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Pre Basted Turkey: Should You Buy It? Why Or Why Not?

What exactly is pre basted turkey? Will it cut down on the amount of time you’ll spend hovering over the bird, or does it just contribute excess sodium to the meat? This guide will tell you everything you need to know about this supermarket staple.

Pre Basted Turkey

Pre basted turkeys contain a saltwater solution that artificially boosts their weight. Most frozen turkeys include small amounts of water and salt, as you can tell by checking their labels. The best way to find out if the bird is all-natural is to make sure the ingredient list includes “turkey” and nothing else.

About Pre Basted Turkey

When you see a turkey that’s labeled as “pre basted,” this means that the bird was injected with a seasoning liquid prior to packaging. Often, the mixture is nothing more than water and salt, but sugar and broth are also common additions.

Self-basting turkey is just another name for the same product. If you buy a turkey with this label, you’re still getting a pre basted bird.

The label should also have a percentage listed, which refers to the amount of basting liquid that was used in the injection. The number is generally around 6 to 10 percent, although it depends on the brand.

Are All Frozen Turkeys Pre Basted?

No—but the vast majority of them are. In fact, you might have a hard time finding one at your local supermarket that isn’t pre basted.

Poultry processors take this step to artificially boost the listed weight of the turkey. If the bird is listed as weighing 10 pounds but contains 10 percent basting liquid, you’re only getting a 9-pound bird. That means you’re paying for about a pound of water. This is an extreme example, but one that’s worth noting.

To find a frozen turkey that isn’t pre basted, check the label. The ingredient list should consist of the word “turkey” and nothing else. If it mentions a solution of water, salt, or other ingredients, then you’re getting a pre basted bird.

All-Natural vs Pre Basted Turkey: Which Is Better?

Pre basted turkeys do have their advantages. They turn out extremely juicy, for one thing, with a tenderness that can be hard to achieve on the first attempt. That’s one of the reasons why they’re popular with novices.

As you might have guessed from the name, their pre-basted status also means that there’s no need to continually baste the bird during cooking (see About Basting, below). This makes the cooking process much more carefree and helps the oven (or grill) maintain a consistent temperature.

Nevertheless, we prefer to go the all-natural route whenever possible. It allows us more control over the seasoning, and we have the option of brining the bird ourselves if we so desire.

Should You Brine A Turkey That’s Pre Basted?

We don’t recommend taking this step with pre basted turkeys. The meat already contains a hefty amount of salt solution, so it’s already brining right there in the package.

If you add it to a saltwater brine anyway, the meat could taste too salty. It might also have a mushy or spongy texture after it’s cooked.

Over-brining can also contribute too much salt flavor to the gravy. This isn’t as much of a concern if you’re grill-roasting the turkey, but it could be a real roadblock if you plan on roasting the bird.

About Basting

Those of you who’ve taken responsibility for the Thanksgiving turkey are probably familiar with basting. But is this step necessary?

Although we like to think that basting the turkey will add moisture and flavor to the meat, it doesn’t really contribute much of either. It does, however, keep the skin from drying out, in addition to giving the bird a lovely copper hue.

If you’re grill-roasting a turkey right on the cooking grate or on a V-rack, you’ll probably skip the basting process as there will be no way to collect the cooking juices. If you opt to use a roasting pan, however—whether in the grill or the oven—you can baste the bird ever 30-60 minutes or so.

To baste a turkey, use a baster or a large spoon to scoop some of the cooking liquid out of the bottom of the pan. Pour it over the top of the turkey, making sure to cover as much surface area as possible. Repeat the process until the bird is done.

Try not to baste the turkey too often. Every time you open the grill (or oven), you’ll lose some of the heat. Whole turkeys take long enough to cook without lowering the cooking temperature this way, so use your best judgement.

Is It Better To Buy Fresh or Frozen Turkey?

Whether you buy your turkey fresh or frozen depends mainly on preference, but there is one other important factor in the decision: time.

When you purchase a frozen turkey, you’ll need to thaw it before you can cook it. The bird should thaw in the refrigerator for about 24 hours per 5 pounds of meat. Therefore, depending on the size of the turkey, the process could take up to a week.

In theory, you could roast the turkey without thawing it first, but this practice increases the cooking time by about 50 percent. Because turkeys are such a large bird, they take a long time to cook as it is. If you cook it from its frozen state, the dinner bell will ring late.

Also, remember that you’ll need enough room in your freezer to store the bird until you’re ready to start the thawing process. Those of us who keep a separate freezer in the garage don’t have a problem with this, but you’ll need to plan ahead if your freezer is on the small side.

On the plus side, you can buy a frozen turkey well in advance, assuming you have enough room to store it. This comes in handy if you’re able to buy the bird (or even multiple ones) at a good price.

If you have a good relationship with your butcher or a local turkey farmer, feel free to order fresh turkeys instead of relying on frozen ones. If you go this route, you’ll need to cook the bird within 2 days. You can also freeze it yourself for a later use.

As long as the bird is well-seasoned and cooked to the correct temperature, we don’t think it makes any difference whether you buy fresh or frozen. Select whichever option works best with your time frame.

The Bottom Line

Finding a non-pre basted frozen turkey can be a challenge, but we think it’s well worth the effort.

Your best bet would be to seek out your local natural food stores and co-ops, and chat with the employees about their recommended brands. That way, you’ll have the convenience of buying a frozen bird and the freedom to brine and season it as you like.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!