best way to thaw a frozen turkey

What Is the Best Method for Thawing a Turkey?

While it may not be the most glamorous part of Thanksgiving preparation, thawing the turkey is an essential step. Why is it important to safely thaw turkey? If not defrosted properly, bacteria can cause foodborne illness, making for unpleasant holiday memories. Whether you have days to spare or mere hours, we’ll detail the best method for thawing a turkey to safely get the job done.

The Best Method for Thawing a Turkey Keeps It Cold

If the turkey remains between 40-140℉ for more than 2 hours, it increases the chance of dangerous bacteria developing. While the bacteria die when the turkey is cooked, the toxins can remain and cause illness. We’ll detail how using the refrigerator or cold water is the best method for thawing a turkey to maintain a safe defrosting temperature.

How Long Do You Need to Thaw a Turkey?

The time it takes to thaw a turkey depends on its size and the defrosting method you choose. Thawing a 12-16lb turkey in the refrigerator generally takes 24 hours for every 4-5lbs. Meanwhile, it can take 30 minutes per pound to defrost the same turkey in the sink with cold water. This means that a turkey this size will take 3-4 days to thaw in the refrigerator, while thawing it in the sink takes 6-8 hours.  

Here’s how to thaw Thanksgiving turkey both ways to accommodate any time frame.

Thawing Turkey in the Fridge

The refrigerator is considered the best way to thaw a frozen turkey because it’s most effective at minimizing bacterial growth. By consistently remaining below 40℉, the turkey defrosts without climbing to temperature levels that promote bacterial development. However, the refrigerator is not the best method for thawing a turkey if you don’t have much time. An average-sized bird can take several days to safely thaw.

Here’s how to thaw turkey in refrigerator:

  • Leave the turkey unopened, in its original packaging.
  • Position the turkey breast-side up in a baking pan to contain any dripping.
  • Place the turkey on a low shelf in the refrigerator. Once thawed, it can remain safely refrigerated up to 4 days before cooking. During this time, prep your oven with our Thanksgiving oven maintenance tips so it’s ready for roasting!

best method for thawing a turkey

How to Thaw Turkey in Sink

Thawing turkey in the sink with cold water is faster than the refrigerator, as an average bird thaws in under 24 hours. However, we don’t recommend that you defrost a turkey overnight with this method. Thawing in the sink requires frequent water changes to maintain a safe temperature.

Follow these steps to thaw a turkey in cold water:

  • Keep the turkey unopened in its original wrapping and place it in a large, resealable plastic bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing the bag.
  • Place the bag breast-side down in the sink.
  • Fill the sink with enough cold water to completely submerge the turkey. It may be necessary to weigh it down with a plate and heavy cans so it stays submerged.
  • Drain the water every 30 minutes, replacing it with fresh, cold water.
  • Cook the turkey as soon as it’s completely defrosted.

*Pro tip: Use a combination of the refrigerator and cold water methods for more rapid thawing. Partially defrost the turkey in the refrigerator for 2 days before completing the process in the sink on Thanksgiving morning.

What to Do if Your Turkey is Still Frozen on Thanksgiving Day

What is the best method for thawing a turkey if it’s still frozen on the big day? Unfortunately, most rapid thawing methods also increase the chance of bacterial growth. To maximize safety, you can cook a frozen turkey as long as you factor in extra cooking time and alternative flavoring methods.

A fully-frozen turkey can take up to 50% longer to cook while a partially-frozen bird takes 25% more time. Though you can’t stuff or brine your bird, halfway through cooking it can be brushed with butter, herbs and spices to enhance flavor.

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