Sales on turkeys abound every November. Stores use turkey as their loss leader to get people into their store to buy all their other Thanksgiving fixin’s. As someone who likes to stock up, you won’t be surprised that we stock up on turkey too! We don’t go crazy, but we buy several turkeys when they are at rock bottom prices.
Depending on how much freezer space we have available (and how ambitious we’re feeling) we either cook our turkeys right away and freeze the cooked meat and broth, or we’ll just stick the turkey straight into the freezer and cook it several months down the road. I love having pre-cooked meat in the freezer and often use turkey in place of chicken in recipes.
This works out really well for us, except for that one time (but we don’t need to talk about that now).
Is the savings of cooking and freezing (or freezing and cooking) turkey worth the effort? I’ll address the big “Is it worth it?” question along with a cost analysis at the end of the post.
First, I’ll show you the simple way to cook a turkey.
Simple Way to Cook a Turkey
I took the long trip upstairs to my in-laws’ house to give you the play-by-play of how my mother-in-law cooks her turkeys. She has quite a bit of personal experience cooking turkeys and she is the queen of practical, so you are about to learn from the best. I think she is on her fifth one this week (she bottles the meat– I’ll show you how to do that, too).
When you’re cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, you might season it in a certain way or fill it with stuffing. When you’re cooking a turkey to freeze or can the meat for future meals, it’s a little simpler.
When we shop for turkeys we go for the biggest ones. It takes as much effort to cook a small turkey as a big turkey, so you may as well go big and have more leftovers! Plus, bigger turkeys have a better meat-to-bone ratio. This bird here is just under 24 lbs.
Make sure the turkey is thoroughly thawed in the refrigerator (or another safe method). Pull off any excess fat (like that big chunk in the foreground). Remove the neck, giblets, gravy packets, and any other treasures (and by that I mean “ewww”) from the cavity. Wash the turkey inside and out. Pat dry.
Put a couple tablespoons of flour and a bit of onion into an oven bag and shake it around. If you haven’t used oven bags before, you’re going to thank me. They are wonderful. Not only do they make clean-up a breeze, but the turkey will cook faster, be more moist, and require no basting.
Sprinkle seasoned salt generously over the turkey, inside and out.
Close the turkey up using the plastic leg-closing contraption that is included.
Admire your bird. I’m going to take this opportunity to admit that raw meat grosses me out, so I always make my husband do this part. Always. If he isn’t around, then I recruit my mother-in-law. I am a certified wimp in the raw meat department.
Put the bird in the bag with the breast down. I know this is contrary to what every other recipe and tutorial will tell you, but just do it. The white breast meat is typically the drier meat, so putting the breast down helps keep it moist without having to baste it.
You might want to have a helper hold the bag open. When I’m not holding the camera, I am the big helper who holds the bag open. As long as the turkey doesn’t actually touch me, that’s a job I can manage.
Cut five or six small slits in the bag.
Because my mother-in-law has been cooking turkeys all week, she’s been letting them cook through the night. With the temperature set at 250 degrees (that’s a two, not a three), this 24 pound turkey was done in about 10 hours. For the last hour or so, you can turn the temperature up to 325 degrees.
Of course, you could cook your turkey in much less time if you want. Refer to your package for the cooking time for the weight of your particular turkey.
Doesn’t that look like an easy clean-up job!? Also, the meat is falling right off the bone, which makes the deboning process much easier.
All the turkey juices can easily be poured into a container. As it cools, the fat will rise to the top and solidify. When it does, scrape it off and toss it. The remaining gel is concentrated turkey broth. Freeze it for use in soups, stews and anywhere else you use broth.
Pull the meat off the bones. Actually, if you cooked it long enough, it will probably fall right off the bones. You can freeze it and use it in recipes just like you would use chicken. You can also bottle it so it doesn’t require any freezing or refrigeration. I’ll have a tutorial for canning turkey up next week.
Save the bones and skin from the turkey carcass. Stick them in a pressure cooker and smash them down as much as you can. Fill with just enough water to cover the bones. Let them pressure cook for about an hour and a half. Alternatively you can use a slow cooker, it just takes longer.
All the goodness is transferred from the bones to the water to create broth.
Pour off the broth and stick it in the fridge. As it cools, the fat will rise to the top and form a thick layer on top. Scrape it off and the gel remaining is your turkey broth. It will be good in the fridge for a week or so, or keep much longer in the freezer. The bones will be brittle and ready to toss.
To freeze your broth easily without a container, just wrap chunks of the broth gel up in plastic wrap. Be sure to seal the edges. Be sure the gel is cool. When you heat it the gel will liquefy.
Wrap the broth in twice in plastic wrap, turning the packet 90 degrees before the second wrapping. Label and store in a freezer bag until you need it.
Weight of whole turkey= 23.9 lb
Cost of turkey= $15.42 (the tag price is double that, but with the promo it was half off)
- Meat ~8.75 lb
- Broth (concentrated) ~10 cups
- bones, skin, gristle ~5.5 lbs
- Broth (from pressure cooking bones) ~8 cups
- fat and grease ~1.75 lb
- giblets ~1 lb
- gravy packet ~.5 lb
If you want to assess the cost just of the meat, we paid $15.42 for 8.75 lb of meat which is $1.76 per pound. As a comparison, that’s a little less than what I usually pay for frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
If you plan to use the broth, then you’ll want to figure in its value. If you normally buy broth in cans, then 144 oz of broth (18 cups free from the turkey) would have cost $9 (using the sale price of $2 for 32 oz, which is what it is here).
You can divide the cost however you like between the useful turkey products. I look at it as paying $1.76/lb for the meat and getting $9 of broth free.
Is it Worth It?
If you are new to cooking from scratch, you might be wondering if it is worth going through all that work to save money on the price of turkey.
If you aren’t interested in saving and using the broth, then you might be better off buying something boneless rather than messing with the whole turkey (for anything besides the obligatory Thanksgiving turkey, of course).
If you normally buy cans or boxes of broth, then getting over a gallon of broth for free is a pretty nice perk. Plus, this broth is much more flavorful than what you get out of a can.
It’s no secret that cooking and deboning a turkey is more work than buying a frozen turkey breast and some cans of broth. If you’re willing to do the work though, you will save money and you’ll probably end up with a more delicious final product.
How about you?
- Do you save the turkey broth from your Thanksgiving turkey?
- Do you use the bones to make more broth?
- Do you “stock up” when turkey is in season and on sale?