Can't decide whether you should buy fresh or frozen for your Thanksgiving turkey? We give you the pros and cons of each type to help you decide which to pick up at the grocery store. Are there really quality differences? Or cooking differences?
One of the most important decisions you are going to make this holiday season is selecting that bird for the dinner table.
Nowadays we are given so much options and there is so much we can discuss on the issue. One of the biggest debates is whether or not to buy a fresh turkey over a frozen one.
👍 Pros & 👎 Cons
Here are the pros and cons for a fresh bird vs. a frozen brd.
👍 Pros - Cheaper, you can buy whenever, easy to buy an extra and through it in the freezer, often on sale in grocery stores
👎 Cons - It takes additional time to prep for cooking as you need to thaw it, stores like Costco & Sam's Club don't carry them, many already contain a salt solution or other added ingredients
👍 Pros - No need to thaw, easier to find organic, can season and cook immediately, more options with no added ingredients just turkey
👎 Cons - More expensive, require special handling when transporting, more limited window to buy
Most organic turkeys that I find are fresh turkeys. I am not saying there isn't but they aren't common.
These pros and cons also apply to both whole turkey and turkey breast.
If buying from a local farm, most of those turkeys are going to be fresh birds as those farms don't have the freezers of bigger operations.
🥶 RELATED - Cold water method for thawing a frozen turkey quickly
💸 Why are Fresh More Expensive?
Why would a fresh bird cost you more money? They are harder to transport. You have to be more careful with them when moving them from warehouse to truck to store. Turkeys are more likely to be damaged.
Also fresh turkeys are more time sensitive. Since you aren't freezing them they have to go from harvest to the customer a lot faster. The turkeys must be hatched at the first time in order to be ready for harvest by Thanksgiving. So if anything goes wrong in that process, it can create a shortage and if demand is high, prices tend to be higher. The market for fresh turkeys is a lot more volatile.
Companies can stock pile frozen turkeys going to save up for Thanksgiving.
In many consumer's eye fresh is seen as a more premium turkey, so stores feel they can charge more money for them and they will get it. More profit for the stores. Grocery stores tend to loss money on frozen turkeys use their low price to bring people into the store to buy higher margin items, where stores can make some good money.
🏆 Juicy Meat
When it comes to turkey what do people really want? Juicy meat of course. I asked my followers before and the one word they said was the single most important thing for a turkey to be considered "good". The most popular response was juicy.
Who really wants to bite into a bird that is so dry you need to drown the pour thing in gravy just to choke it down. In our debate of whether fresh is better than frozen let's take a look at whether or not fresh turkeys are more juicy - thus worth the extra money they cost. For now let's put away any terms like free range, organic, kosher, etc and look at simply fresh versus frozen in terms of juiciness.
🧊 Does Freezing Affect Quality?
Whenever meat is frozen, the meat cells can be damaged. This could hurt the quality of the meat - cause juices to escape during cooking.
However a frozen bird is flash frozen. They freeze them so fast to reduce any cell damage and to prevent large ice crystals from forming. Frozen turkeys are then stored at 0 degrees. Fresh turkeys can go down to 24 degrees, which is below the freezing point of water, but the turkey is not considered frozen. It is possible for them to get cold enough for ice crystals to form, causing cell damage, leading to potentially drier meat. Liquid can escape through damaged cells.
Temperature variation is much more a concern with fresh turkeys. They must be handled properly. Mishandling can easily happen. Look at this picture from a Meijer store.
Some customer has placed a fresh turkey in with the frozen. An employee may see this error and place it back to where it goes. But after how long and what damage might have been done.
🦃 Which is Juicer?
Whether you buy a fresh or frozen turkey is not the deciding factor is whether you end up with dry meat. I believe that it doesn't matter all that much whether your turkey is fresh or frozen for which is more juicy. I have made frozen turkeys that I can't imagine could be any more juicy.
The most important thing for a turkey to be juicy is not whether it is fresh or frozen, it is whether you overcooked it or not. When you hit that perfect temperature (165 white meat, 180 dark meat), a frozen or fresh turkey will be juicy. I can't imagine having a more juicy turkeys than the brined ones that I cooked to the perfect temperature unless I ran it through a juicer and drank it (I will not be trying this year or any other year).
The key to nailing that perfect temperature is a probe thermometer. It's your insurance policy for juicy meat!
Temperature isn't the only factor in determining whether your bird will be juicy. Time is another. Say you buy a frozen turkey and don't completely thaw it, it will take longer to cook and the longer it takes, the less juicy it will likely be.
If you don't think you can thaw your turkey in time (see my post on How to Quickly Thaw a Turkey), then you better opt for a fresh turkey. Consider size as well, the larger turkeys will take longer to cook. You are better off going with two small ones that a ginormous large one.
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