Turkey Talk: Three Tips to Thaw the Turkey

In our last “Turkey Talk” blog post, we talked about general guidelines for handling fresh and frozen birds. Using the guidance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, let’s take a look at the three methods that can be safely used to thaw your turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven. 

Let’s start with the refrigerator. If you choose this method, plan ahead to allow the bird to thaw completely. Allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. How does that calculate out? 

  • 4- to 12-pound turkey: plan for one to three days of thawing.
  • 12-16 pounds: can take three to four days to thaw.
  • 16-20 pounds: four to five days.
  • 20-24 pounds: five to six days.

Keep the turkey in its original wrapper as you thaw. And, to prevent cross-contamination of other foods in the refrigerator, make sure to place the turkey in a pan while thawing to catch any juices that might leak.

A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days. If your plans change, you can re-freeze the turkey after it has thawed.

You can also safely thaw a turkey using the cold water method. This approach takes roughly 30 minutes of thawing time per pound of turkey.

an uncooked, thawed turkey sits on a platter, awaiting cooking. [credit: unsplash.com, hayley ryczek]
An uncooked, thawed turkey sits on a platter, awaiting cooking. [CREDIT: Unsplash.com, Hayley Ryczek]

Start by wrapping the turkey securely, making sure water cannot leak through the wrapping. Then, submerge the wrapped turkey in a container filled with cold water, making sure to change the water every 30 minutes. After the bird thaws, cook it immediately! You cannot re-freeze the bird with this method. And, the general calculations:

  • 4-12 pound turkey: plan for two to six hours of thawing.
  • 12-16 pounds: can take six to eight hours to thaw.
  • 16-20 pounds: eight to 10 hours.
  • 20-24 pounds: 1o-12 hours to thaw.

Finally, you can also use your microwave oven to thaw the turkey.

First, always check your owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound and the power level to use for safe thawing. Remove all the outside wrapping from the turkey, and place the bird on a microwave-safe dish to catch the juices that will leak. After you have thawed the turkey, you will need to cook immediately! You cannot re-freeze or even refrigerate the turkey after using this method. 

As a reminder, remove the giblets from the turkey cavity after thawing and cook those separately.

In our next “Turkey Talk” post, we will talk about how to safely roast the turkey. 

Full “Turkey Talk” series:

Posted: November 15, 2023

Category: Work & Life
Tags: Food Safety, Pgm_FCS, Thanksgiving, Turkey

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