

                        Paid something like $0.50-0.70/lb for a fresh 21lber and cooked with foil over the breast for 2/3 the cooking time and then pulled the foil. Basted every hour and pulled when the breasts were in the 150-155 range and dark meat was in the 165-170 range……….let sit………..came out great and moist.

                        Only organic one for me will be one that was raised by family and not paid for by me.......

                      3. re: kaleokahu

                        It sounds (reads) to me as though your technique and execution were excellent. Moreover, it seems you found yourself a valuable comparison point.

                        From my experience, the thermometer was a fine investment. My fried bird was nearly a disaster due to a faulty instant read. Had it not been for a gut feeling of doneness (which was largely fueled by a strong desire to go inside for a much needed cocktail), I might still be standing there wondering, "How can the breast still only be at 125???"

                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          I fear that your brining the turkey and some of your other steps removed the flavor differences between what you bought and an inexpensive turkey. An organic, pasture raised turkey should have a taste and texture closer to a game bird than the soft, factory raised turkey. As they are properly young birds, they are still tender although generally they are older than the factory birds and have developed more flavor. Add enough water through brining to soften the texture and enough salt and other spices to cover the flavor and you might as well stick to turkeys that need their taste covered up rather than enjoyed for its own great flavor.

                      4. That reminds me - For about 20 years or so, every Wedn before Thanksgiving I used to pick up my ordered fresh Turkey from my local butcher, no problem, the Turkey was delicious, I didn't have to thaw it and all was well. Then one year as I ordered my "fresh Turkey" again, the butcher told me I could just take it along now. But it was frozen!! My eyes went kinda round when he told me that he always simply just thawed them out already for his customers and it was the same thing....
                        Well, he is a really good butcher otherwise.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: RUK

                          Yeah, what's 20 years of fraud.

                          1. re: RUK

                            According to our local poultry farmer, US guidelines state that a turkey can be frozen to as low as 29 degrees and still be called "fresh." He said most turkeys from farms are frozen earlier in the year and thawed for the holidays.

                            1. re: mojoeater

                              Mojo, I didn't know that! I am glad I didn't then lose sleep over those "fresh" Turkeys.

                              1. re: mojoeater

                                Actually, the low end temp is 26. (see, e.g. Regardless, your point simply illustrates that the definitions for various regulatory words are somewhat confusing when applied at the consumer level. "Free range," "organic," fresh," "prime," etc. really don't always mean the same thing for different products or producers. Ultimately, in the instant context, knowing where the animal was raised, by whom, when it was killed, how it's been handled, etc. is the only reliable way to procure what exactly what one is seeking. Sadly, this is typically not possible for most people. Instead, they must rely on those who are selling to them to know such information and not obscure it in order to profit from such disparity of knowledge.