How to Thaw a Turkey for a Thanksgiving Meal: Learn About the Methods Recommended to Thaw a Turkey for a Holiday

When it comes to holiday meals such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years, many people prepare a turkey as the star of the meal. But what many people don’t realize is that a turkey must be properly thawed to avoid bacteria growth.

According to the USDA a frozen turkey must be thawed at a temperature no higher than 40 degrees to ward off the growth of such bacteria. If the turkey is thawed at a higher temperature, it needs to be cooked immediately. Also a turkey should not sit out at room temperature for more than three hours. This is because while the center may still be frozen, the outside of the turkey will rise above the 40 degree level.

Here is a look at the three main thawing methods that include refrigerator thawing, microwave thawing and cold water thawing.

Thaw the Turkey in the Fridge

This method is the best way because the turkey does not need to be immediately cooked. Below is a rough guideline for thawing times once the turkey has been moved from the freezer to the fridge.

  • 8 to 12 lbs. 1 to 2 days
  • 12 to 16 lbs. 2 to 3 days
  • 16 to 20 lbs. 3 to 4 days
  • 20 to 24 lbs 4 to 5 days

As a rule of thumb for a turkey that is larger or smaller than what is listed allow 24 hours for every 5 lbs. of frozen turkey,

Thaw the Turkey in the Microwave

Because many microwaves have different power wattages, it is best to consult the owner’s manual to determine how long to that a frozen turkey. The owner’s manual will most likely instruct the user to thaw the bird in the microwave at a lower power level at an extended period of time. It should be noted that after thawing a turkey in the microwave it needs to be immediately cook because some cooking of the skin and meat will most likely begin.

Thaw the Turkey in Cold Water

Fill the sink with a large amount of cold water. Make sure they the turkey wrapper is completely sealed and submerge the turkey in the water. If the package is open the meat tissue may absorb the water making for a watery bird. The following is a guideline for thawing a turkey in cold water.

  • 8 to 12 lbs. 4 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 lbs. 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 lbs. 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 lbs. 10 to 12 hours

Once the bird is thawed by the cold water method it must be cooked immediately because the temperature of the water has been fully temperature controlled.

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