TASTER’S CHOICE…

sliced meatBetween making back-to-school sandwiches and feeding the maw of the Atkins low-carb diet sensation, sliced turkey is a dependable choice. It’s plain but easy to accessorize. It’s packed with protein, it can be very inexpensive and it’s in every store on the planet.

To narrow a crowded field, Taster’s Choice focused on packaged sliced turkey, with no herb, pepper or spice coatings that would provide a flavor advantage. That eliminated several of the least-processed turkeys, including several that were thin slices of genuine turkey breast and not the pressed type of meat. (A future tasting will evaluate fresh-sliced turkeys from the deli counter.)

Of 13 brands tested, Diestel Turkey Breast ($5.99 for 8 ounces, Whole Foods), was by far the top pick, and the most expensive.

“Hey, this looks and tastes like turkey!!! Best of the bunch,” is how one taster described Diestel’s thin slices of white meat.

This was the only turkey all five tasters would buy, praising its “more natural” flavor, while criticizing its texture as “a bit dry,” “dusty” and “mushy.”

Two Safeway house brands captured second and third place, though far behind the Diestel.

Second-place went to Safeway’s The Deli Counter Turkey Breast ($4.19 for 8 ounces). Tasters generally liked the flavor, saying “good pieces of turkey,” “turkey-esque” and “acceptable.” The texture, though, was “dry, crumbly” and one taster remarked on “funky marbling” and a nitrate taste.

One would buy it, three might and one wouldn’t.

Third-place Safeway Select Primo Taglio ($4.49 for 8 ounces) was deemed “probably OK in a sandwich.” The tasters said it had less flavor than the top two, but a “genuine turkey look and texture.” One found it “dry, salty” and another “rubbery, salty.” One taster liked its brown edge, created by browning in oil.

Four tasters would buy this, and one wouldn’t.

Rankings were extraordinarily low for the others tasted, which were variously considered bland, salty, sweet, slimy, rubbery and watery — but mostly just lacking in turkey flavor. In order of their finish, they were: Louis Rich, Oscar Mayer, Foster Farms, Private Selection Chef Express, Healthy Choice, Butterball, Ralphs, Hillshire Farm Deli Select, The Butcher’s Cut and Bar S. (See chart below.)

Tasters/Location Diestel Deli Counter Primo Taglio
Carrol 15 13 12
Katzl 14 13 13
Middione 15 5 11
Neilson 20 10 10
Passot 15 16 8
TOTALS 79 57 54

Panelists were John P. Carroll, cookbook author; Donna Katzl, chef-owner, Café for All Seasons, San Francisco; Carlo Middione, chef-owner of Vivande Porta Via, San Francisco; Lesli Neilson, Chronicle Food staff; and Roland Passot, chef-owner of La Folie in San Francisco and four Left Banks in the Bay Area. A perfect score for any product is 100. All products were tasted blind.

E-mail Carol Ness at [email protected] To look up past Taster’s Choice columns, search online at sfgate.com/food/tasters/archive.