Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which means if you haven't already, it's time to decide whether you want to buy a frozen or fresh turkey this year.
Butcher and author of "The Everyday Meat Guide," Ray Venezia, explains how to plan accordingly depending on your choice — from how far in advance you should buy, to how long it will take to thaw.
Q: WHEN SHOULD I BUY A FRESH THANKSGIVING TURKEY?
A: THE WEEKEND BEFORE THANKSGIVING
If you want a fresh turkey, Ray says you should still buy it ahead. He suggests purchasing a fresh turkey the weekend before Thanksgiving. "Before it gets handled and all thrown around," he says.
When you take a fresh turkey home, leave it in the vacuum seal and store it on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator until you're ready to use it. Then, open it, clean it and you're good to go, Ray continues.
Q: WHEN SHOULD I BUY A FROZEN THANKSGIVING TURKEY?
A: WAIT UNTIL CLOSER TO THANKSGIVING
Frozen turkeys can be bought in advance too, of course, but Ray says you actually don't want to purchase a frozen turkey too early.
"Don't run to go get your frozen turkey," he says, "because every year when they start putting the frozen turkeys out, the first batch that goes out there are the ones from last year that were sitting in the store. And with frozen it would be hard for you to tell that."
So wait a little bit, let the first surge go by, then buy your frozen turkey and take it home.
Q: HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DEFROST A THANKSGIVING TURKEY?
A: IN THE FRIDGE, 24 HOURS PER 5 POUNDS
When it comes to thawing your Thanksgiving turkey, there are two ways to do it, according to Ray. In the refrigerator, it takes about 24 hours for every five pounds. So depending on the size of your turkey, you'll need to start thawing days in advance.
Q: HOW DO YOU QUICK THAW A THANKSGIVING TURKEY?
A: IN COLD WATER, 1 HOUR PER 2 POUNDS
If you want a quicker way, thawing a turkey in cold water takes about one hour for every two pounds. "Change the water every couple of hours and you'll get your turkey thawed in no time," Ray says.
Q: WHAT SIZE THANKSGIVING TURKEY SHOULD I BUY?
A: 1 POUND PER PERSON + 6-7 POUNDS EXTRA
"Basically, I go a pound per person, and then six to seven pounds over that," Ray explains. "So if I'm having 10 people, I'm looking for about a 17-pound turkey." Turkeys run in two-pound increments, Ray says, so for 10 people you'd want a 16-18 pound turkey.
Q: HOW DO I CHOOSE A GOOD TURKEY?
A: CHECK THE VACUUM SEAL
The turkeys are all going to be vacuum sealed, so you want to make sure you choose one with a seal that's nice and tight. If the bag is loose, it means the vacuum seal has cracked. "Air has gotten in, so now it's not going to hold up as long," Ray says, "which makes it tough for you because turkeys will come with a month expiration. And because most of them you can't see inside, you wouldn't know that it's going bad until you actually opened it."
Always check vacuum-packed turkeys before buying by running your hand along the underside seam to check for air pockets. If the seal is tight against the back of the turkey, you should be good to go, Ray says.
Bonus Turkey Tip: "I like to use the hens. Hens are more flavorful and more tender than the Toms," Ray says. "It's an age thing — the only way they get bigger is they get older and older."