Take dinner up a notch this holiday season by selecting a turkey based on freshness and taste. Here are a few things you will need to know before deciding whether or not to buy a fresh or frozen bird. It’s the ageless question!

Fresh vs. frozen

First things first! There are new labeling laws for turkeys. A turkey is considered “fresh” only if it has never been chilled below 26°F to assure consumers that the turkey they buy has never been frozen. Turkeys chilled at 0°F must be labeled “frozen.” If a turkey is stored between the 25°F – 1°F, it may or may not be labeled “previously frozen.”

Most farmers and butchers recommend a fresh turkey. But, the real question remains: which turkey tastes best?

Fresh turkeys will hold their moisture better than frozen turkeys, bringing out a meaty texture with deeper natural flavors.

It is best to preorder a fresh turkey with your local butcher and arrange to pick it up a few days before the holiday. There are only so many of these fresh, local birds available, since turkey flock sizes are set in late spring, so it’s important to place a preorder.

If you are going to buy a frozen turkey, buy it from your local butcher or a small family farm where their turkeys are flash frozen to preserve the flavor and quality, rather than one from a supermarket where you have no idea how long it’s been frozen and if the bird was thawed and refrozen along the way. If a frozen turkey melts and refreezes, formation of ice crystals in the muscles can occur, making for tough meat. Frozen turkeys are best when flash-frozen packaged immediately to 0°F.

The most important factor in deciphering between a fresh or frozen turkey is the quality of the meat before it is frozen. Also, take into consideration that the freezer storage time, packaging, thawing process and refreezing can have an effect on the quality of any turkey.

Storing an uncooked turkey

Keep the turkey in its original plastic packaging, whether it is fresh or frozen, to keep out bacteria and retain the meat’s freshness.

The ideal temperature for your freezer is 0°F to ensure the bird remains completely frozen. A frozen turkey can safely last up to a year, if kept in the freezer. After this amount of time, the quality of the meat will diminish.

Frozen turkeys require additional time for thawing; therefore, additional prep time is required. Thaw the turkey in the coldest part of the refrigerator, in the far back on the bottom shelf. Never defrost a turkey at room temperature. Remember, a whole, uncooked, thawed turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days only, so plan ahead. The refrigerator should be at a temperature of 40°F or below. Allow for 1 day of thawing in the refrigerator for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.

Fresh and frozen turkeys cook differently

A fresh turkey cooks a lot differently than a frozen one does. Fresh turkeys tend to roast much more quickly than frozen, thawed ones do. Use a meat thermometer on the thigh before the estimated time is up. The turkey is done when the thigh meat registers 165°F.

Whether fresh or frozen, the USDA recommends buying 1 pound of turkey for every person at dinner (includes a moderate amount for leftovers).

From farm to table, Skip’s on the Ridge’s poultry selection is one the freshest, minimally processed in the region.

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