The sign outside Citarella’s Market in Red Bank says it all. If you want a fresh turkey, the clock is ticking. Below, Kristian Bauman, meat manager at Sickles Market in Little Silver. (Photos by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)
By JIM WILLIS
If possible, you’re going to want to go with a fresh bird, not one that’s been doing hard, cold time frozen away in some industrial freezer.
“Sometimes those turkeys have been in the supermarket’s freezer for a year or so,” says Stew Goldstein, of Monmouth Meats in Red Bank. “The stores buy when the price is low, and then keep the birds in their freezers ’til it’s time to sell them. Who knows really how long it’s been in there?”
One thing dinner tables around the Red Bank Green can be thankful for is the number of options we have for getting fresh turkeys. Piehole checked in with three shops to talk fresh turkey.
“Fresh is always better,” says Ralph Citarella of Citarella’s Market, in Red Bank. “The birds are harvested right before the week of the holiday. Not only do they taste better because they’re fresh, but they’re a lot juicier.”
A fresh bird is “more tender, more juicy and you don’t have to have it sitting in your fridge for five days before Thanksgiving to defrost it,” says Kristian Bauman, meat manager at Sickles Market in Little Silver.
Where you get your bird can make all the difference, too.
“You want to buy a fresh turkey from a reputable butcher,” says Goldstein. “You don’t gotta get it from me, but get it from a reputable butcher who you can trust.”
Citarella has a similar take on the importance of finding a butcher you can rely on.
“Going to the butcher, you get the size you want and you get help cooking it,” he said. “Every year, people have these issues or problems with how to cook the turkey, and we help them get through them. We take people who have never cooked a turkey and we make them rock stars on Thanksgiving.”
As for preparing the bird once you get it home, all agreed that the time-honored, oven-roasted bird is the way to go. “I like a regular roast turkey in the oven,” said Goldstein. “The smell when you open the door to the oven means Thanksgiving.”
Goldstein said he usually has 25 to 30 people for dinner that night, “so I use two turkeys. I cook two because I’ve got one oven and I don’t have a huge kitchen. I put two in there and they cook quicker and I have room for everything else that’s got to be cooking.”
Citarella says those “bells and whistle” cooking methods are for people who are getting frozen turkeys.
“I’ve heard of people cooking them upside down, but there’s an old Italian saying, ‘you can’t make good wine from bad grapes,'” he said. “But that’s what they’re trying to do if they get a frozen turkey. With fresh turkeys, all you have to do is cook them in your oven right side up and baste it only one time.”
When you get a fresh bird, even brining seems unnecessary.
“A lot of people like to brine their turkeys,” says Bauman, “but I’ve done it a few times with fresh turkeys and haven’t noticed a difference.”
All agree that if you want to get the best choice for the size you need, get your order in now.
“If you want a specific size, the earlier you call the better,” says Citarella. “We’ve noticed that people are starting to frantically order this week.”
Turkeys will be available for pickup on Monday through Wednesday of Thanksgiving week at all the shops we spoke with.
Here are the phone numbers:
- Citarella’s Market: 732-741-9059
- Monmouth Meats: 732-741-5292
- Sickles Market: (732) 741-9563