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Thawing Turkey - Cooking Tips

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Refrigerator Thawing | Cold Water Thawing (Not Recommended) | Microwave Thawing (Unsafe)

Refrigerator Thawing

Placing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator is the only reliable and safe method for thawing and it is the only method of thawing that is recommended. The turkey should be kept in its original wrapper during the thawing process and it should be placed on a platter to catch any juices that may leak from the package. Thawing the bird in the refrigerator may require several days, especially if the turkey is a large size, but it is absolutely the safest method for thawing. The cool temperature of the refrigerator (usually no higher than 40°F) discourages the growth of harmful organisms in the turkey as it thaws. Up to 5 hours defrosting time per pound should be allowed to properly thaw the turkey. The required time may vary because of the individual temperature settings of different refrigerators.

Recommended Refrigerator Thawing Time
8 to 12 pound frozen turkey Allow 1 to 2 days
13 to 16 pound frozen turkey Allow 2 to 3 days
17 to 20 pound frozen turkey Allow 4 to 5 days
21 to 24 pound frozen turkey Allow 5 to 6 days

Cold Water Thawing (Not Recommended)

Thawing a frozen turkey in cold water is another defrosting method that has been used for years, but with increased awareness of illness do to bacterial growth, it is generally not recommended. There is a good chance that harmful bacteria may multiply rapidly in thawed areas near the surface of the bird while the interior may still be frozen.

If you must thaw the turkey with cold water, there are several steps
that can be taken to make it as safe as possible. Consider the following:

  • As with thawing in the refrigerator, the bird should be kept in its original wrapper.
  • If the original wrapper has any punctures or tears in it, the turkey should be placed in another plastic bag and sealed.
  • The turkey should be placed breast side down and it should be completely covered with water.
  • The water must be changed every 30 minutes.
  • Cold water thawing is much faster than thawing in the refrigerator (usually 8 to 10 times faster), but it can be annoying having to change the water every 30 minutes, especially when thawing a large turkey. At least 30 minutes defrosting time per pound should be allowed when using the cold water method.
  • Once the turkey is thawed, it should be cooked immediately.

Cold Water Thawing Time
8 to 12 pound frozen turkey Allow 4 to 6 hours
13 to 16 pound frozen turkey Allow 6 to 8 hours
17 to 20 pound frozen turkey Allow 8 to 10 hours
21 to 24 pound frozen turkey Allow 10 to 12 hours

Microwave Thawing (Unsafe)

Some people have used a microwave oven for thawing meat and while this method may be risky for thawing red meat, it is downright unsafe for thawing poultry. While waiting for the bird to defrost fully, harmful bacteria will grow quickly in areas where the turkey is already thawed.


Additional Safety Recommendations:

  • NEVER thaw turkey at room temperature. Harmful bacteria will grow rapidly creating toxins that may still be present after the turkey is cooked.
  • Frozen turkey that has been thawed should not be frozen again until after the meat is cooked in order to reduce the risk of harmful bacterial growth.
  • A frozen prestuffed turkey should not be thawed before it is cooked because bacteria can multiply rapidly in the stuffing while the turkey is defrosting.