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How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey (And how Not To)

11/11/2017 (Permalink)

General How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey (And how Not To) SERVPRO of Bear/ New Castle, DE

What You Need to Know

Thawing a frozen turkey takes time, but you’ve got a few options if you find yourself behind schedule. You’ll need to take special care when defrosting your Thanksgiving turkey, since some approaches (like defrosting it on the counter) are unsafe. 

You’ve got at least two safe alternatives for safely thawing your frozen turkey and a third option if your turkey is small enough. Here’s what you need to know about each method:

Refrigerator Thawing

This is the easiest method for defrosting a turkey but it also takes the longest amount of time

  • Place the unopened frozen turkey (breast side up) on a tray that will prevent the turkey juices from dripping on other foods.
  • Place the frozen turkey in the fridge after making sure your refrigerator temperature is set at 40 °F or below.
  • Allow about 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of frozen turkey

Approximate Times to Defrost a Whole Turkey in the Fridge:

10 pounds: 2 days plus 12 hours
15 pounds: 3 days plus 18 hours

20 pounds: 5 days
25 pounds: 6 days plus 6 hours

Check out this handy online calculator to determine how long it will take to defrost your frozen turkey.

A turkey that’s been defrosted in the refrigerator can be kept for an additional 1 to 2 days in the fridge before cooking.  Another plus of thawing turkey in the refrigerator: If your plans change and you decide not to cook the turkey at all, you can safely refreeze the defrosted turkey within 1 to 2 days (although there may be some loss of quality).

Cold Water Thawing

You can defrost your frozen turkey much faster in cold water. But compared to refrigerator thawing, the process will require a lot more attention on your behalf.

  • Make sure the frozen turkey is in a leak-proof package or plastic bag.
  • Submerge the bagged turkey in coldtap water (never use warm or hot water, as that can cause the outer layer to heat up to a temperature where harmful bacteria begins to multiply.
  • Change the water every 30 minutes, to ensure that it stays cold enough.
  • Using this thawing method, you should estimate about 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound of turkey.

Approximate Time to Defrost a Whole Turkey in Cold Water:

10 pounds: 5 hours

15 pounds: 7 hours

20 pounds: 10 hours

25 pounds: 12 hours

A turkey that’s been defrosted in cold water must be cooked as soon as it’s completely thawed.  You should NOT refreeze raw turkey that’s been defrosted using this method. Once cooked thoroughly, you can refreeze a turkey.

Microwave Thawing

If your frozen turkey is tiny enough, and you’re pressed for time, you can defrost a turkey in the microwave.

  • Check your owner’s manual for the minutes per pound and the power level to use for thawing.
  • Remove all outside wrapping.
  • Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that might leak.

A turkey that’s been defrosted in the microwave must be cooked as soon as it’s completely thawed.  You should NOT refreeze raw turkey that’s been defrosted using this method. Once cooked thoroughly, you can refreeze a turkey.


How Not to Defrost Your Frozen Turkey

You should never thaw a frozen turkey on the counter at room temperature or in hot water. Under either of those methods, the outer layer of the turkey can sit between the bacteria-breeding temperatures of 40°F and 140 °F for far too long to be safe.

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