Ask the Butcher: Turkey Tips!

Mark HolzkopfMark Holzkopf, owner of Holzkopf’s Meat Market in Edgewater, is one of our favorite sources for tips on cooking meat–and was one of our sponsors for our first Harvest Feast (we’re still dreaming about that scallion pancake with Mark’s smoked turkey!).

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we asked him for some tips on buying and preparing a delicious turkey for the holiday.

Fresh or Frozen?

Frozen turkeys are usually self-basting. This means they are injected with a solution of about 3% of its weight that may contain: margarine, butter, broth, water, salt, or flavor enhancers. These ingredients help keep the bird from drying out during the cooking process. Check the label for percentage of added solution.

Frozen birds may be more convenient.  You can purchase your frozen bird weeks in advance and store it in your freezer so you’re not running around at the last minute trying to find a turkey. If you buy a frozen bird, you will have to plan ahead.  To defrost safely in your refrigerator, it will take about one day for every five pounds of turkey. Leave the bird in its original package and place a drip pan under it so it doesn’t leak onto something else. Never defrost at room temperature!

Fresh turkeys are non-injected and are minimally processed. They contain no artificial ingredients. Fresh birds are chilled between twenty-six and forty degrees Fahrenheit. They do require some special handling to maintain freshness, as most processors only deliver them locally. I always recommend placing an order with your local butcher shop to assure you get the size you want.  You can pick it up one or two days before the holiday. Fresh turkeys do tend to be a little bit more expensive. Brining a fresh turkey is ideal to add flavor and moisture to the bird. Choose the turkey that works best for you!!

Whole vs Pieces

We get more and more special requests at my shop to cut the turkey in many different ways. The most popular request from my customers is to spatchcock the bird. This reduces the bird’s cooking time and will give it a nice presentation.

Others want us to bone the breast so they can stuff it with a variety of fresh herbs or homemade stuffing.

Some like to have us cut the bird into 8 individual pieces to reduce the cooking time.

A few of my tips

  • Start by making a list of everything you are going to need. Do you need any pans, special seasoning, spices, or utensils?
  • Don’t rely on the pop-up timer; always use an instant read thermometer to check your turkey for doneness.
  • Remember to order your turkey early so that you get the turkey you want and the right size. I suggest a serving size of one pound per person (one and half pounds if you have big eaters or want left overs).Turkey parts are also available for you to purchase.
  • You can buy extra drumsticks, thighs, wings, or breasts to prepare along with your whole turkey. This will ensure that everyone is satisfied and you will have no shortage of the favorite parts!