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Frozen or fresh? Tips for buying and cooking your Thanksgiving turkey

GoMN spoke with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association for tips on how to save money, pick the right bird and prepare it properly for a Thanksgiving feast.
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Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away and Minnesota families are turning their attention to arguably the biggest food-day of the year.

The centerpiece, naturally, will be the Thanksgiving turkey, but finding the right one and preparing it just right can be tricky even in Minnesota, the biggest turkey-producing state.

GoMN spoke with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association (MTGA) for some tips on how to save money, pick the right bird and prepare it properly for a Thanksgiving feast.

How big to buy?

The size of your turkey will have a big bearing on how much you're spending, so consider buying smaller if you're not feeding as many people (unless you want days/weeks of leftovers, which to be fair isn't a bad thing).

The MTGA says to plan on 3/4 to 1 pound of turkey per person, or 1 to 1-1/2 pounds if you want leftovers.

But rather than a whole turkey, if you're only serving a handful of people you might want to consider a bone-in or boneless turkey breast, which the Kitchn says can cost $1 less per pound.

And rather than buying one large turkey, the MTGA says those serving large groups could consider doing two smaller turkeys instead, saying: "It's easier and typically faster to make sure the turkeys are roasted to the proper temperatures and they don’t dry out."

Frozen or fresh?

This depends on personal preference of course. Fresh turkeys don't require days of defrosting but you pay a little extra for the convenience – and freshness – while frozen turkeys can be a chore to prepare but can be bought weeks in advance.

If money is the deciding factor, frozen tends to be your best bet. Look out for deals at your local supermarkets as they will often price turkeys as "loss leaders" in the hope you'll buy the rest of your Thanksgiving ingredients in store.

The MTGA says it has seen frozen turkeys in the $.79–.99 per pound price range.

You'll be paying a bit more for fresh turkeys, but Aldi currently has them on sale for 99c per pound on birds weighing between 12-14lb. Its frozen turkeys cost the same, but they range from 10-22lb in weight.

Cub Foods is also offering 99c for frozen turkeys, while Fresh Thyme has fresh birds for $1.27 per pound.

What about farm-fresh/organic?

Meat markets and specialty markets offer options for organic and heritage turkeys but it may be a little late to order for this year, as they usually require at least two weeks notice for orders.

For free range turkeys, the MTGA recommends Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls. Ferndale also sells some of its turkeys in Twin Cities grocery stores including Kowalski's, Jerry's Foods and several co-ops. You can find a list of locations here.

If you want to buy direct from the farm, you can find a list of farmers who offer this in Minnesota right here.

How to defrost a frozen turkey

The general rule for safely defrosting a frozen turkey is to put it in the refrigerator and giving it 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds in weight to defrost. As such, a 12-pound turkey should take about three days.

But what if you're short on time? Try the "cold water" method.

Put the turkey, still in its packaging, in a sink full of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure the surface stays cold, and allow 30 minutes per pound to thaw.

As such, an 8-12 pound bird would take 4-6 hours, while a 20-24 pound bird would take 10-12 hours.

How to roast the turkey

Now we realize there may be an element of "teaching your grandmother how to suck eggs" to this, but just in case anyone doesn't know...

The MTGA the best way to "ensure a moist, flavorful turkey" is to use a meat thermometer to monitor the temperature during the cooking.

When it reaches 165F in the breast of 180F in the high, take it out and let it stand for about 20 minutes before carving.

If you roast at 325F, an 8-12 pound turkey should take 3 1/2 to 4 hours, and a 12-18 pound turkey should take 4 1/2 to 4 3/4 hours.

Alternative, roast the turkey upside down

This writer hadn't heard of this method, but it's apparently a great way to keep the breast from drying out.

The MTGA says because white meat cooks faster than dark meat, the breast has lost its juiciness by the time the legs are cooked.

If you flip it upside down though, the breast skin will "firm up," trapping the moisture in.

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