How To Thaw Frozen Turkey: Methods & Things to Avoid

Safe and Easy Ways to Thaw Frozen Turkey

A golden brown, moist, and brined turkey is essential in a Thanksgiving meal. It is vital to know how a turkey should be thawed, for how long, and what mistakes you should avoid preventing the growth of bacteria. It is also important to plan the defrosting and cooking ahead of time. The United States Department of Agriculture recognizes defrosting by refrigeration, cold water, and in a microwave oven as safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey. Read more to know how long it takes to defrost a turkey, what is the best way to thaw a turkey, and what things to avoid while defrosting a turkey.

Methods to Thaw Frozen Turkey

There are different ways to defrost a turkey, and each method takes different amounts of time and has its pros and cons. Here are some methods you can use to thaw a turkey:

1. Defrosting a Turkey in the Refrigerator

Defrosting a turkey in the refrigerator is the best method to adopt for thawing a frozen turkey. This has been confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture, which explains that the bacteria present in it start to grow when the turkey begins to thaw. In refrigeration, the turkey thaws at a consistent and safe temperature. However, it takes time, so be sure to plan so that your turkey has sufficient time to thaw thoroughly.

How Long It Takes

To defrost a turkey in the refrigerator, you will need a 4-5 pound turkey one day. Similarly, an 8-pound turkey will take 2 days, and a 12-pound turkey will take 3 days, and so on. Turkeys injected with spices, salt, and water solutions take longer to thaw than natural turkeys.

Tips for Thawing Turkey

If you want to thaw a turkey in the fridge, be sure to retain its airtight packaging. Keep the turkey in a pan so that the liquid that melts when the turkey thaws is collected and does not contaminate the refrigerator or other food items stored in it. Place the turkey breast-side-up. The thawed turkey can be stored in the fridge for 2 days before it is cooked.

2. Defrosting a Turkey in Cold Water

If you don’t have the time to defrost a turkey in the refrigerator, you can opt for the cold water method. However, while the refrigerator method was effortless, you will need to work to thaw a turkey in water. This method is also not practical for larger turkeys. You have to submerge the turkey in a sink full of cold water and keep changing the water every 30 minutes. You can even combine this method with the refrigerator method if your turkey is too big.

How Long It Takes

To thaw a turkey in water, you will need 2 hours for every 4 pounds. So an 8-pound turkey will take 4 hours, and a 16-pound turkey will take 8 hours, and so on. Every pound essentially takes 30 minutes to thaw.

Tips for Thawing Turkey

Retain the original airtight packaging of the turkey and then submerge the turkey in a cooler or sink full of cold water. If your turkey is not fully immersed, place a plate or some heavy cans on its top. The temperature of the water should be below 40°F. Every 30 minutes, keep changing the water so that the turkey remains at a safe temperature and bacteria don’t begin growing again. Keep changing the water till the turkey is fully thawed. Once the turkey has been thawed, cook it immediately.

3. Defrosting a Turkey in the Microwave

Defrosting a turkey in the microwave is fast but can be tricky because not all turkeys will fit in an ordinary microwave oven. So be sure to check your microwave manual to ensure that the size of the turkey is small enough to fit in your microwave oven and to check the power level to be used as well as the number of minutes your microwave will take to defrost one pound of a turkey. After you have removed the packaging, you can proceed with defrosting the turkey.

How Long It Takes

Your microwave oven manual will give you a more detailed guide on how long it will take for your turkey to defrost in it. Follow the time and power level settings that have been specified. Ideally, it should take an hour for the turkey to defrost. However, the time will depend upon the size of the turkey.

Tips for Thawing Turkey

To thaw a turkey in the microwave, first, remove its packaging and wrapping. Ensure that there are no metal tags or clips attached to it. Place the turkey in a microwave-safe container breast-side up to prevent the dripping juices from creating a mess in your microwave oven. Be sure to clean your microwave after the turkey is defrosted. Cook the turkey immediately after it is defrosted. If your turkey begins to cool instead of merely defrosting, let it rest for 5 minutes, and then proceed with the thawing. The wings and drumsticks are more prone to this, so you can cover them in foil halfway through the defrosting process and prevent them from being cooked.

Things to Avoid When Defrosting a Turkey

To avoid the growth of bacteria and uneven or inadequate cooking, be sure to avoid these when defrosting your turkey:

1. Last-Minute Cooking

Be sure to plan your defrosting and cooking ahead of time. Determine which method you are going to use and how long it will take to defrost the turkey, depending upon the size of the turkey.

2. Thawing at Room Temperature

Thawing your turkey at room temperature will allow bacterial growth and result in food poisoning.

3. Microwaving Frozen Turkeys

While the microwave method is safe, it is not ideal because you may unevenly defrost your turkey. Some inner portions may remain frozen, while others like the wings may even get cooked.

Time Charts for Thawing Turkey

The time taken to thaw a turkey will depend upon the turkey’s size and the method being used.

Weight of Turkey Time taken to thaw in a Refrigerator Time taken to thaw in cold water
Up to 12 pounds 1-3 days 2-6 hours
12-16 pounds 3-4 days 6-8 hours
16-20 pounds 4-5 days 8-10 hours
20-24 pounds 5-6 days 10-12 hours

Is It Good to Leave a Turkey Out to Thaw Overnight?

It is not good to leave a turkey out to thaw overnight. When the turkey is frozen, the bacteria in it are frozen as well. If you let the turkey thaw at room temperature overnight, the bacteria in it will begin to grow. Room temperature is the ideal environment for the multiplication of bacteria. The United States Department of Agriculture also does not recommend that a turkey be left out to thaw overnight. Time and planning are, therefore, of the essence when it comes to cooking a turkey. You have to plan to safely that your turkey in the refrigerator and avoid any icky bacteria that can potentially harm you.

When cooking any dish, it is vital to ensure that the food is healthy and safe. Adopt those practices and methods that are safe so that you avoid any diseases or infections.  Not following the appropriate tips and steps will affect your cooking and, sometimes, even your health.

Also Read:

Best Thanksgiving Treats for Kids
Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes to Try
Easy Microwave Recipes to Try at Home

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Ruchelle has a vast experience working with clients in hospitality, health and wellness, entertainment, real estate, and retail. She aims to utilise her learnings to deliver quality content which will in turn help drive sales and customer engagement.