Frozen turkeys are the most readily available in supermarkets. The advantages to buying a frozen turkey are price, availability and convenience. You can usually find them on sale in the weeks before the holidays. As far as convenience goes, the only thing inconvenient about a frozen turkey is the thawing, but we’ve got lots of info on that to help you out.
Fresh turkeys often need to be ordered in advance because not all markets carry them. They tend to be more expensive than frozen turkeys because they have a short shelf life. Because they should only be kept in your refrigerator for about 2 days before roasting, you need to plan carefully.
Many chefs and home cooks like buying kosher turkeys. Making a turkey kosher involves soaking it in a salt brine. Kosher turkeys give you the flavor, tenderness and juiciness of brining without requiring the time it takes to brine in your own kitchen. If you use a kosher turkey, be sure to omit any salt that may be in the recipe or it will taste too salty. (For more on brining, check out our new article and video.).
Free range means that the turkey has been raised in a facility that allows the birds to have access to the outdoors and a yard to walk around. Free-range turkeys can be either fresh or frozen. It does not imply organic.
For poultry to be labeled organic, it must be fed organic grains its entire life, never receive antibiotics or hormones (no poultry is allowed to receive hormones in the United States) and must have access to the outdoors. Like free-range turkeys, they can be purchased either fresh or frozen.
Prebasting is a process that adds moisture to a turkey in the form of broth and flavorings under the skin. Turkey experts everywhere agree: There is no need to baste a turkey, whether it is prebasted or not. The liquid you pour over a cooking turkey doesn’t actually make the turkey juicer, and opening the oven door to baste just means the turkey takes longer to cook because you lose heat every time you open the door.
Now that you have the facts on how to buy a turkey, your job at the market should be easier.