Thanksgiving is just around the corner, but there’s still time to find the perfect turkey for your holiday meal. However, choosing the best turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner isn’t as easy as just hitting the store for some chicken breast.
When buying a turkey, you need to consider things like the size you need, your budget, whether you want it fresh or frozen, and where you’re going to get it. Not to mention, there’s also the fact that we’re currently dealing with a turkey shortage due to multiple flu outbreaks, which has caused Thanksgiving turkey prices to skyrocket.
So, how do you choose just the right turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner? We asked professional chefs to help us find out. And after you get tired of buying Thanksgiving turkey like a pro, you should also read and bookmark How Long You Actually Need to Cook Your Turkey, According to Chefs.
Should you buy a fresh or frozen turkey?
One of the first questions people often have when deciding to buy a Thanksgiving turkey is whether to get it frozen or fresh. When making this decision, chefs recommend considering a few important things: time, storage, and availability.
Rodney Freidank, executive chef at Table 301 Catering, says frozen might be the best idea.
“Most people won’t be able to tell the difference between fresh and frozen. Flash freezing techniques help keep the meat in top shape to minimize moisture loss during thawing,” says Freidank. Eat this, not that! “It’s hard to find a fresh turkey in a grocery store, and the price is usually lower for a frozen turkey.”
While these benefits are significant, Freidank notes that “the biggest challenge is preserving the bird before cooking because it takes at least three to four days to thaw a frozen bird.”
Diana Manalang, chef and owner of Little Chef Little Café in NYC, says she doesn’t really have a preference between fresh or frozen. However, she also highlights the challenge of the times when it comes to buying a frozen turkey instead of fresh.
“The deciding factor for me is time. With a fresh turkey, I can skip the brining step if I’m short on time and can prepare everything in about a day,” explains Manalang. “With a frozen turkey, it takes time to thaw the turkey and to brine it overnight. Then I take it out of the brine and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to let the skin dry out ., which creates a crispy, golden brown skin,” she adds. “The total preparation time of frozen turkey will then be about three to four days.”
So if you have to choose between fresh or frozen, a frozen turkey is the way to go if you want to save a little more money. However, it will take you more time to prepare a frozen turkey. That’s why it’s important to consider your individual dining needs when trying to decide between these two options.
How big of a turkey do you need?
Once you’ve decided on the type of turkey you’re going to buy, you’ll need to decide what size you’re going to get.
When you buy a turkey, it is almost always measured in pounds. The right turkey weight you’re looking for “depends on how many people you’re feeding,” according to Freidank. “I buy at least a pound of turkey per adult, then add a few pounds for leftovers,” he advises.
Pete Servold, a classically trained French chef and founder of Pete’s Real Food, says you might be able to get away with a little less.
“You can calculate about half a pound of bird for every person you serve. For example, if you’re serving eight people, you want at least four pounds,” Servold says.
So it’s safe to say that an acceptable range would be somewhere between a half and a pound of turkey per adult you want to serve — and always keep leftovers in mind.
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Where should you buy your turkey?
With the current turkey shortage, finding a turkey can be more challenging now than it has been in years past.
Freidank claims the best thing to do when buying a holiday bird is to go local.
“If you can buy a locally raised turkey, that’s great. But you have to think ahead, as most breeders have limited quantities and they usually pre-sell well before the holidays,” says Freidank. “A local butcher will most likely also have access to heritage breeds and organically raised birds, if that’s important to you.”
While this is ideal, purchasing a locally bred bird usually cannot be done at the last minute. And if you’re reading this article and haven’t bought your turkey for this Thanksgiving, you more than likely don’t have time to shop at a local farm.
Fortunately, Manalang says there’s really nothing wrong with the old-fashioned supermarket route. “Many grocers offer special prices, discounts, and even free turkeys if you can find the right sale,” says Manalang.
A number of restaurants and fast food outlets also offer fully cooked turkeys. For example, Popeyes took online orders for Thanksgiving turkeys delivered right to your doorstep this year. While online orders are currently closed, you can still call your local Popeyes to pick them up.
What else should you know when choosing a turkey?
Deciding between fresh versus frozen, where to buy your bird, and what size to choose are some of the most important decisions to make when choosing a Thanksgiving turkey. However, there are a few other things you may want to keep in mind this year.
According to Freidank, it’s important to look for specific terminology used when marketing turkey.
“Don’t be fooled by the terminology used to sell turkeys; ‘free range’, ‘all natural’, etc. Many of these terms are meant to make you feel good about the turkey, but are often not regulated Or tested by everyone,” says Freidank. “Organic is a certification that has merit, and fresh is a term that is regulated: the turkey should never be cooled below 26°C.”
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Given the turkey shortage, Servold also recommends having a holiday meat backup plan.
“Due to the ongoing supply chain issues, I would suggest having a backup plan just in case,” he says. “There are plenty of main course substitutes that provide rich flavor and complement a Thanksgiving dinner, such as slow-cooked brisket, braised pork belly, or my personal favorite duck confit.”