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Fresh or Frozen?

For the last decade, I’ve hosted Thanksgiving for 20 to 40 people. With that amount of hungry mouths to feed, the decision to purchase fresh or frozen turkey was easy because of the considerable price difference.

This year, we will have one table of nine plus two high chairs. Thinking fresh turkey would be healthier and tastier, I checked it out but was concerned about the labels on most with sell dates up to a month away. After a discussion with my step-daughter, Anita, about her disappointment in the taste of her fresh turkeys the last few years and how turkeys are processed, I now realize frozen may be fresher and tastier.

“Fresh” turkeys are not necessarily fresh. The term refers to the fact that they were chilled to 26 degrees F after processing and not frozen. Most are then preserved in a solution, such as brine, for extended handling time. If the turkey really is freshly processed, it should be cooked within 1-2 days after purchasing.

Frozen turkeys are flash frozen at about 30 degrees below zero right after processing and held at 0 degrees or below. This helps to eliminate contamination. Frozen turkey is usually juicier because of the way the juices are immediately frozen with the meat. But it will dry somewhat if it is frozen for several months.

If you haven’t purchased your turkey as yet, it’s not likely that you will have enough time to defrost a frozen one before Thanksgiving. Defrosting should be done in its original packaging in the refrigerator, in a bag or container to avoid drippings that will contaminate other foods, and allowing at least one day in the refrigerator for every five pounds of meat.

I usually purchase at least one turkey and an extra breast with a total weight of at least one pound per person and a little extra so we have plenty of leftovers. Younger turkeys, which weigh no more than 20 pounds are usually better tasting and slightly more tender. Larger turkeys are meatier because of a greater meat to bone ratio. Hens generally weigh less, so if you want a bigger turkey, most likely you will be buying a Tom.

Most turkeys are raised in a barn with lots of other turkeys and given antibiotics. Organic turkeys are free-range, which means they were allowed to roam and given organic feed but no antibiotics.

Once on the table fresh or frozen, hen or Tom, organic or not, most say they can’t tell the difference. Thanksgiving is all about loved ones gathering to give thanks for our abundance, even in lean times – and of course, a delicious, hearty meal we all enjoy.

©Mary K. Doyle

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