Thanksgiving: When to thaw your turkey

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FILE – This Nov. 2, 2009, file photo shows a Thanksgiving turkey in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe, File)

The turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving dinner but cooking it can be a challenge even for a seasoned cook. One of the most important things comes days before the holiday: thawing out the turkey.

If you have a turkey weighing more than 20 pounds it needs to come out of the freezer tomorrow or Saturday to be ready to cook on Thanksgiving Day.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature while thawing. While it begins to thaw any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can start to grow again.

Refrigerator Thawing

Here are things to consider while thawing a turkey in a refrigerator

  • Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.
  • Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.

Here are the thaw times for a whole turkey:

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

Also, the USDA says thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.

Cold Water Thawing

Allow about 30 minutes per pound.

First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.

Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Here are the thaw times for a whole turkey:
  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.

Microwave Thawing

Follow the microwave oven manufacturer’s instruction when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed.

A turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately.

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