Thanksgiving Turkey: Fresh or Frozen?

Mike Ptak has been in the food industry since 1987 and is the National Bid & Government Sales Manager at JTM Food Group, working primarily with turkey.

Mike was born and raised in Delaware, but he made a home in North Carolina while raising a family where his children (including Janna Guerra, owner of The Insider) and grandchildren continue to reside.

“I wanted to get into the food business because it’s a pretty secure job,” Mike said.  “Even when there’s a downturn in the market, people have to eat.”

With more than three decades of experience in the industry, Mike is sharing his knowledge on your Thanksgiving meal.

“They prepare for Thanksgiving at the start of the year with frozen turkeys,” he said.  “They start producing in February/March.”

If production began any later, there would be no way to meet the high demand that takes place annually around the holidays with Thanksgiving providing the most sales followed closely by Christmas.

Fresh turkeys begin hitting the supermarket in droves starting around Thanksgiving week.  These turkeys may be purchased and frozen until needed. 

Fresh turkeys may be purchased 2-3 days before prior to use and kept in the refrigerator until needed.  Always check the “use by” date on the packaging to ensure a good product.

“Quality-wise it will be the same.  Frozen and fresh taste about the same in my personal opinion,” Mike said.  “Obviously frozen turkeys are going to be cheaper.”

Some stores offer special deals on frozen whole turkeys if an amount of groceries is purchased.  Other markets are known for giving away turkeys with the purchase of groceries.  Frozen turkeys may be defrosted in the refrigerator several days in advance.

Despite the discounts, there will always those who prefer a fresh bird over a frozen one.

“One nice thing about fresh turkeys is that you don’t have to defrost it,” Mike explained.  “You can get it a couple of days in advance before Thanksgiving, but you have the disadvantage of risking them being sold out.”

Turkeys must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees before serving.

The end of the year is always a busy season for the poultry industry, with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all causing a rise in sales.

“Everybody has a turkey for Thanksgiving.  For Christmas, a lot of times people enjoy ham, so not as many people enjoy turkey,” he said.

No matter whether you purchase fresh or frozen, turkey is a staple of American diets during the holidays.