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Turkey Purchasing Pointers By Lydia Jensen

Whether purchasing a fresh or frozen turkey, consumers can be confident they are buying a quality product. The decision of which to purchase is based on personal preference in price and convenience. Oven-ready fresh and frozen birds are tucked into snug, air and water resistant plastic wraps immediately following processing. Air is removed as bags are sealed and shrunk so they fit the turkey almost as tightly as its own skin. Frozen turkeys are flash frozen immediately after processing to 0 degrees 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 and are, therefore, usually more expensive. Whether you buy a fresh or frozen turkey, proper cooking and handling of the bird will ensure a delicious holiday meal.

Frozen Turkey : Store at 0 degrees F or below. Purchase during special value sales and store the bird in the freezer until the thawing time begins. 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 is changed every 30 minutes. Do not use warm or hot water and be sure to change the water every 30 minutes.

Microwave: Follow the microwave manufacturer's directions and begin to roast the turkey immediately following the microwave process.

Fresh Turkey : Stored at 26 degrees F and above. Purchase for convenience because thawing is not required. Cost may be slightly more due to special handling required by the store. Order in advance to be assured of availability. Place fresh raw poultry in a refrigerator that maintains 40 degrees F and use it within the time frame on the package label or freeze the poultry at 0 degrees F.

Hard Chilled/Previously Hard Chilled Turkey : Stored at temperatures between 0 and 26 degrees F. In late 1997, new regulations created a separate category for turkeys in this temperature range, which had previously been labeled fresh. Cooks should treat this bird with the same care as a fresh bird and recognize this product has a shorter shelf life than a frozen product.


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 added 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 leftover for the prized turkey sandwich.

Raw TurkeyEnsure that the packaging is intact and avoid purchasing a bird with packaging that has rips or tears. Save on supermarket specials by purchasing more than one turkey. A whole frozen turkey may be stored in your freezer for up to 12 months. Select the size of turkey based on 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 between 14 to 16 pounds and toms 15 pounds and up, so choose the size which best fits the number of dinner guests you expect. Select alternative turkey cuts if you are having a small gathering for the holiday. Other turkey products that are readily available include a turkey breast, tenderloins, cutlets, drumsticks or thighs. Or ask your butcher to cut a whole fresh bird in two halves, roast one half and freeze the other half for a later occasion.

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Last Modified: 11/28/11.