One of the most important decisions you are going to make this holiday season is selecting that bird for the dinner table. Nowaydays 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. Today we are going to take a look at one aspect of that debate.
Americans Love a Juicy Bird
When it comes to turkey what do people really want? Juicy meat of course. I asked my followers on facebook to in one word say what is the single most important thing for a turkey to be considered "good". The most popular response was juicy/moist. 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.
Turkeys and Temperature
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 frozen turkeys are 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.
Most Important Thing for a Turkey to Be Juicy
Whether you buy a fresh or frozen turkey is not the deciding factor is whether you end up with dry meat. 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.
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 better 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.