Buying, Storing and Thawing Turkeys

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Turkey Primer - Everything you've wanted to know about buying, storing and cooking turkey plus a turkey FAQ will make you a turkey expert this holiday season.
Turkeys are wonderful things, and not just at holiday time. No matter how you slice it, guests are always impressed when a delicious turkey arrives at the table. Turkeys are also economical, feeding hoards of hungry folks for minuscule amounts of money.

Why then are so many people intimidated at the mere thought of cooking one of these birds? The truth is, it's not difficult. We went to the source, the folks at the National Turkey Federation, for all the information you'll ever need to make the perfect turkey.

Tips on Buying, Storing & Thawing Turkey
The decision to buy a fresh or frozen turkey is based on personal preference in price and convenience. Frozen turkeys are flash frozen immediately after processing to 0 ° F or below and held at that temperature until packaged. The meat, once defrosted, is virtually at the same freshness as the day it was processed. Fresh turkeys are deep chilled after packaging. They have a shorter shelf life than frozen turkeys and are therefore more expensive. Hard chilled birds have been stored at temperatures between 0° and 26° F. In late 1997, new regulations created a special category for turkeys in this temperature range, which had previously been labeled fresh.

Fresh or frozen, proper cooking and handling of the bird will ensure a delicious holiday meal.

Frozen Turkey:
Store at 0° F. or below. Purchase during special value sales and store the bird in your freezer until the thawing time begins.

Thawing
Thaw under refrigeration, in cold water, or the microwave:

  • Refrigeration - Allow approximately 24 hours per five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator.
  • Cold Water: Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound to thaw in cold water, which should be changed every thirty minutes. DO NOT USE WARM OR HOT WATER AND BE SURE TO CHANGE THE WATER EVERY THIRTY MINUTES. Once thawed, keep turkey refrigerated at 40 degrees F. or below until it is ready to be cooked (with the exception of microwaved thawed turkey which should be cooked immediately).
  • Microwave - Follow the microwave manufacturer's directions and begin to roast the turkey immediately following the microwave process.

Fresh Turkey:

  • Store at 26° F. and above.
  • Purchase for convenience because thawing is not required. Cost may be slightly higher due to special handling required by the store.
  • Order in advance to be assured of availability.

Hard Chilled/Previously Hard Chilled Turkey

  • Cooks should treat this turkey with the same care as a fresh bird and recognize this product has a shorter shelf life than a frozen turkey.

Tips For Buying Turkey

Processors may add convenience or value added features to whole turkeys, including pop-up timers, net bags for easy carrying and self basting solutions injected into the bird for extra flavor. Consumers can choose which of these options best suit their needs.


Purchase one pound of turkey per person to be served. This formula allows for the holiday meal plus a little left over for the prized turkey sandwich.

Ensure that the packaging is intact to avoid purchasing a bird with packaging with rips or tears. This might not seem like a big deal, but it can make a mess in your refrigerator.

Turkey prices, surprisingly, go down during the holidays as many supermarkets use turkey as a "loss leader." This simply means that retailers run special, low prices on turkey to entice customers into their store to buy other holiday foods that go along with the traditional feast. To get the best deal on holiday turkey, check supermarket ads for specials and coupons for the best price. Turkeys in the supermarket are all inspected by USDA or state systems and offer high quality and value.

The Thanksgiving meal in general is one of the most economical ways to entertain a large group of people. In 1996, the American Farm Bureau reported that the traditional Thanksgiving meal cost $31.66 to serve 10 people! The bureau's meal included turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, peas, rolls with butter, cranberries, a relish dish, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and beverages of coffee or milk.

Save on supermarket specials by buying more than one turkey. A whole frozen turkey can be stored in your freezer for up to twelve months. Don't limit yourself to the holidays. A turkey cooked on a barbecue grill is wonderful any time of year, especially in summer, when you don't want to turn on the oven!

Select the size of your turkey based on the number of servings needed. There is no appreciable difference between female (hen) and male (tom) turkeys in tenderness, white/dark meat ratio or other eating qualities. Hens typically weigh up to 14 to 16 pounds and toms 15 pounds on up, so choose the size which is best for your dinner group.

Select alternative turkey cuts if you are having a small gathering for the holiday. Other turkey products which are readily available include a turkey breast, tenderloins, cutlets, drumsticks or thighs. You might also ask your butcher to cut a fresh whole bird in half. Roast one and freeze the other for a later occasion


Turkey FAQ

What are giblets and what should I do with them?

Giblets are the turkey's neck, gizzard, heart and liver. When cooked until tender, they make a great addition to gravy or stuffing. If you have dogs, you can also cook the giblets for your pet. Make sure all bones are removed, chop up the meat and let Fido enjoy the feast too.


What is a self basted turkey?

Self basted turkeys have been injected or marinated in a solution which usually contains edible fat, natural broth, stock or water and seasonings. Self-basted turkeys are labeled with the percentage of solutions and their ingredients.

My turkey is getting too brown and it's still has a long time to cook. HELP!
No problem, if you find the top of your turkey is getting to brown, simply cover it loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil and continue to roast the turkey according to schedule.

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