defrost a turkey overnight

How to Thaw a Turkey Safely

While there are turkey recipes for every taste and preference, proper thawing techniques are important to avoid food-borne illness. How do you safely thaw a turkey? While thawing in the refrigerator is considered safest, cold water thawing is faster and safe with frequent monitoring. Whether you have days or hours to spare, learn how to thaw turkey safely with a refrigerator and cold water.

Holiday Prep 101: How to Thaw a Turkey Safely

Why is proper thawing so essential to turkey preparation? When exposed to temperatures over 40℉ for more than two hours, meat and poultry have an increased likelihood of bacterial growth. While cooking can eliminate the bacteria, it won’t kill the toxins that cause foodborne illness. Here’s how to thaw a turkey safely to avoid illness and ensure it’s ready for roasting.

How Long to Thaw a Turkey

How fast a turkey thaws depends on how much it weighs. On average, refrigerator thawing takes 24 hours for every 4-5lbs. Thawing with the cold water method is faster, generally requiring 30 minutes per pound.

Can I Thaw a Turkey in My Refrigerator?

Not only are you able to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator, but it’s also widely considered to be the best method. This is because the refrigerator impedes bacterial growth with cool temperatures consistently below 40℉. However, refrigerator thawing is not quick and requires at least a few days for an average-size turkey.

Defrost Time in Refrigerator Based on Weight

4-12 lbs: 1 to 3 days.

12-16 lbs: 3 to 4 days.

16-20 lbs: 4 to 5 days.

20-24 lbs: 5 to 6 days.

Thawing a Turkey in the Refrigerator

Step 1: Leave the turkey in its original packaging.

Step 2: Place it breast-side up in a baking pan. The taller edges prevent any juices from leaking.

Step 3: Once the turkey is completely thawed, it can remain refrigerated for up to 4 days before cooking.

Thawing a Turkey With Cold Water

Using cold water to thaw a turkey in the sink is safe if the water is changed frequently. To prevent bacterial growth, the water should be changed every 30 minutes to stay cold. While faster than refrigerator thawing, you can’t defrost a turkey overnight with this method since it requires these frequent water changes.

Defrost Time in Cold Water Based on Weight

4-12 lbs: 2 to 6 hours.

12-16 lbs: 6 to 8 hours.

16-20 lbs: 8 to 10 hours.

20-24 lbs: 10 to 12 hours.

defrost a turkey overnight

Step 1: Leave the turkey in its original packaging and place it in a leak-proof plastic bag. Remove as much air as possible before sealing the bag.

Step 2: Place the bagged turkey breast-side down in the sink and completely submerge it with cold water. If necessary, weigh the turkey down with a plate and heavy cans to keep it submerged.

Step 3: Change the water every 30 minutes to prevent bacteria growth.

Step 4: Cook the turkey as soon as it’s defrosted.

Pro tip: If it better suits your schedule, you can combine the two methods. Thaw the turkey for 2 days in the refrigerator and finish it in the sink the following morning.

How to Quickly Thaw a Turkey That is Still Frozen

Wondering how to thaw a turkey if it’s still frozen on the big day? If there’s no time for even the cold water method, don’t attempt to microwave or heat the turkey for rapid thawing. Doing so increases the chance that dangerous bacteria could develop. Instead, cook the turkey while it’s still frozen. Doing so is perfectly safe and simply requires a longer cooking time.

If the turkey is partially frozen, estimate a 25% longer cooking time. However, if it’s completely frozen, it can take up to 50% longer to cook. While you can’t stuff or brine a frozen turkey for extra flavor, it can be basted with butter and seasoned halfway through cooking.

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