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There’s More Than One Way to Thaw a Turkey

Around this time of year, I usually get questions about how to safely thaw a turkey. It’s a big bird…sometimes a REALLY big bird…and thawing it safely can be a challenge if you’re buying it frozen. If you don’t want to deal with thawing a frozen bird, consider purchasing it fresh and storing it in the fridge for no more than 3 days prior to cooking. However, if you are up for the challenge, read on!

Thawing a turkey can be done in several ways – in the microwave, in a sink of cold water, or in the refrigerator. The method you choose may depend on the time you have available and the size of the turkey. NEVER THAW ON THE COUNTERTOP OR IN THE SINK as it promotes bacteria growth to levels which can cause foodborne illness. Remember, thawing happens from the outside, in. This means that the outside of the turkey will be thawed while the inside may still be frozen.

  • Knowledge Nugget: Do not leave any food out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. The amount of bacteria that can grow on the product can be enough to cause a foodborne illness. Food poisoning can be as minor as a bad stomach ache and extra trips to the restroom for a night, or bad enough to need hospital care. Young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to food poisoning.

Microwave method- Make sure the turkey fits in the microwave and is unwrapped. Use the defrost setting if available, or consider 4-7 minutes per pound. If the microwave doesn’t have a turntable, rotate it every couple of minutes. Cook immediately after thawing.

  • Knowledge Nugget: A turkey can be cooked in a microwave oven if it’s no more than 12 pounds and leaves about 2-3 inches of space on all sides. It needs to be fully defrosted, stuffing removed, and placed in an oven cooking bag for more even cooking. A whole turkey takes 8-10 minutes per pound on 50% wattage. Rotate every 15 minutes unless it has a turntable already.

Cold water method- Fill a sink with enough cold water to submerge the whole turkey. Put the turkey in a heavy airtight bag and place in the sink. Change the water every 30 minutes as this will thaw it safely to minimize bacteria growth. Cook immediately after thawing.

  • Knowledge Nugget: Thawing in cold water and the microwave can lead to uneven thawing (i.e. some parts are defrosted while others may not be). This is why cooking it immediately after thawing is recommended, rather than putting it back in the fridge for “another day or two”.

Refrigerator method- The safest, yet longest method for thawing. Consider 24 hours for every 5 pounds, but don’t thaw beyond three days as this can promote bacteria growth. This means that if your turkey weighs more than 15 pounds, you may want to use an another method or store a fresh turkey 2-3 days prior to cooking it. Remember to place the turkey on a dish or a pan and put on the lowest shelf in case it leaks.

  • Knowledge Nugget: Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for at least one year. Cut the turkey into smaller pieces and put in air-tight containers if storing in the fridge. If storing in the freezer, wrap in freezer-safe bags to minimize freezer burn.

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