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How to defrost a turkey

Safely thawing your frozen turkey is one of the most important steps in your meal prep. Watch Christopher demonstrate our two recommended thawing methods:

  • Refrigerator thawing is preferred and the least labor-intensive but requires more time.
  • Cold water thawing takes less time but requires more attention.

Regardless of which turkey thawing method you choose, never thaw a turkey at room temperature. If you’re running low on time, try a Fresh Whole Turkey—they’re just as delicious and require little prep.

How to defrost a turkey

Ways to Thaw a Frozen Turkey

Frozen Whole Turkeys and Frozen Whole Turkey Breasts need to be thawed before cooking. For the best results, follow one of these thawing methods:

Refrigerator Thawing

  • Thaw turkey breast side up, in an unopened wrapper on a tray in the fridge (40 degrees F or below).
  • Allow at least 1 day of thawing for every 4 lbs of turkey.
  • Keep turkey in original wrapper and place on tray.
  • Use turkey within 4 days after thawing.

Cold Water Thawing

  • Thaw turkey breast side down, in an unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to cover your turkey completely.
  • Change water every 30 minutes and if turkey cannot be completely covered, rotate every 30 minutes to keep the turkey chilled.
  • Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per lb of turkey.

A thawed turkey may be kept in the refrigerator (40 degrees F or below) up to 4 days before cooking.

You should thaw Fully Cooked Baked and Smoked Turkeys via the refrigerator method.

Follow these three tried-and-true methods for defrosting a turkey to keep you and your loved ones safe this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without a beautiful, golden-brown turkey at the center of the table. Whether you plan to roast, smoke, or deep fry your bird, there’s a vital step that every home cook must tackle ahead of the holiday: thawing. “Thawing a turkey safely is important to ensuring that you keep you and your loved ones healthy,” says Brittany Saunier, executive director at Partnership for Food Safety Education.

There are a several methods that are safe and won’t compromise the flavor of the turkey, and the technique you choose will depend on how much time and space you have. Keep in mind bacteria can grow rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees, and time spent in this “danger zone” increases the risk of food poisoning. Ahead, the easiest and safest ways to thaw a turkey, whether you need a last-minute solution, or you’ve been carefully planning the Thanksgiving feast for weeks.

Prepare Your Space

When working with raw meat, cleanliness is key. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after touching the turkey. You’ll also need to wash any surfaces that come in contact with the poultry (including cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops) with hot, soapy water. Don’t allow the turkey and its juices to touch other foods, like fruits and vegetables, as this gives the bacteria an opportunity to spread from one food to another. Also, avoid putting cooked foods on surfaces that your raw turkey has touched.

Thaw in the Refrigerator

Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is the safest and easiest technique because it’s you’ll have the most temperature control with this method. Saunier says to start by clearing a space in your refrigerator. If the bird is big, you may need to move shelving up or down to make more room. “You also want to ensure that your refrigerator’s temperature reads at 40°F or below,” says Saunier. “This is an effective way to reduce the risk of food poisoning especially for pregnant women and elderly people.”

As a rule of thumb, allow 24 hours of thaw time for every four to five pounds of meat. Place the turkey at the bottom of your refrigerator in a shallow pan and its original packaging to prevent its juices from dripping on other foods in your refrigerator. Saunier says if you plan to keep the neck and giblets, leave them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them. Once thawed, the turkey can stay refrigerated for one or two days before cooking.

Thaw in Cold Water

If you don’t have enough room or access to a refrigerator, you can follow the cold-water method for thawing your turkey. “Leave the turkey in its original packaging then place it in a clean and sanitized sink or pan and submerge in cold water. It’s important to change the cold water every half hour,” Saunier says. Thawing your turkey this way takes less time than it does to thaw it in the refrigerator but requires more hands-on attention. Allow a half an hour of thaw time for each pound of meat, so a twelve-pound bird will need to thaw for six hours.

A turkey thawed using the cold-water method should be cooked immediately. “Cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, as measured by a food thermometer in the thickest part of both the bird’s thigh and breast,” Saunier says. If the turkey is stuffed, the stuffing inside should also reach 165 degrees before it’s done. It’s best practice to allow more cooking time when planning Thanksgiving dinner to ensure everything runs according to schedule.

Thaw in the Microwave

You may be able to thaw your turkey in the microwave, assuming that your turkey is small enough or that you have a larger microwave. (As a rule of thumb, you’ll find that a 12-to-14-pound turkey is the maximum size most microwaves can accommodate.) Consult your owner’s manual for the minutes per pound and the recommended power level to use when thawing a turkey. The United States Department of Agriculture instructs cooks to remove all the original packaging and place the turkey on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices.

Allow six minutes per pound when thawing a turkey in the microwave and flip it several times during the process. If the turkey starts to cook instead of thaw, let it rest for five minutes before resuming. Halfway through thawing, the USDA instructs cooks to cover the tips of the wings and drumsticks with a small piece of plastic wrap to prevent them from cooking. Once the turkey is thawed, cook it immediately.

Do Not Leave on the Counter to Thaw

Leaving the turkey on the counter to thaw is not a safe method. According to Saunier, “a package of meat or poultry left thawing on the counter for more than two hours is not at a safe temperature and falls within the danger zone.” Instead, use one of the three methods outlined above to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey.

How to defrost a turkey

How to defrost a turkey

How to defrost a turkey

While fresh turkeys are available online and in many grocery stores, many people opt to buy a frozen bird instead. And depending on how big it is, a frozen turkey can take several days to thaw in your fridge. Planning ahead can help prevent problems on the day.

NOTE: If you’re reading this on Thanksgiving morning, it’s too late to defrost your turkey properly. Instead, learn how to cook a still-frozen turkey. It’s not the best way to cook a turkey, but it’s the only safe option.

Watch Now: How to Safely Thaw a Frozen Turkey

How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey

There is only one safe, easy and good way to thaw a frozen turkey, and that is in the refrigerator.

It’s safe because it stays cold the whole time, thus preventing the growth of dangerous bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

It’s easy because you don’t have to do anything. The turkey simply sits in the fridge and thaws all by itself.

There are a couple of other methods that might be technically safe. But one of them is not easy, and the other one is not good—as in, it will do bad things to your turkey, and make you wish you had used a different technique.

Thaw It in the Refrigerator

Thawing in the refrigerator is the ONLY recommended way to defrost a frozen turkey. For it to work, however, you’ll need plenty of time: 24 hours of defrosting time for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird. A large turkey, say, 15 to 20 pounds, will need to spend 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator.

Which means you’ll have to plan ahead. If you can manage that, you’ll be golden. (And your turkey will be golden-brown and delicious.)

Here’s how to do it:

  • Make sure that your refrigerator is at 40 F or colder.
  • Leave the turkey in its original wrapper.
  • Place the bird on a tray or in a pan to collect any juices that leak out.
  • Keep it at the bottom of your fridge so that any leakage won’t contaminate anything below.
  • Allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of frozen turkey (see the full chart below).

It’s pretty straightforward. But if you haven’t got enough time, and don’t want to try roasting it while it’s still frozen, you can always try the cold water method. But be prepared to work.

Thaw It in Cold Water

It’s possible to safely thaw a frozen turkey in a sink full of cold water, but it won’t be easy. The problem is, you need to allow 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound of frozen bird, and you MUST keep the water 40 F or colder the entire time.

That means monitoring the temperature with an instant-read thermometer and changing the water every half hour. Now, ring in when you’ve figured out the problem with using this method.

Ding! That’s right! For a very large turkey, like a 20-pounder, which can take ten hours or more to defrost, you would have to change the water every thirty minutes for ten hours. That’s twenty water changes!

Aside from the fact that you have better things to do with your time, the major drawback to this method is that after two or three hours, you’ll slack off and stop changing the water, and wind up with a salmonella bomb soaking in your kitchen sink.

Moreover, you can’t necessarily merely add fresh water from the tap; the water needs to be colder than 40 F. If the water coming out of your tap is warmer than that, you’ll have to add ice to lower the temperature.

Also, you’ve got to make sure the turkey remains completely submerged. If it floats (and it will), you’ll need to weigh it down. And if your sink is too small, this method won’t work.

And whatever you do, don’t try to thaw a turkey in HOT water.

Here’s a time chart to help you compare thawing times using the refrigerator and cold-water methods:

Turkey Weight Thawing Time
(Refrigerator)
Thawing Time
(Cold Water)
Up to 12 lbs 1 to 3 days 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 lbs 3 to 4 days 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 lbs 4 to 5 days 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 lbs 5 to 6 days 10 to 12 hours

Don’t Try to Thaw It in the Microwave

Yes, temperature-wise, your turkey will be thawed, if that’s all you care about. For example, if you’re planning to use it as a soccer ball; or maybe cook it and feed it to some wild animals.

But if you’re actually planning to serve it to people, this is not a good method to use. Given the number of different wattages, power levels, minutes per pound, and other variables, the most likely outcome for this method of thawing is a turkey that’s still frozen in some parts, while already cooked in others.

That’s if you can even fit a turkey in your microwave, which, obviously, you can’t. Grab a tape measure right now, and go measure the opening of your microwave. It’s about 8 inches high, right? There is no way you are going to fit a frozen turkey through an 8-inch opening.

And even if you can (i.e. you have a 7-inch turkey), you don’t need to resort to this method in the first place. You’re better off using the cold water technique, where your tiny turkey will be thawed in a couple of hours.

Don’t Thaw at Room Temperature

Thawing a frozen turkey on the kitchen counter, or the dining room table, or in any other room of your house, is a HUGE no-no.

Besides the fact that it is, let us say, unseemly to defrost a Thanksgiving turkey in some random bedroom (to say nothing of the bathroom), thawing a turkey at room temperature is a terrible practice. Uncooked meat or poultry (including frozen) shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours. Any longer than that and you’re just begging for a case of food poisoning. So, don’t even think about this one.

Be Smart, Be Safe: Plan Ahead

And that’s all there is to it. As you can see, thawing a 20-pound turkey in the refrigerator can take the better part of a week. So plan ahead! A bit of preparation will ensure that you’re not faced with a still-frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning.

No thanksgiving is complete without turkey dinner; that’s why roasted turkey leg is everyone’s favorite on Thanksgiving. The moist and tender leg meat, rich with flavor, makes it a perfectly satisfying meal for families. If you are geared up to make drum sticks and you realized that the turkey leg is frozen you will look for ways to defrost it. It’s important to defrost turkey leg properly before you cook; otherwise, you might experience the difference in taste and texture. In the following article, we have gathered all the information and ways to defrost turkey legs.

Table of Contents

How Long Does It Take to Defrost Turkey Leg?

The time taken by any meat to defrost depends upon the method you are picking to defrost it. We normally practice three ways to defrost meat. First, the refrigerator defrosting; secondly, cold water defrosting; and lastly, microwave thawing.

The Coldwater method is the fast way to defrost turkey leg that you can adopt if running short of time. If you are defrosting turkey leg by submerging them in cold water, it will take a couple of hours. However, in the refrigerator, turkey legs take 18 to 24 hours to thaw. The last method is microwave defrosting; which is the fastest method and consumes five to six minutes to thaw turkey legs.

How Do I Defrost Turkey Leg Fast?

If you have sudden guest over or want to have tempting drumsticks for dinner, you can opt microwave method. Microwave thawing is the speedy way to thaw turkey leg as it will save your time and give you a perfect taste if done with the accurate procedure.

You have to handle the microwave thawing method with care by looking after the drumstick during the process. You need to set the timer according to the weight and quantity of the drumstick to avoid cooking and burning turkey legs.

Can I Defrost Turkey Leg in a Refrigerator?

Yes, you can defrost turkey leg in the refrigerator. It’s the most recommended and safe method; moreover, you don’t have to prepare as the method is quite easy in refrigerator turkey leg thaw at a consistent temperature without temperature fluctuations.

Refrigerating frozen turkey leg is a time-consuming process, and you should do a little planning before. Defrost turkey legs can stay good in the fridge for four to five days, and you can refreeze turkey leg if they aren’t used.

Firstly take out frozen turkey leg from the freezer, don’t remove the packing. Secondly, Place it in the best defrosting tray; this will prevent liquid leaking by catching the meat juice. Spot the tray in the bottom rack of the refrigerator for one to two days. Once thawed, take it out and start cooking delicious turkey leg roast.

Can I Defrost Turkey Leg In Microwave?

As we have discussed above, you can opt microwave defrosting method if you have a very short time. You need to follow simple basic steps first, take turkey legs out of the freezer, and remove all the packaging.

Secondly, put turkey legs in the microwave-safe tray and set the microwave on defrost mode, afterward set the timer according to the weight of the turkey legs. Keep flipping the turkey leg on both sides; use the best gloves; otherwise, you might burn your hand. It would give you evenly thawed turkey legs. Depending upon the weights and size, it takes somewhere about five to ten minutes.

Can I Defrost Turkey Leg in Water?

Yes, that’s another pretty good and easy method to defrost turkey legs. Take frozen turkey legs out of the freezer; don’t remove the packaging; if it’s leaking, place the turkey legs in an airtight bag. Now take a deep bowl, fill it with chilled water and dip turkey legs in it. It takes a couple of hours to defrost. Keep changing cold water after every 30 minutes. Once thawed, don’t leave it at room temperature; cook turkey legs soon when defrosted.