d e n i s  s p e a k s

How do you buy the best poultry?

As you can imagine, after decades of personally selecting and preparing poultry — whole, in pieces, in all shapes, sizes, creeds, fresh, frozen and otherwise — I'd have some good answers for you. Here is everything you need to know when you go looking for the best poultry.

  1. Always check the sale dates. If there isn't one, ask why not. Get your bird as close to its arrival date in the store as you can. Good honest producers make an effort to give their store that information — they have nothing to hide.

  2. Buy reputable brands. It's true that "turkey is turkey," as my old friend Bull Mulligan from Applewood Farms would always say — but certain poultry producers always make an effort to grow the best. Learn the brands in your area; just ask around, the information is out there.

  3. Be careful of those "free give-away" promotions for turkey over the holidays. You get what you pay for, and turkey is no exception.

  4. Read the ingredients label. Many companies inject their poultry with what I call "silly soluble solutions." You see — they never thought to get a Spanek Vertical Turkey Roaster that sears in the bird's own natural juices. These companies just figure that you are going to over-cook the darn thing, as so many people do — so they try to help you avoid dry meat by adding more moisture to the bird!

    Flavor injections are O.K. But keep an eye out for ingredients you don't recognize, or fancy terms you don't understand. Ask your Butcher, or get in touch with us, and we will check them out. We have a personal interest in this business, so let us know if you have a favorite house or brand you'd like us to try.

  5. Poultry comes in three grades — A, B and C.
    • Grade A means the poultry is packaged perfectly. It has no tears, split skins, holes, pokes or stabs. This is perfect for vertical cooking.
    • Grade B means almost perfect. There might be a wing tip missing, a tear here or there, a broken foot. This grade is still good for vertical cooking.
    • Grade C — You won't find this grade around much any more. Usually these birds are cut up for parts and sent to the special offerings department.
    Some areas still let you know the grades they are offering, but slowly this practice is disappearing. Stick with Grade A if you can, and know the "lingo" next time you talk to your Butcher. "Is that game hen a 22oz or 16 oz? Grade A or B?" That Butcher will look at you like you are some sort of Chef or something!!! It's fun. He will always give you the right cuts after that — or make great suggestions, and that is what you want! I walk into my favorite meat market and say "So Max . . . what are you hiding in the back today? Should I get some?" Have fun when you shop, especially if you still shop at those Grade A markets that have living, breathing butchers.

  6. Check the poultry bag for leaks in the packaging and follow sensible guidelines for food safety. If you buy a frozen bird, cook it immediately after thawing it.

  7. This raises the question of Fresh vs. Frozen! What's best? This is a very important question! My good friend Merle Ellis "The Butcher" set me straight on this long ago.

    Do you believe that a turkey will be perfectly preserved from farm to distributor to store meat case, at 32°F to 38°F throughout its journey? Let's hope so! But what if things don't work out so well?

    Here's what I like: Let them flash-freeze the bird fresh at the farm — on the spot — when the bird is the freshest. Get it to me at 20°F to 32°F. Let me thaw it out and have the freshest guarantee going.

    The Spanek Vertical Roaster™ will seal in the bird's natural juice and flavor. You get the best taste in flash frozen "fresh" poultry.

  8. Don't buy too big a bird. People so often just count the number of guests and end up going to the store and getting a 25 lb bird for 25 people — and the result is that infamous "sawdust turkey". It cooks too long and comes out too dry. You can do so much better than this.

    Here's what you do: Get two 12-13 lb. birds. I personally prefer hens over toms; they're more tender. Cook them side by side in a single pan — they'll be done in just two hours and ten minutes. You get four wings, four drumsticks, four breasts — and the tenderest poultry you have ever had. It is so easy — and here's a mini-movie to show you just how.

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