Are fresh turkeys better than frozen? And does it matter?
More frozen turkeys are purchase than any other type. They're convenient, can be purchased any time before Thanksgiving, and will keep in your freezer for a very long time. In fact, their quality will remain high for up to a year and they'll still be usable for up to three years. This estimate will be downgraded somewhat for a refrigerator/freezer combo.
One drawback to frozen turkeys is that many people simply forget to thaw them in time. This leads to last minute panics and the possibility of supporting bacteria. Fresh turkeys also have the same bacterial issues - and it is imperative that they be cooked within a day or two of purchase.
Now - when you purchase a fresh turkey, it is also important to go to a vendor you can trust. Proper handling from the producer to the grocery case to you will help to ensure a bird that can be safely consumed. Turkey meat begins to freeze at 26 degrees F. A processor must immediately cool the poultry to this temperature and keep it there until it is delivered to your local vendor. The vendor, in turn, must keep the bird cooled to temperatures no higher than 40 degrees F. These birds may be labeled as "fresh" or as "refrigerated." Fresh turkeys must be cooked on or before the "sell by" date or frozen no later than that. (Remember, to freeze properly, cut the bird into sections so it can cool quickly.)
Frozen birds are those that have remained frozen well below their initial freezing point. In fact, they must be flash frozen to 0 degrees F. or lower in order to make it safely by USDA standards to the consumer. The quality will be the same as a fresh turkey when it's frozen quickly in this manner. Sometimes, these birds are thawed before selling and they will be labeled "previously frozen."
If you see a label stating "hard-chilled," this means you should treat the bird as if it is fresh. They have remained in a cooled range between 0 degrees F. and 26 degrees F.
The best rule of thumb for some of us is to purchase frozen for the convenience - and plan on thawing it safely in the refrigerator for the required amount of time prior to cooking. On the other hand, a fresh turkey may work best if you need an extra bird at the last minute and want to take it straight from the fridge to the roaster.
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