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Kitchen Notes: Buying Whole Turkeys
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:33 pm    Post subject: Kitchen Notes: Buying Whole Turkeys Reply with quote


Article Digest:
The American holiday of Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, and the traditional Thanksgiving dinner centering around a roast turkey looms over us. If you're planning on roasting a turkey, it's probably time to start thinking about buying one. (Thawing a large frozen turkey could take a whole week.) "Designer" turkeys can cost as much as $10 a pound while some supermarkets will sell you a turkey for less than $1 per pound. But what do you look for when buying a turkey?

Fresh or Frozen
Fresh turkeys are turkeys that are quick-chilled to 40°F (4°C) or lower and have been stored at a temperature greater than 26°F (-3°C). This means, it is possible that the turkey could be partially frozen (if stored for a while). They should kept in the refrigerator after purchase and cooked within two days.

Frozen turkeys are turkeys that have been frozen in a blast freezer and are kept at 0°F (-18°C) or lower. The turkey is frozen quickly enough that ice crystals don't form (so no damage occurs during thawing). Frozen turkeys are packaged tightly in plastic to prevent freezer burn and can be stored in the freezer for long periods of times (over a year if necessary). To thaw a turkey, move it from the freezer to the refrigerator and allow about 5 hours for each pound of turkey. A 12 pound turkey will take a little over two days to thaw while a large 20 pounder will take about four days. Once the turkey has thawed, you can keep it in the fridge for up to two days before cooking. Refreezing a turkey reduces the quality because ice crystals will form during the slow freezing process (tearing the tissue of the turkey apart).

Both fresh and frozen turkeys produce excellent results when roasted properly. In general, fresh turkeys cost more than frozen, so I use frozen turkeys.

Basted or Unbasted
Basted turkeys have been injected with a sodium-based solution to increase the juiciness of the bird. Flavor enhancers, fat, broth, or stock can also be injected into the turkey. In the United State, it is required by law that labels must include a statement identifying the total quantity and common name of all ingredients in the solution. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website provides this example: "Injected with approximately 3% of a solution of _____________ (list of ingredients)."

In general, basted turkeys are more juicy (when roasted directly), but have an off taste. For the best turkey, buy an unbasted one and brine it for a few hours before cooking. Don't brine a basted turkey since they already have a heightened salt content.

Age
Fryer/roaster turkeys are young turkeys usually less than four months old. These are generally between 4 and 8 pounds (1.8 and 3.6 kg) and are very tender.

Young turkeys are between 4 and 7 months of age. They are sometimes referred to as young roaster turkeys and are also very tender. I recommend using either fryer/roaster or young turkeys for roasting.

Yearling turkeys are around 12 months old. The skin and meat are moderately tender and can still be roasted well.

Mature turkeys are over fifteen months old and should not be used for roasting since they will produce fairly tough meat.

Size
To figure out how much turkey you need to roast, use the 3/4 pound (1/3 kg) per person rule of thumb. A ten pound turkey can be expected to feed 12 to 14 guests.

Other labels
Free range or free roaming turkeys must be allowed access to the outside while being raised. This does not affect the taste of the turkey.

Hen turkeys are female turkeys and generally are 15 pounds (7 kg) or less. Tom turkeys are male and are typically more than fifteen pounds. The sex of the turkey has no bearing on flavor, texture, or tenderness.

Kosher turkeys are turkeys that have been prepared under Rabbinical supervision. Often, they are sold with a layer of salt coating the turkey increasing juiciness and saltiness. These turkeys do not need to be brined, but soaking them in water may increase their tenderness by increasing water content prior to cooking.

Minimally processed turkeys are supposedly minimally processed. However, processing can include traditional processes for preparing meat such as smoking, roasting, freezing, drying, and fermenting. Generally, this isn't an issue when buying a turkey for roasting because they all be minimally processed.

Although there does not yet exist a man-made turkey, there are Natural turkeys. Natural turkeys do not contain artificial flavors, food coloring, chemical preservatives, or any other artificial ingredient. In the U.S., the label must explain the use of the term "natural" (for example, no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed). Natural turkeys generally have the best flavors without the chance of the turkey tasting artificial. They also cost more.

The label "no antibiotics" can be used when the turkey producer proves to inspectors that the turkeys were raised without antibiotics.

Although the U.S. government prohibits the use of hormones when raising turkeys, the label "no hormones" can still be found on some turkeys. According to the USDA, the claim "no hormones added" cannot be used on the labels of poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says, "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."


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Dean
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Michael! Since some friends and I are being abandoned by our families for Thanksgiving (the fate of a college student...) we're thinking about doing it ourselves - this'll help.

Last edited by Dean on Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:42 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey Michael I have been reading your site for a while and I have to say I love it! I tried out the peanut toffee recipe and I have to say it was soo good. I'm never buying toffee again! Hey, how about putting up a picture of you and your wife one of these days. I'd love to see who the master is behind this site!
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I completely disagree on the point of the affect of free range/roaming turkeys/birds not having a positive affect on flavor. I've been buying free range turkeys & chickens for a little over 20 years. I don't have to quote news articles or related. This is direct experience from myself, family & friends I've cooked for over the years. I also find it too bad that you'd choose price versus quality. Don't you question yourself when you spend top dollar for Nikon's superior quality optics & camera bodies, then you go buy a grocery store frozen bird? Ick, the thought makes me cringe. Do yourself, your family and your body a favor and find yourself a decent bird for this holiday season. Quality of food matters.

http://www.diestelturkey.com/

Biggles / http://www.meathenge.com/
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Michael,

I believe you must have mistyped your statement regarding "designer" turkeys costing upwards of 10 dollars a pound. Please cite your references for this. At that price my turkey would cost $220.00.
I've just came back from El Cerrito Natural grocery and they're selling Diestel free range birds for $1.98 per pound.
I called Andronico's Market in Berkeley on Solano, 510-524-1673. They're going to stock Willie Bird free range for about $2 to $3 dollars per pound. They are known for being a high priced grocery store.
Rick's Quality Meats in El Cerrito is now taking orders for Martinelli's natural turkeys for $1.99 per pound. 510-233-9390.
Please go to http://www.andronicos.com/ and notice the special for this holiday season, an entire free range turkey MEAL for 8-10 people coming in just under $100.00, that's $120.00 under your estimation for my turkey only.
If your taste is for a certain bird, that's just fine with me. But please don't post incorrect, misleading information and possibly ruin someone else's holiday season.

Biggles / http://www.meathenge.com/
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

no where does michael say free range or free roaming turkeys or the turkeys you purchase are the designer turkeys he talked about at the top of the post.

i'd like to see an example of a $10 a pound turkey myself, but you're the one claiming designer = free range.

And Michael -- there are man-made turkeys now. I would put tofurkey down as a man-made turkey.
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1626
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

re: "designer" turkeys?

While most turkeys can be purchased below $6 per pound, there are occassionally turkeys that sell for almost $10 per pound. These are usually marketed towards people who want to have a "real" turkey and often claims of being "the orginal breed of turkey" are associated with these obnoxiously high priced turkeys. I've never seen a turkey cost more than $150 though. I don't think anyone should ever pay those prices for a turkey - especially since excellent turkeys are available mail order for reasonable prices.

The statement was meant to show the large delta between cheap and expensive turkey possibilities, not to claim that you'd be able to find a $0.50/lb. turkey or a $10/lb. turkey unless you looked really, really hard.

re: Fresh vs. frozen
Fresh turkeys are juicer and more tender than frozen turkeys if you do not brine your turkeys. Since, I recommend brining turkeys, the frozen turkeys come out as juicy, tender, and flavorful as a fresh turkey. When properly prepared, fresh and frozen are interchangable.

re: Free range
A turkey's access to the outdoors does not have an effect on the turkey's flavor or texture. Feed mix does make an effect and often times a free range turkey will be fed in such as a way as to promote a bolder flavor. This stronger flavor (which some people like and others do not) has often been attributed to allowing the turkey to roam. This is not the case. A caged turkey with the same feed mix will provide the same flavor. For me, free range is more of an ethical question than a food quality issue.

Having said all that, I usually purchase frozen, minimally processed, natural turkeys at slightly less than $2.00 per pound.

I have heard from several people that the Heritage turkey from Mary's Turkeys is one of best turkeys you can get and it's a reasonable $4 per pound at my local market.
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1626
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

re: Clarification on the mail order comment

Before anyone jumps on me about not supporting local turkey farms, I said "...excellent turkeys are available mail order for reasonable prices" but should have said "...excellent turkeys are available locally and by mail order for reasonable prices". I was thinking someone would pay a lot of money for a turkey if they thought they couldn't get something good locally, but was suggesting that if that was the case, just mail order a moderately priced one instead.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Michaels quote from the post:

"Other labels
Free range or free roaming turkeys must be allowed access to the outside while being raised. This does not affect the taste of the turkey."

It's right up there, go see.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yup, well I guess we'll have to leave it at agreeing to disagree. I can live with that. There's just too much written information supporting free range meat having better flavor both on the web and from the rancher's themselves. Sure they need to make a living and promote their business, but there are so many inherent problems with caged animals. Stress, bad blood flow through the muscles and disease. I haven't had a Foster Farms or Albertson's bird in years, brined or no, I ain't gonna bite. That cheap meat ain't good for ya neither. I can live with 1.98 a pound for a fresh one.

Biggles / http://www.meathenge.com/
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1626
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

We're not comparing apples to apples here. A frozen turkey is just as good as a fresh turkey when both are prepared properly. A frozen Albertson's turkey should not be compared to a fresh Diestel's turkey because the Albertson's turkey probably uses inferior feed and most likely has had an accelerated growth rate. Many turkey farms produce both fresh and frozen turkeys and these turkeys are equivalent.

When I said frozen, I meant "all things being equal" a frozen bird == a fresh bird (when properly prepared). I was examining each aspect of turkey buying separately.

Sorry for the confusion.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah yah know, that clears up a lot.

See, my freezer is used for ice cream & ice cubes & meat ingredients for stock. I'm not a fan of the frozen meat. Although, that isn't to say I haven't done it or received decent results from frozen meat.

But when someone says they got themselves this great frozen turkey from the grocery store it turns my stomach.

When I choose my meat, I attempt to find something that is out of the crate good. As with chickens, rub with evoo & kosher salt. Then roast. The meat should stand on its own goodness. I really don't want to have to dress it up, brine it to get it to taste right. To taste better yes, but not to make it as good as the bird sitting next to it for a dollar more per pound.

See, I pay a bit more per pound but have to do less work to get it to taste right. I do cheat a bit though, I admit. I cook the bird 2/3 the way through upside down. The last 30 for browning the breast. Crazy juice, no tenting of the foil and the quality of meat flavor is right there.

Biggles / http://www.meathenge.com/
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My goodness, I can see the effects of all these analytical people on this website after reading all these comments. I have to say "give the website owner a break" and I'd also have to say "advertising" on their dime is despicable. I buy meat from a co-op and grocery store meat because you've got to do what fits your budget, schedule, etc. No one can ever convince me that fish tastes good, it's disgusting, so couldn't someone like grocery store turkey better than a snob turkey? Florida mother p.s. the purpose of the article was clear and it provided good information without slant. Thanks
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Is a turkey receipe just around the corner? Would love to see one since I plan on cooking Thanksgiving turkey for my friends soon.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 10:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, never been accused of being analytical before, spiffy.

Turkey Pot Pie with tender flaky crust.

Yum
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