Your holiday turkey starts with the thaw

It is never too early to start planning for your Thanksgiving turkey.

Though the Thanksgiving holiday is still a few weeks away, it is a good time to start thinking about your turkey. Some holiday dinners take place a week or more before the official day of Thanksgiving. Michigan State University Extension recommends that no matter what day you are enjoying your Thanksgiving dinner, make a plan now to purchase, thaw, prep and cook your turkey safely. Most turkeys are purchased frozen, so the first step in preparing that juicy turkey, is to safely thaw the bird.

There are four safe ways to thaw food. The frozen Thanksgiving turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water being changed every 30 minutes, in the microwave oven and as part of the cooking process. Below are some tips related to each thawing method. Find the method that will work for you considering your time frame before dinner and equipment you have for safely thawing.

In refrigerator – Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is a good way to thaw in a controlled temperature and ensure your turkey stays safe while thawing. Thawing in the refrigerator does take time; allow about 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. The following chart from the USDA provides refrigerator thawing times for various size turkeys:

Size of Turkey

Thawing Time in the Refrigerator

4 to 12 pounds

1 to 3 days

12 to 16pounds

3 to 4 days

16 to 20 pounds

4 to 5 days

20 to 24 pounds

5 to 6 days

In cold water –You can safely thaw the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes if you don’t have enough time to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. Changing the water will enable you to assure safe and effective thawing and ensure that the water is ice-cold. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Be sure the turkey is in leak-proof packaging. Turkeys thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately because conditions were not temperature controlled.

In microwave – Depending on the size of your turkey, microwave thawing might be an option. Check the manufacturer’s directions and always remember to cook immediately after thawing in the microwave.

Do not thaw the turkey on the kitchen counter. At room temperatures, a frozen turkey will thaw from the outside inward. As the surface warms, bacteria will multiply. By the time the turkey is thawed, the surface bacteria could multiply to dangerously high levels. One cannot rely on cooking to destroy all bacteria because some produce toxins that cannot be destroyed through cooking. Frozen turkeys should not be thawed on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement or on the kitchen counter.

The safe thaw of your Thanksgiving turkey is the first step in preparing your delicious and safe holiday meal.

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