Thanksgiving turkey being cut on table; learn how to safely thaw a frozen turkey.

How to thaw a frozen turkey

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Do not let harmful bacteria crash your Thanksgiving feast

Getting ready to cook a turkey this Thanksgiving? The clock is ticking to get that bird ready to roast.

When it comes to thawing meat, speed is not the only concern. Dousing the bird in hot water or leaving it out on the kitchen counter all day may seem like great, time-saving solutions, but they are unsafe and can allow harmful bacteria to thrive.

“This is one time where being in a hurry can get you sick,” says Joseph Kim, MD, family medicine physician with Methodist Urgent Care—Mansfield.  “Protect your guests from foodborne illnesses by opting to defrost your turkey in the fridge. That’s what the USDA recommends.”

In the Fridge

Defrosting your frozen turkey in the fridge is considered to be the safest method because it allows the meat to thaw at a consistent temperature. Plus, the turkey is safe in the fridge for approximately two days after it has defrosted. The downside is that it takes longer (about one day for every four to five pounds).

In Cold Water

Using cold water can save time in a pinch, however, it does require more vigilance. Place the frozen turkey in a sink or container and completely cover the turkey in cold water. Replace the water every 30 minutes to ensure the temperature does not rise above 40 F. Defrosting will take about 30 minutes per pound, and you will need to cook the turkey as soon as it has thawed.

The following table details the estimated defrosting times based on your thawing method and the weight of your turkey.

Too Little, Too Late?

If your turkey is still a little frigid on the big day, go ahead and place it in the oven. However, remember that it will take up to 50% longer to cook depending on whether it is partially frozen or a solid block of ice. 

“You don’t want to serve the bird until the inside of its thigh, wing, and thickest part of the breast has reached an internal temperature of at least 165 Fahrenheit,” Dr. Kim says.

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